How To Be Unhappy: 10 Surefire Ways To Be Unhappy in Life


Are there times when you feel beaten up and let down by life? Are there times when you feel unhappy and it seems like nothing can cheer you up?

Last month, I wrote a guide on how to be happy. Today, I present to you the unhappiness guide, on how to be unhappy. The reason why I’m writing this guide is because while most of us (I assume) want to lead a happy life, many of us subconsciously do things that make us unhappy at times – myself included. We may think our times of unhappiness are the result of things not going our way, but the truth is we are the ones making ourselves unhappy.

Today’s guide is to bring your awareness to top 10 things you may be doing which are directly or indirectly making you unhappy (or less happy than you can be).

Review them carefully and ask yourself if you do them. Some of us may recognize them as prevalent trends in our life. Some of us may be unconscious that we even do them. However, what it takes is some hard, deep introspection to recognize that there are times, perhaps not frequent, but definitely times when we slip into such modes without knowing it at all. These are usually times when we are stressed, faced with problems that are bigger than us, which cause us to descend into lower levels of consciousness.

The point is not to feel bad that we do them. The point is to become conscious of such occurrences and learn to deal with the offending situations in the correct manner. For each pitfall, I’ve included steps you can take to address it. By simultaneously avoiding these 10 unhappiness pitfalls and embracing the 10 happiness principles, we can increase our fulfillment in daily life.

Here goes:

1. Complain (Harp on bad things that happen)


Do you have a habit of complaining when things don’t go to plan?

“Oh my god! Why does this always happen to me?”

“I hate it when people are late. Waiting is such a poor use of my time.”

“Sigh, there’s so much work to do. It’s not fair that I’m always getting the brunt of the work while others don’t. This is such a sucky job.”

“I have a terrible boss. She/He is irresponsible, unresponsive, and unpleasant.

“Rain, rain, rain. I hate bad weather.”

What kind of person are you? Are you someone who looks for the goodness in every situation and makes the best out of it? Or are you someone who fixates on negative things that happen, even the smallest little things, and harp on them the whole day long?

Living in Singapore, it is known there is a complaining culture here. People tend to complain as first reaction to things that don’t go to plan. It may be complaining to friends in daily banter, complaining to family, complaining to authorities, complaining to corporations as a consumer, and so on.

However, when I was traveling halfway across the world to Europe and US last year, I realized that complaining isn’t a Singaporean thing – it happens everywhere, be it in Asia, Europe, or the States. It’s just that people complain about different things in different places. In Singapore, people tend to complain about rising costs of living, congestion during peak hours, and work issues. In Holland, people tend to complain about the erratic weather and trams/trains running behind schedule. People in London tend to complain about the weather too (the “gloominess” due to perpetual grey clouds and constant drizzle) and the Tube (the London train system) going through engineering works that never end. Etc.

The real problem has nothing to do with the weather, transport, or unreasonable costs. Sure there may be a basis behind the complaints, but my point is even if those “issues” people complain about get resolved, the complaining wouldn’t stop there. People would eventually find something else to complain about, because that’s just the way they are.

How do we tackle “complainism” then? (My self-created term that refers to one’s tendency to complain.) It may not be eradicated right away, but the following steps will help:

  1. Be conscious of times when you complain. Awareness is the first step to solving any problem.
  2. Understand the source of negativity. Out of the 1000 incidents you experience in a week, why do you complain about this particular thing/person/situation? Is there a hidden grievance waiting for you to address?
  3. Fix the offending issue. What can you do about the unhappy situation? Less talk, more action, will solve the issue. Read Principle #2 of How To Be Happy.
  4. Focus on positive, not negative, things. What you give attention to will create more of the same thing. So if you spend 5 minutes being frustrated at X thing, you’re going to create more frustration, like seeds that sprout into seedlings. On the other hand, if you spend the same time on things that make you happy, that bring you joy, you’re going to get more happiness and joy. Read Principle #4 of How To Be Happy.

2. Avoid your problems

Have something you can’t handle? Hide from it! Eat your heart out! Drown yourself with other activities! Sleep it away! Work! Jump into the next relationship! Put it off to a later date! Whatever you do, don’t deal with the problem!

Avoiding your problems doesn’t make you happier because it doesn’t solve anything. It only perpetuates the problem.

‎”The proverb, Ignorance Is Bliss, is probably one of the single most deluded proverbs of all time. If there is an issue you are facing with, that issue doesn’t disappear by avoiding it. It’s still there; it always will be until you face it.

It’s like an ostrich burying its head in the sand – Just because you are turning your head away from everything else and pretending everything is okay, does not mean it is okay.” – Living in Liberation (2009 site classic)

(I shared my escapism behaviors in detail in Living in Liberation, which I recommend you check out as a self-reflection piece.)

Have there been any problems bothering you of late? What can you do to start addressing them?

Instead of avoiding them, acknowledge the presence of those problems first. Then, identify baby steps to address them, and take these steps. One step, however small, is progress when made in the right direction. Refer to point #5 for a list of helpful tips to handle problems.

3. Compare with others

Are you comparing yourself with others?

Do you have a habit of comparing yourself with others?

“Wow, he/she is doing so well in his/her career. I wish I can have half the success he/she has.”

“Why am I not as rich as this person? It’s not fair that there are people born into riches but not me.”

“Why does this person have everything going for him/her while I don’t?”

“Why is it that others have no problem attracting people they love while I seem to attract the worst people?”

I think it’s pointless to compare because you are not other people, and other people are not you. Rather than feel discouraged by the things others have that you don’t have, think about the life you want to have. Use others as inspiration in your vision if you want, but remember this is your vision for yourself. (Day 2 of Live a Better Life in 30 Days Program is about creating your ideal life.)

Once your vision is created, take the necessary steps to realize it. If anything, the fact that others have achieved similar goals to what you want to accomplish is living proof that you can do it too, if you take the right steps. It’s a matter of whether you’re ready for it or not.


4. Worry about things that have not happened yet

Don’t quote me on this, but I believe 95% of the things we worry about never manifest. The percentage would differ from person to person, but by and large the ratio is skewed toward self-created worries than real concerns.

Let’s take for example typical concerns one would have in the following scenarios:

  • Starting a new business: What if the business fails? What if I don’t get any investors? What if I have no customers? What if I lose all my money?
  • Going on a date: What if he/she doesn’t like me? What if I do something stupid? What if he/she turns out not to be the person I’m looking for?
  • Giving a presentation: What if I forget what I want to say? What if people think I’m boring? What if I get asked questions I can’t answer?
  • Going to a social event: What if no one wants to talk to me? What if I get stuck in an awkward conversation? What if it gets boring?

Like with comparison, there’s a line between hypothesizing scenarios to plan for the future, and overwhelming yourself with self-conjured events that have not even happened yet (and possibly will never happen). When you spend all that time worrying about the future, you aren’t living in the present. You aren’t experiencing life as it is.

Anticipate varying scenarios and plan for them where necessary, but don’t get carried away with the bad stuff. When planning, ask yourself: “What can I do such that [X negative scenario] does not occur?” vs. getting swirled up in fear. That’s the whole point of planning – to identify steps to achieve your desired results, not to psyche yourself out.

5. Let your problems overwhelm you

An Unhappy Girl

So you have problems – Who doesn’t? Everyone faces problems. You have to be kidding yourself if you think there are people who do not face difficulties. Even for people who have “made it” in life (whatever you define that to be), they do so because they have learned to handle their problems, not because they don’t face problems.

I’ve written about how to handle daily setbacks in 13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way. In addition to those 13 tips, here are my other tips on how to handle problems:

  • Grow. Problems overwhelm you because they are bigger than you – currently. By growing, you will become bigger than the problem, by which the “problems” that used to overwhelm you will no longer be of concern. Read: Leveling Up
  • Seek help. You’re not alone in your frustration. There are always people out there who can support you. Reach out and ask for help. You will be surprised at how ready they are to help you.
  • Learn from people who overcame similar problems before. There are 7 billion people out there, so there will definitely be people who have faced the same problems you have and subsequently overcame them. The internet is a great place to start looking. A simple google search will bring up relevant results.
  • One problem at a time. It can be intimidating if you’re faced with 3-4 big problems at one go. However, if you tackle them one at a time, it becomes a lot more manageable.
  • Break it down. Then with the one problem you handle, break it down into little parts. Address them one by one. Soon, you’ll be making great progress without even realizing it.

6. Do things you don’t love

You would think it’s obvious that if you want to happy, you should just do things that you love.

But a lot of people don’t do that. They stay on in jobs they don’t love. They do things they don’t enjoy. They hang out with people they don’t like (see next point #7). They put up with situations they hate. Naturally, they become unhappy.

Do you do any of that? Why? Why do you put yourself through such unhappiness?

Here’s something I’d like you to do. From now on, stop doing things that make you unhappy. Start doing more things that make you happy. If you don’t like your job, make plans to switch jobs. If you don’t like to hang out with X, stop hanging out with him/her. If you don’t like to stay late at work, then stop staying late at work. If you don’t like to eat sushi, then stop eating sushi.

You are the CEO of your life, so you call the shots on what you should do and what you should not do. No one person, object or situation has power over you unless you give him/her/it the power in the first place.

Be sure to read:

7. Stay on in relationships that no longer serve you

Feelings of Oppressed

Are you staying on in relationships that aren’t making you happy? For example, relationships that:

  • Devalue you. Friends who don’t value your company, take you for granted, don’t value your opinions, try to change you (see #8), etc
  • Have no more love. Being with a partner who no longer loves you or whom you no longer love like in the past
  • Bring you negativity. Relationships that have a more detrimental than positive effect on your well-being (say, with energy vampires)
  • Hold you back from your goals. People who discourage you from pursuing your goals, constantly throwing a wet blanket on top of your dreams
If so, then there’s a big problem.

There’s a big difference between adapting to develop a relationship and compromising yourself to the point where you become miserable. (By relationship, I’m referring to friendships, relationships with family members, love, etc, not just romantic relationships.) If you’re constantly upset/miserable/unhappy/discouraged/disappointed/angry/frustrated in a relationship, it’s time to consciously evaluate if this relationship is one you want to stay on.

I’ve written about this extensively via the articles below, so be sure to read them:

8. Try to change other people

This is a surefire way to be unhappy. You can never change anyone. You can do things in hopes that they will change, but ultimately it is their choice on whether they want to change or not. Doing things with the expectation that others will change is to set yourself up for unhappiness.

Even if people do change in response to your actions, it doesn’t solve the problem. While you may be happy initially, you will find something to nitpick on after a while.  That’s because the problem isn’t them – the problem is your desire to change them. In the end, you spend half your life trying to change others, leaving only one person unhappy – you.

Your desire to change others stems from an improvement you wish to see about yourself, in your life. So rather than change others, ask yourself: “What is the change I want to see about myself, about my life?” Then, work on that. You will find that as you work through the changes, the things that used to bother you about others will no longer be an issue.


9. Try to please others

Do you spend a good chunk of your time trying to please others?

If so, how has that been working out for you?

Real self hidden behind shadows

Just like changing others will not bring you long-term happiness, trying to please others will never make you happy either, because:

  1. It’s impossible to please everyone. Even if you please one person, there will be someone else who is unhappy with you, because everyone is different.
  2. You subject yourself at the mercy of others – losing your personal power and sense of self in the process.
  3. You live your life for others when you should, first and foremost, be living it for yourself.

If there is someone who is displeased with you, the immediate answer isn’t to change yourself. First, understand the source of displeasure. Is it something you agree with? If it is, then you may want to work on those issues – but only because you want to do it for yourself.

If you disagree with the feedback, then stand by your viewpoint! Don’t change yourself just because someone has different expectations on how you should be. You live for yourself, not for other people.

Further reading:

10. Attach yourself to goals/ outcomes /things /statuses /people

Nothing is permanent. By attaching yourself to something that has not happened yet, may or may not happen in the future, and will not persist even after it happens (because nothing is forever, except our spiritual bodies), you set yourself up for unhappiness.

Some simple examples:

  • Money. You earn a million dollars and you attach yourself to this new-found wealth. However, money is not forever. Perhaps you will not have the money one day. Or even if you continuously generate higher amounts of wealth (which is terrific), you certainly can’t take it with you when you die. You become miserable with the notion of losing your money – or even, the notion of death.
  • Relationship. You get into a great relationship with a terrific person and you attach yourself to him/her. However, maybe one day both of you will grow apart and you or him/her may realize the relationship is not meant for you anymore. You then slide into a fear-based, obsessive compulsive, neurotic, clingy persona that you never were, frightful that you would lose him/her – Not realizing that you have lost yourself in the process.
  • Job. You get a job at a great company and you attach yourself to your position/company. One day, unexpectedly, you get retrenched. You become devastated because you had defined so much of yourself around the company. Without that job, you feel worthless.
  • Future. You really want to achieve X goal (say publish a book, release an album, become a world-renowned photographer, etc), to the extent where you base your identity around it. You do everything in your power to achieve this goal, which is fantastic, except that you also become frustrated whenever you don’t see your desired results manifesting. Your emotions would yo-yo up and down, depending on whether you see results or not. In the end, your results become affected by your fluctuating emotions, which creates a vicious cycle.

What’s the solution then? Become some jaded, emotionless zombie? No, not at all. Rather than fixate yourself on the external world and get into a mad frenzy when it changes against your wishes, focus on your underlying intentions instead (which is Principle #5 of How To Be Happy).

For example, don’t attach yourself to your partner, but the intention for a loving relationship. Don’t attach yourself to money, but the notion of abundance. Don’t attach yourself to a particular friend, but the desire to be connected with others. Don’t attach yourself to your job, but the message you want to deliver through the job. And so on.

When you do that, you will become a fuller person – One who lives in the present (not the past or future), one who lives for him/herself (not for other people), one who lives as him/herself (not as what others want you to be), and one who knows what he/she stands for (not defined by objects, status, or roles).

Concluding Note

Feel free to share this guide with others you want to bring happiness to. Convenient share buttons can be found below this post. :)

Get the manifesto version of this article: [Manifesto] 10 Surefire Ways To Achieve Unhappiness

Images: Stop complainingGirl looking through windowUnhappy girl, Puddle, OppressedGirl behind grass

  • Glenn

    Nice article Celes!

    Number 2 would be the one that affects me the most. Although I find that if I do have a problem, taking a sleep does actually help! I wake up with a clear head and can then deal with the problem a lot more easily.

    Other than, I don’t think I’m guilty of any of the others anymore. I wanted to stop making videos for a while there thinking to myself that it was something that I didn’t enjoy, as in number 6. But later realised that was only due to the people I was working for who would always stress out, or not want to pay me etc. People who I guess you would call energy vampires. But working with the right people, I enjoy what I’m doing.

    • Celes

      Thanks Glenn! :D Yes you’re right – sleeping over a heavy problem can definitely help sometimes. It does for me too. I usually wake up with a clearer head.

      What I’m referring to are more of people who turn to other activities repeatedly as an avoidance measure though. Like people who rebound from one relationship to the next, those who turn to promiscuous sex, emotional eating, retail therapy, and so on. Some people are conscious of it, while some may not be.

    • Celes

      On a related note, I didn’t think the points in the post would apply to you either. You’re definitely a very positive person. Your communications are always very conscious and level-headed. Including the answers you give in the ongoing challenges. I think that’s one of the reasons I always look forward to reading your comments.

      • Glenn

        Thanks Celes :mrgreen:

        Remember that food itself is probably one of the biggest causes of problems people have. Too much sugar, caffeine, cooked meals, dairy and gluten. On days I’ve gone without eating some fresh fruit (excluding during fasts), my mind’s a mess! I just can’t concentrate as well. So for people eating too much unhealthy cooked food or snacks all the time, of course they will have problems. Then it becomes easy for them to be avoiding those problems as you described.

  • CH

    Hi Celes,

    I think this post is very much relevant to me. I am the kind of nice person trying to please everyone around me: my family, my friends, and my girl friend. At the end, I find that the person least pleased is me myself. After reading this post, I realize that my happiness is derived from their well being. If they are not happy, so do I. I share their sadness and grievances with too much emotional attachment. This post hit me hard on my head that, all the while I have not been responsible for my own happiness. Sometimes I will even blame them for creating such an unhappiness environment. I think the problem is because deep inside me I feel that if I don’t share their sadness together, it means I am not being attentive to their problems, which will make me feel like an ignorant person. But in fact, this kind of weird emotional self-imposed obligation causes me to be unhappy like them as well. It’s like a vicious cycle, rolling on and on…

    I aware that I do not find a balance point between showing concern and being too emotionally attached. This post reminds me that I should in charge of my own happiness. As depicted in Seven Habits by Steven Covey, I should place more emphasis on my circle of influence rather than circle of concern, which is always larger than the circle of influence. I should break free from this kind of emotional attachment and set ground rules in dealing with my loved ones. I should understand there is a limit on what I can do. Those who truly love me will too understand and support me. If they don’t, then point #7 (Stay on in relationships that no longer serve you) is a good reference for me.

    • Celes

      Hey CH, that is an incredible realization. I’m happy for you that you uncovered that as the reason for happiness/unhappiness. Like you said, set your boundaries (not in the way of keeping others out, but on what you are able to give to others and what you aren’t able to give); don’t put your whole soul/self into the people you because that will only consume you, as it seems it might have at some point (unless it’s truly what you want to do). All the best as you take charge in your happiness, and if you haven’t, check out the 10 Timeless Principles for Lasting Happiness too, which may be helpful for your situation.

  • TSK. Raman

    Things discussed here are wonderful eye-openers, which serves us in-puts that we might already know or some would have experienced, yet when its is nicely offered in a fashion it’s been done here, it can be certainly enlightening.

    Great stuff Glen let the foutains of thoughts keep coming, let this keep flowing like a perennial river.

    All that I would like to conclude is that, “You can be happy only as much as you choose to be happy and its all in your mind.”

    • Glenn

      Well said!

  • Joe Lee

    Number 10 used to be my weakness. Attaching myself to results. I got upset when I didn’t get the desire outcome. Fortunately, now I’m able to detach from the results, and take those mistakes as learnings. In fact, I celebrate when I made mistakes nowadays. Thank you for the valuable post.