Even When You’re Happy, You’re Miserable. And You Don’t Have To Be. ~ Charles Bukowski.

Via elephant journal
on Jun 11, 2011
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Photo: Incase

At this time in my life (as ever), no piece of work has spoken to me more:


no help for that Charles Bukowski

there is a place in the heart that
will never be filled

a space

and even during the
best moments
the greatest

we will know it

we will know it
more than

there is a place in the heart that
will never be filled


we will wait

in that

~ You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense, 1986

And isn’t this the truth?  The space haunts me. It follows me around wherever I go, no matter who I’m with, at any given moment. At the darkest moments, it feels like a gaping hole in my small universe. At other times, the space is shallow, but it’s never full.

This space is chronic discontent, not be confused with unhappiness or depression. It is restlessness, a longing for more. It’s fidgeting, constantly going and moving and talking and thinking. For me, it is a fear of never feeling complete or always feeling alone in the world.

Photo: SpaceShoe

I have never beencomfortable in this space. So, I have always tried to fill it. I have filled it with yoga. I have filled it with partying. I have tried to cover it up with romantic relationships, friendships and work.

But even in the best of times, times when I should feel like I have it all, there is a glint of something missing…

I have always thought that I just wasn’t occupying the space with the right things. But, I realize now, the space can never be filled.

As Bukowski writes, there is no help for that. The space will always be with us. What I  need to do  is learn to accept it and face the insecurity, rather than fill it.

The space is not supposed to take us over. It is there to remind us that there is more and there will always be more. It is our motivation to continue searching for those things and people that keep the space small. And  there is nothing wrong with that faint indication of longing…


Allison Barocas is an undergraduate Senior at the University of Colorado at Boulder, majoring in environmental studies and currently interning with elephant journal. Allison was born and raised on Long Island, New York and completed high school in Knoxville, Tennessee. She loves to spend her free time outdoors, going to concerts, running around Denver and traveling.


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47 Responses to “Even When You’re Happy, You’re Miserable. And You Don’t Have To Be. ~ Charles Bukowski.”

  1. Austin says:

    Sounds like dysthymia. Check out The Half Empty Heart.

  2. Alli says:

    Dysthymia is chronic depression. And it's often associated with other long term medical problems. I can't say whether or not that was something Bukowski was dealing with, he was a long time drinker. However, I did not in my article that chronic discontent should not be confused with depression or unhappiness. Thanks for the comment, though.

  3. Alli says:

    sorry, note*

  4. Jen says:

    Beautiful. This makes me not mope around and feel sorry for myself! It is sometimes comforting to know that others have the same problems I do!

  5. Ben_Ralston says:

    Please don't take Bukowski as a teacher. Great poet yes, but life skills teacher, no.
    The space you speak of sounds like a sense of emptiness, which i believe relates (on a very deep, subconscious level), to self-esteem. I can help with that – U can check out my website and email me if you're interested.
    Ben Ralston

  6. Tracy says:

    This is a great article! I believe it to be true that everyone has a certain amount of longing and that’s what drives them to continue dreaming and living out those dreams. Its when you have everything you could ever dream of such as fame or fortune or true love that the true depression can set in because that longing and discontent is still there- then you realize its a permanent void. Its my dream to live an unchained life and even when I attain my dreams to feel at one with that void – to make friends with that void and not to see it as the enemy.

  7. Martha says:

    Do you really believe this to be true ? I have been thinking about this feeling a lot lately – I have tried to fill that space with lots of things and none of them have worked and was now thinking that it was because of being unfulfilled in not finding the right partner or the right creative outlet or the right place to live ….the restlessness as a feeling has been described to me by my best friend but I call it fear of being alone forever…not being understood by anyone or loved completely for who I am …do you really think this is true?

  8. Katharina says:

    This place of longing or the hole or however we perceive it, it's also a gateway. And I think a lot of us are trying to fill it with drugs and stuff or even depression but it also always holds this promise for something else and more. And there are times where we get a glimpse of that something else and suddenly the place feels so very different. And we still wait but we wait with a faint idea of what we're hoping for. … Something like that.

  9. elephantjournal says:

    Buddhism talks about this space a lot. The good news is that if you /we /I can become comfortable with that space, gap, loneliness, broken heart…that's where we find empathy with others, joy, true love…space makes communication with the world possible. Otherwise we're solid, brittle, full of ourselves…and reality can't come in and love can't go out. ~ Waylon

  10. elephantjournal says:

    I disagree, friend…not with taking B as a teacher, hah, I'm with you on that generally…but the space is a healthy thing, if we can relax with it. At least according to my experience, and the Buddhist teachings I've studied a bit. ~ Waylon

  11. elephantjournal says:

    We can be lonely and sad and slightly empty in a good way…doesn't have to be labeled a disease. It's called human nature, and it's not only okay, it's delightful. ~ Waylon

  12. elephantjournal says:

    Buddhism on love, loneliness: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2009/02/chogyam-tr

  13. Alex P says:

    I hear you Martha.. and I really think this is true

  14. elephantjournal says:

    Jennifer Raine Kostel Finally there are words that describe the restlessness!
    It's about accepting where you are…the uneventful moments usually bring the most clarity.

  15. CassieV says:

    Love this comment 🙂 Also, I love this article. Really needed both of these today.

  16. “My heart is restless, O God, until it rests in Thee” -Saint Augustine.

  17. hari says:

    The space is absolutely Not a sign of depression – it is there waiting for Investigation. If you have awareness of it you should consider yourself fortunate – as so much of the misery of this world stems from our collective subconscious craving to fill this unfillable void.

    It appears to be a void from the illusory perspective of our sensed individuality, but it is built into our egoic experience as the portal to the universal or unitive awareness which is our real nature and our birthright. We can keep on ignoring it as long as we like, but to do so is to live a partial and much smaller life than we are capable of.

    I have never encountered a contemplative tradition that wasn't saying just this. Buddhist and Vedantic Hindu traditions seem to have an easier time elaborating of this without relying on deity to paint the picture.

  18. elephantjournal says:

    When you awaken your heart in this way [through meditation], you find, to your surprise, that your heart is empty. You find that you are looking into outer space. What are you, who are you, where is your heart? If you really look, you won’t find anything tangible and solid. Of course, you might find something very solid if you have a grudge against someone or you have fallen possessively in love. But that is not awakened heart. If you search for awakened heart, if you put your hand through your rib cage and feel for it, there is nothing there except for tenderness. You feel sore and soft, and if you open your eyes to the rest of the world, you feel tremendous sadness. This kind of sadness doesn’t come from being mistreated. You don’t feel sad because someone has insulated you or because you feel impoverished. Rather, this experience of sadness in unconditioned. It occurs because your heart is completely exposed. There is not skin or tissue covering it; it is pure raw meat. Even if a tiny mosquito lands on it, you feel so touched. Your experience is raw and tender and so personal. …

    For the warrior, this experience of sad and tender heart is what gives birth to fearlessness. Conventionally, being fearless means that you are not afraid or that, if someone hits you, you will hit him back. However, we are not talking about that street-fighter level of fearlessness. Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness…You are willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face the world.

    — Chogyam Trungpa, “Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior”

  19. Tiffany says:

    People, it's a poem. 🙂

  20. hari says:

    Agreed. I wasn't concerned with the poem, which is fab.

  21. JamesAltucher says:

    Beautiful. I hadn't read that poem from Bukowski before.

  22. […] Hip Hop, Pop, Folk, you name it – there’s something to that music that touches people on a deep and inexplicable level. I recently spoke with some professional musicians to try to better understand why music has this […]

  23. Claudia says:

    Love the article…and the idea of the ‘space’ within us.

    I think this longing is in all of us in varying degrees, I have heard it called a longing to go ‘home’ (heaven), or that it is a longing for union with God.

    I have also heard it called a longing to love oneself, and that at its root is the need to love oneself more.

    I have heard it called the longing for more inner peace, and that it is gone when we achieve supreme inner peace.

    Either way, I think maybe it’s something we all grapple with…and when it spins out of control it becomes depression.

    The trick is to use this space for our own good, growth and expansion. To create through it, make art, make yoga, sit in silence, learn to love ourselves more, commune with Spirit, and anything else that makes that space within us more full of light rather than sad longing.

    Thanks for a great article!

  24. Thaddeus1 says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head Marina…the space is not a void, but it is an emptiness which will only find satisfaction through a re-establishment of one's connection with the Divine…and your quote from Saint Augustine just goes to show that it doesn't matter what tradition one chooses to approach the solution from…Hare Krishna.

  25. Allison says:

    I think this is beautiful and I am sure there are a lot of people who can relate to this. I know I can and it has helped me today, thank you. It reminds people to sit with their emotions, don't fight them.

  26. Ben_Ralston says:

    Way, I wrote a long reply to this which turned into a blog – here, if you didn't already read it: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/06/the-emptin

  27. Ben_Ralston says:

    Tracy, you may find this interesting and or helpful: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/06/the-emptin

  28. beachlovinyogi says:

    All these thoughts are those that propelled me onto the path… the longing for more to life, feeling like even though you have it all, nothing is filling that void in your heart, the longing for feeling full of life. The sensation that something is missing is the start of the awareness that we need to search in ourselves, rather than outside, for fulfillment.

  29. G Caduff-Nash says:

    i am old and spacious. i have known it all, held it all. there was always room for more.
    others have peered into me and some have stayed awhile, comfortable with the ambiance.
    now i worry. what happens when no one comes in?
    so i redecorate.
    so far, so good.

  30. Kim says:

    This article makes me feel relieved that I'm not the only one who feels that space! Thank you so much. I love this, and I love all of the comments.

  31. AlliB says:

    Thank You, I really appreciate the comment. Writing it I was still under the impression that I was the only one feeling this space. Turns out I was wrong, and that's great.

  32. […] common experience that the mind will naturally stay concentrated on anything that provides it with peace and contentment; this is an inherent capacity of the mind, so no training or practices of concentration are […]

  33. Jason Gan says:

    I think that the aspiring heart (a.k.a. buddhi mind in buddhism) will always be in a state of discontent.
    The only exception is when the aspiring heart becomes jivanmukti (liberated while mortal) or when you are dead.
    In any case, death will liberate a being from needing to have anything to do with mortal longings and basic needs.

  34. […] much as I tried, I couldn’t seem to fill the space. There was a part of me that thought to myself, It’s so small; don’t concern yourself […]

  35. G Caduff-Nash says:

    I'm reading my own writing a year later and amazed that almost to the day I am sitting here reading this page again. I was dreaming anxious things and made myself stop. I thought I'd go look for something soothing on the web. I found myself here. That's pretty damn cool.

  36. […] common experience that the mind will naturally stay concentrated on anything that provides it with peace and contentment; this is an inherent capacity of the mind, so no training or practices of concentration are […]

  37. Judi Behrendt says:

    Liked your article a lot. I think Buddhism and Taoism would agree with your thoughts. I once had a dream where I was "told"
    "Think of it as space not emptiness; you don't have to fill it up." This may be the "space" that Eckhart Tolle tells us to keep around our thoughts. However I also (as a believer in a Higher Power) believe that that space inside, that emptiness is "God-shaped" and like a puzzle piece, God is the only thing that fits perfectly inside of it. Thanks for the article, the poem and for writing so well about it. I disagree with many here who give it a somehow pathological cast.

  38. ellenx says:

    i always thought this poem was about the death of the love of his life. it's cool that ppl can interpret it in a more general way, but to me it really captures grief so perfectly…

  39. Colette says:

    There is a tribe of Indians that believe we are part of the sun. We never feel fulfilled until our life has ended and we are whole once again united with the sun. Accept that this is part of your journey and you wont keep seeking and longing for more 🙂

  40. Luis says:

    spiritual void. all there is to it. we all feel that emptiness. it takes work to feel complete. but it happens. search for spiritual meaning in your life. whether it's buddhism, or taoism, or christianity, or islam, or science, or whatever you wanna call it. find a spiritual philosophy and PRACTICE it.

    good luck.

  41. Benjie says:

    When I heard the first few lines of this poem it reminded me of Solomon. A place in our hearts that will never be filled–a hole that can never go away. In his poem, Bukowski says that even in our best moments this space will remain, as if there is nothing we can do to fill it. Then he concludes that we end up waiting in that space, maybe for something to fill it, but probably eventually surrendering to the idea that it never will be filled.

    In Ecclesiastes Solomon mentions this same hole, describing it as eternity placed there by God.

    He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV)

    The truth is that both Bukowski and Solomon are correct in that the hole will never be filled. The difference is that Bukowski is only looking to things of this world for the answer. This deep hole that Solomon describes is eternal–things of this world are temporary and so they cannot fill the hole in our hearts. Only something eternal can fill an eternal hole. Only God is eternal, and because He put that hole in our hearts, he made us to seek Him.

    He fills our hearts and satisfies our needs unlike anything else we can possess or experience.

    In the parable of the Samaritan Woman by the Well, Jesus describes this idea of an eternal hole as an unquenchable thirst, with water from the well symbolizing things of this world:

    Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13, 14 NIV)

    We were made to seek Him. An unending feeling of discontentment, the idea of enough is never enough, is one of His ways of revealing our need of Him.

  42. andrea says:

    who is the "we" that bukowski talks of, do you think?

  43. Lou says:

    No poem is just a poem.

  44. Lou says:

    Why choose one, why not study or practice all of them?

  45. Carmen says:

    Same here, thank you!

  46. Sara says:

    I think this is beautiful and honest, without the need to be analyzed or diagnosed.

  47. Jenny says:

    There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus. ~ Blaise Pascal