I recently received an email from a reader who said she woke up unhappy every day.
Before she even gets out of bed, she feels stressed and negative. The world simply does not look like a happy place to her.
Like most of us, she has some legitimately difficult things going on in her life. She is looking for a job and worried about money, and that is certainly stressful. But as she mentioned to me, she knows her life is generally pretty good.
Yet she still asked me, Why am I always so unhappy?”
I think many people wake up with this same question in their heads. Every morning they awaken with anxiety, dissatisfaction, and negativity. Every morning they begin their day wondering why things are so bad, why life isn't fun and enjoyable, why a dark cloud always seems to hover around them.
Of course some people feel unhappy and negative because they are clinically depressed. They are suffering from an illness that impacts chemicals in their brains that affect mood. Depression is a serious condition that requires medical treatment, so be sure you know the symptoms of depression.
But for this post, I'm discussing general unhappiness — not clinical depression. (Although chronic unhappiness can lead to depression.)
Do you find yourself wondering why you are unhappy? Maybe, like I once did, you feel happiness is a random and fleeting feeling. Only when something really “good” happens in your life do you feel happy. So in this scenario, happiness is totally dependent on outside events. But we all know happiness must come from within. At least that's what we've heard.
When you are in a state of near constant negativity and dissatisfaction with life, it's hard to believe that happiness comes from within. How can it come from within when within you feel so unhappy? How can you “make yourself” feel happy when you aren't?
Frankly, I don't think it's possible to “make yourself” feel happy. But I do know you can set up the conditions that foster happiness — and you can eliminate the conditions, thoughts, and behaviors that foster unhappiness. Let's look at these for a minute.
If you are frequently unhappy, you may have arranged your life and thoughts to be the breeding ground for your unhappiness. Here are some conditions you can work on changing so they don't create more dissatisfaction and negativity in your life.
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You compare yourself to others. The more we define ourselves by what other people have, how they look, or what they have achieved, the more unhappy we become. The constant longing for something different and the feelings of jealously that comparison creates will agitate you and make you feel unhappy. How often do you compare yourself? Pay attention to this and begin to drop this bad habit.
You're in debt. Money worries can feel overwhelming and cloud an otherwise happy life with worry and grief. When you're constantly reminded that you owe money, you feel bad about yourself and unhappy with life. Just beginning the process of paying off your debt will make you feel lighter and happier. Need help with it? Read The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness.
You surround yourself with unhappy people. We are products of our environments. If you are surrounded by people who are negative and unhappy, they are going to infect you with their mood. Identify the people in your life who are frequently unhappy, and try to spend less time with them. Seek out people who have a positive and happy demeanor and attitude.
You're bored. When you don't have something going on in your life that is fun, engaging, or challenging, you will feel bored and uninspired. Life will feel flat and meaningless. You don't have to spend a lot of money to find something interesting to do with your time. Call a friend. Start walking or running. Join a book club. Staying active and around other people is a great antidote to unhappiness.
You hate your job. Since we spend so many hours a day at work, if you hate your job, you are spending most of your day unhappy. But you do have the power to change that. What is it you hate about your job? Is there anything you can change about it? If not, then start looking for another job. Just giving yourself permission to look will give you a happiness boost.
You don't like your appearance. In this youth and beauty-focused culture, it's not surprising so many people feel unhappy about the way they look. It's hard to feel attractive when the standards for attractiveness have been set so unrealistically high. Look around you, and you'll notice that most people are simply average in appearance (especially compared to models and celebrities). Make the most of your appearance by taking care of yourself, exercising, and dressing well. Look in the mirror every morning and tell yourself you love and accept yourself just as you are.
You don't have a significant other. Everyone wants that special person in their lives, the one love who makes us feel happy and complete. When you are alone in a world of couples, life can be pretty lonely. If you find you are spending a lot of time alone or with couples, it's time to find some single friends. Join single's clubs or meet-ups, sign up for a dating service, join a gym where singles hang out. And while you are looking for your true love, appreciate all of the benefits of being single.
You aren't paying attention to your health. If you feel bad physically, it will take a toll on your state of mind. If you don't get enough sleep, if you are spending too many hours working, if you haven't addressed a chronic health issue, you are going to feel depleted and unhappy. Your physical health can impact everything else in your life, so do what needs to be done to get healthy.
You are highly focused on money and material things. The longing for more money and more toys is the cause for so much dissatisfaction and unhappiness in life. Money and things might provide a temporary boost of happiness, but then you quickly become bored and long for the next thing or a higher income. Place more emphasis on relationships, experiences, and personal growth.
In addition to eliminating conditions from your life that foster unhappiness, you can also begin to add conditions that have been proven to boost our happiness levels. In her book, The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky reveals her research on what makes people feel happy. Here are some of the happiness-fostering strategies she outlines.
Count your blessings. Focus your thoughts on all of the good things and people you have in your life. Express sincere gratitude out loud or by journaling your feelings every day. Focusing on the positive will actually change your brain chemistry and boost happiness feelings.
Cultivate optimism. Actively begin to change your outlook from negative to positive. Expect good things to happen, even if you have to fake it at first. Write a vision for yourself of your ideal life circumstances and review it regularly. Again, practicing optimism will begin to change your brain and feelings.
Practice acts of kindness. When you do good things for others and see how it positively impacts them, you feel happier. You know this instinctively, but it's nice to know research has proven it.
Nurture your relationships. Our relationships are key to our happiness. Who are the people most important in your life? Who would you like to get closer to? Begin to cultivate and actively work on improving your relationships.
Review happy times mentally. Just thinking about happy events from the past can make you feel happier. Take some time every day to review past joys either in your mind or in writing. Make yourself remember the actual feelings you experienced during those joyful times.
Practice forgiveness. When we hold on to a hurt or a grudge, it's like a thorny weed that continues to poke us and undermine our joy. Nothing good comes from staying angry or hurt. Let it go. Forgive. Move on.
Practice your religion, spirituality, or personal growth. Research has shown that people who are active with their faith or personal growth are happier. They are focused on improvement and something bigger than themselves that removes them from attention on ego-based concerns
If you find yourself in a state of constant unhappiness and dissatisfaction in life, begin the work of eliminating unhappiness fostering conditions and implementing strategies. Keep a journal of your efforts and rank your level of happiness (1 is very unhappy and 10 is very happy) every day. As you become skilled at “reconditioning” your life, you should see a dramatic improvement in your happiness.
Let's start a conversation about feeling frequently unhappy. What has been your experience with long term unhappiness? How have you moved past it?