Miguel de Unamuno came up with a theory where it is only suffering that makes us human. It may sound like the Buddha’s, Siddhartha Gautama, idea where suffering is always a part of life.[1] However, Miguel thinks that suffering is not a threat to our life but rather is a gift, a starting point to build our personality. Miguel once said, “Suffering is the substance of life and the root of the personality, for it is only suffering makes us human.”[2] He also stated that if suffering is what makes us human, one way to love life is to embrace suffering with open arms. If we do not embrace the suffering, we are turning away from what makes us human.

Miguel defines suffering as the root of our personality, as the substance of life. He also defines, that to be human, we need to be something concrete, unitary and substantive (real, actual), a being that endeavour (struggle), brings up the effort, to continue to be a man and not to die.[3]

Everyone faces struggles and suffering, and so, to help my thesis, a Live – In program was held on October in a village called Sidetapa.[4] As landslides occur every time on a rainy season, especially when it rain very hard, some citizens have to move house temporary for safety. And so, Sidetapa village[5] will be an example of struggle and suffering cases in a community. The purpose of this paper is to spread knowledge about suffering, also to discuss the meaning of suffering from a philosopher, Miguel de Unamuno, and as I was interested on the root of personality, I thought of that maybe this thesis would help me go deeper and would answer the question mark.



  1. A Little About Miguel de Unamuno

Picture 1. Miguel de Unamuno








Source: Pinterest[6]


Miguel de Unamuno is a Spanish writer, educator and philosopher, who was born in 1864 in Bilbao, Spain.[7] His detailed life is left unknown, but his life appears to be quite stressful. From some experiences he had, Miguel despised inflexible and ignorant belief systems. He chose to dwell and to develop in the situation, with the help from faith and reason that was moved by his rational life.[8] Unamuno created and developed his theory from his life experience.


  1. The Concept of Suffering by Miguel de Unamuno

According to Miguel de Unamuno, human is not homo economicus[9] or homo sapiens[10] but rather, “The man of flesh and bone; the man who is born, suffers and dies—above all, who dies; the man who eats and drinks and plays and sleeps and thinks and wills; the man who is seen and heard; the brother, the real brother.”[11] Similar to what has been stated before, he defines, that to be human, we need to be something concrete, unitary and substantive (real, actual), a being that endeavour (struggle), brings up the effort, to continue to be a man and not to die.

Suffering according to him is an instrument that makes us ‘THE’ human, is “the root of our personality, the substance of life”.[12] And, according to Miguel, the rival of the root of our personality is self-consciousness. He thinks that self-consciousness is a disease, it stops humans from doing something; limits us to do anything we want to, explore the world outside.[13]

Moreover, Miguel divides life into two paths. The first path is the wisdom.[14] He stated that in this path, there will be less exploring, less suffering as we use wisdom much more to live. With wisdom or self – consciousness, we tend to think before doing anything. Like, “What is the risk if I do this?” or “What will happen if this happen while I am doing it?”

Imagine yourself choosing this path and you are going hiking with your friends to an active mountain. Since wisdom is your path, you would think first if it is worth it to go, if it is safe or not to go as it is an active mountain. At the end, you chose not to go since safety was the main priority – you do not want to risk your life only because of hiking, so you will live a safe life without danger being an obstacle.

The second path Miguel brings out is the path of knowledge.[15] If you choose to live your life in this path, your life is going to be full of experience, danger, suffering and curiousness according to Miguel. Since knowledge is your path, you would be curious to find out things, answering what, why, who, when, how and where. From that curiousness, we would want to explore in order to find the answer, either physically or by desk research. Like the proverb “curiosity killed the cat”, curiosity may bring us to dangerous situations or get involved with dangerous people. Only by that way, we will become more experienced and fearless to do things. The sufferings may result in life lesson.

He also stated that to cure the feeling of suffer is to suffer more and more.[16] The way to cure suffering is not to jump to the wisdom path but to stay in knowledge path and to bring us up. The more you suffer, the more you cure the previous suffering. That way, according to Miguel, will make us human.[17]


  1. Methods

Methods used for this research is bibliography[18] as well as interviews. It was conducted on the second day of my Live – In program, 7 September 2017, in the Head Office of Sidetapa village. I asked several questions to the head of the village with the aim to find out several types of suffering that occur in Sidetapa.

Aside from bibliography and interviews, an online questionnaire was given to students in Cendekia Harapan Junior High School from Grade 8 to 10. It was purposely given to these grade since they are going through the teenager stage. Teenagers’ stage is the hardest time as they may get pressures from school, family and others.[19] The questionnaires were distributed on 22 September 2017 and ended on 27 September 2017.


  1. Result

Attached are the question and answers from the Head of Sidetapa village.









Table 1. Question to and answer from the Head of Sidetapa Village

1What did the society suffer from the most?

a         When did it happen?

b         Was there any injured citizen or even worse, death?

c         What did the citizens did to save themselves or others?

d         What did the citizens and you learned to do after the incident?


a         Every rainy season, when it rains really hard.

b         There were but not anymore

c         Moved house. When it gets clear, they go back.

d         Work together to make terraces and to plant more trees.

2From what they / you learned, did the lesson learned worked?A little bit. The landslide reduced and does not fall directly.
3Did you become stronger in character or did you find a hidden characteristic that you never know until the incident happen?They did not but the government learned to be more helpful when a problem occurs.


A questionnaire was given also to the students of Grade 8 to Grade 10 few days after the Live-in program. Their first question was “What was the most hurting experience have you experienced? Nine out of 21 students answered this question in a romance-related and friendship answer. Three out 21 students replied in a family related answer. The rest answered self-related answer like having a TBC (Tuberculosis) or broken a leg.


The second question: Why was it the most hurting experience?

The keywords answered were ‘seen unimportant’, ‘weren’t given a reason’, ‘uncomfortable and unpleasant’, ‘it didn’t end well’, ‘it hurt so much’, ‘caregiver/ parents had too much expectation’ so the child had to do what the parents want him/her to do. If it did not go according to the supporters’ expectation, they will be called a disappointment or get scolded.


Third question: Did your personality changed in some way? What is it?

12 students from 21 students answered their personality did change in some way. There were responses like, he or she develop less feelings for people, become more distant, become less caring for people beyond his or her circle and doesn’t socialize as much as he or she used to. There are also students who become insecure and could not love themselves also become traumatized because of the experience. But on the other hand, there are some students who found positive personality after the experience. Like they’ve learnt to be more confident, more patient than before, and there are student who thinks their behaviour got better.


Fourth question: Did you face the same experience over and over again? Like you know what will happen but you still experience it? If so, how often will you face them?

14 students out of 21 answered they do face it often. There are some students face it once a year, 2 to 5 times a year, once a month and others that are really specific


Fifth question: This question may get personal. Do you know the feeling when you are rejected by the person you love? If yes, did anything in you change? What did?

76.19% of 21 students answered they know how it feels and what changed in them were (keywords): hated myself; less excited; try to be mature minded; fear the person and felt insecure; learned that life isn’t easy; to become more considerate of the person they love; keep the feeling to themselves; become more depressed than they used to; they started to question their reason of living; also; devastation; sadness; hopelessness and loneliness filled them.


Last question: Did you repeat the love experience even though you know the feeling if you get rejected? And how often if you did?

Most of them answered they do repeat them after some time. But some have learned too much from the experience so they don’t want to do it again.


From the results, I can see that there are two different types of sufferings.[20] Landslide can be considered as social and physical suffering. When there are people who got injured, that is a part of physical suffering as it creates discomfort, pain to our body and can clearly be seen from the outside. It is also a part of social suffering as the citizens should move houses, if rain falls very hard, to avoid the landslide where it is similar to homelessness and of course it threatens their survival factors by losing food stock that was in their previous home or their crops before it is harvested.

Miguel de Unamuno may have not mentioned what type of suffering he means but I can conclude that the citizens chose the knowledge path rather than the wisdom path. They don’t move house permanently because of the landslide. They choose to get back when the landslide clears in order to know what causes and what can they do to prevent landslide in the future. In result, they made terraces and plant more trees to the places where landslide mostly occurs and of course, according to the interview with the head of the village, the possibility of landslide decreased.

Meanwhile, feelings is a part of mental suffering as teens feel uncomfortable, unpleasant, broken hearted, depressed, hopelessness, devastation, sadness from their most hurting experience. Some people claim to be helpless of the situation, but there are some teens who do or would like to face the same pain. We can see that teen group W[21] chose to not to repeat or at least avoid the pain, meanwhile teen K, the one who often does or faces the pain again and again, settles on to the knowledge path. Teens in group K may have chosen the knowledge path unconsciously as they chose to live through the pain. Like stated before, the cure to suffering is to suffer more.


  1. Few words to Miguel’s theory

Personally, I agree with Miguel’s theory that human has to suffer to be human. Moving on from the current situation is to learn from what we have suffered. Experience sometimes also can bring pleasant experience but a bad experience could also happen. Suffering sometimes give human pressures to bounce back, to become a ‘better’ human than before. Additionally, I agree that the cure to suffer is to suffer more. From suffering, we get the result or the outcome and that outcome will be the life lesson. From that, it pushes us to be a ‘better’ human.

On the other hand, in Miguel’s theory, there is a big gap. He mentioned that to be human, we need to suffer but what if the person end his or her life by committing suicide? Miguel wrote in his book that humans who commits suicide is insane. He stated that the human does not have clear reason or cause to suicide.[22] That is clearly not logic, as humans do things because there are cause ‘behind’ it. Clearly, no one will commit suicide without reasons.[23]

Furthermore, I am having a dilemma that self-consciousness is a disease. Self-consciousness indeed, gives limitation for us to do something. But in some part it is important as we will need to actually think to do something. For example that you wanted to eat this yummy looking hot dog but you just ate a large pizza this afternoon. Your mom recently have been telling you to lose some weight because your mom is worried of you getting fat. You thought about it but decided to eat the hot dog anyways because you can hit the gym afterwards to burn the calories from the hot dog you ate. Yet in another situation, there are times where there are many movies you like and you would watch them in the cinemas. But the ticket costs much if you keep on watching on and on and then, you’ll use your self-consciousness to decide will it be rational to waste a lot of money on movie tickets if it can use that money for something useful.

So it differs in several situations. Choosing if we would want to eat something from the example before, decides to ignore the self-consciousness, the worries from your mom, and can be seen that it limits us to do something we want to do. But on the other example, the movie ticket, it had listen to its self-consciousness due to balancing rationality and needs.


  1. Conclusion

According to Miguel de Unamuno, everyone has two choices in life, either we live our life full with wisdom or with knowledge for curiosity. The wisdom path has less suffering, the knowledge path has more suffering. The wisdom path, according to Miguel, won’t makes us human at all since we won’t be living with a lot of experience. The knowledge path is like walking on an edge of the cliff. It gives us experience, and from those experience, we get more result or outcome to bring us to be human.

Miguel has stated that he is disappointed of the well-known person who picked the wisdom path rather than the knowledge path like “Marcus Aurelius, St. Augustine, Pascal, Rousseau, Rene, Obermann, Thomson, Leopardi, Vigny, Lenau, Kleist, Amiel, Quental, Kierkegaard”[24] However, in my opinion, it is of course, not a must to choose the knowledge path since everyone has the right on how to live. From the analysis, I think I can live in balanced paths for my life. To live on the knowledge path with my self-consciousness to balance things like rationality and needs, also capturing much experience at the same time, become more curious on things surrounds me, and accept suffering in order to keep myself grow better each day.


  1. Reference

An interview to the Head of Sidetapa Village, conducted on 7th September 2017.


Anderson, Ronald E. 2013. Human Suffering and Quality of Life. USA: Springer e-book.


Buckingham, Will., Douglas Burnham, Clive Hill, Peter J. King, John Marenbon, Marcus Weeks. 2011. The Philosophy Book Big Ideas Simply Explained. Great Britain: Dorling Kindersley Limited.


Institute of World Culture: Miguel de Unamuno his Life and Philosophy. Accessed on 10 November 2017. “Teens Talk About Stress” YouTube. 3 Jan 2013. Web. Retrieved from 19 November 2017.


Snell, Marilyn Berlin. “Miguel de Unamuno”. Accessed from On 19 November 2017.


Unamuno, Miguel de. 1954. The Tragic Sense of Life. New York: Dover Publication, Inc,.


Unknown. “Desa Sidetapa”. Accessed from On 20 September 2017.

[1] Will Buckingham and his friends, The Philosophy Book Big Ideas Simply Explained, (Great Britain: Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2011), 233.

[2] Institute of World Culture, Miguel de Unamuno his Life and Philosophy,, accessed on 10 November 2017.

[3] Miguel de Unamuno, The Tragic Sense of Life, (New York: Dover Publication, Inc, 1954), 17.

[4] It is located in Buleleng district, Bali. It has the area of 965.43 Ha.00

Sidetapa village has several other village nearby on its north in which Tampekan village is located. Cempaga village is on the south and east, and Banjar village is located in the west of Sidetapa area. Unknown, “Desa Sidetapa”, accessed from, on 20 September 2017.

[5] Natural disaster happens every time it rains very hard there. An interview to the Head of Sidetapa Village, conducted on 7th September 2017.

[6] Pinterest, “Miguel de Unamuno”, accessed from, on 23 November 2017.

[7]Institute of World Culture, Miguel de Unamuno his Life and Philosophy,, accessed on 10 November 2017

[8] Marilyn Berlin Snell, “Miguel de Unamuno”, accessed from, on 19 November 2017.

[9] Another term for economic man, a man who attempts to enlarge servises as a consumer and economic benefit as a producer.  Homo economicus. (n.d.) In Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved from

[10] Another term for modern human, discovered in Africa. Danny Penny, Mike Steel, Peter J. Widdel and Michael D. Hendy, 1995, Improved Analyses of Human mtDNA Sequences Support a Recent African Origin for Homo sapiens, U.S., University of Chicago 863 – 893,, (2 December 2017).

[11] Miguel de Unamuno, The Tragic Sense of Life (New York: Dover Publication, Inc, 1954), 34 – 35.

[12] Institute of World Culture, Miguel de Unamuno his Life and Philosophy,, accessed on 10 November 2017

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17]The cure to suffering is not to be submerged in unconsciousness, but to be raised to consciousness and to suffer more. The evil of suffering is cured by more suffering, by higher suffering. Do not take opium, but put salt and vinegar in the soul’s wound, for when you sleep and no longer feel the suffering you are not. And to be, that is imperative. Do not then close your eyes to the agonizing Sphinx, but look her in the face and let her seize you in her mouth and crunch you with her hundred thousand poisonous teeth and swallow you. And when she has swallowed you, you will know the sweetness of the taste of suffering.”  Miguel de Unamuno, The Tragic Sense of Life (New York: Dover Publication, Inc, 1954), 282.

[18] “A list of the books referred to in a scholarly work, typically printed as an appendix.” Bibliography. (n.d.) in Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved from

[19] Mainly being judged about their appearance by friends, expectation from parents, and too much work from school. “Teens Talk About Stress” YouTube. 3 Jan 2013. Web. Retrieved from  19 November 2017.

[20] One is social and physical (landslide) and other one is mental (feelings). A professor from the University of Minnesota, explained from his research and experience, that there are three types of suffering. They are physical suffering, mental suffering and social suffering.[20] Physical suffering includes “agony, discomfort, excruciation, hurt, incapacitation, torture, torment, soreness, acute pain,…” Mental suffering includes “anguish, angst, anxiety, addiction, stressed, troubled, craving, post-traumatic stress disorder, compulsive disorder, loss, mourning, regret, heartbreak, hopelessness,… ” and social suffering, which includes “social exclusion discrimination, incapacitation, shame, relative deprivation, subjugation, homelessness, survival risk factors,…” Ronald E. Anderson, Human Suffering and Quality of Life, (USA: Springer e-book, 2013), 11.

[21] I’ll divide them to two groups so it will be easy to sort and understand. W is wisdom and K is knowledge.

[22] Miguel de Unamuno, The Tragic Sense of Life (New York: Dover Publication, Inc, 1954), 69.

[23]Perhaps the first thing to say about suicide is that people make suicide attempts for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes people want to die, or half want to die.” Charles Raison, “Psychiatrist: I hate suicide but also understand it”, retrieved from, on 31 January 2018.

[24] He did not state why he is disappointed. “ burdened with wisdom rather than knowledge.” Institute of World Culture, Miguel de Unamuno his Life and Philosophy,, accessed on 10 November 2017.