10 Surefire Ways to be Unhappy


(Image: luxorphoto)

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

Last month, I wrote a guide on how to be happy. Today, I present to you the unhappiness guide: how to be unhappy. Even though all of us fundamentally want to be happy, sometimes we do things that make us unhappy — myself included. We may think that our moments of unhappiness are unavoidable, but the truth is we are the ones making ourselves unhappy.

In this guide, I share the top 10 things you may be doing which are making you unhappy. Are you doing them unconsciously? 🙂

1. Complain (Harp on bad things that happen)


(Image: Pink Sherbet)

Do you tend to complain when things don’t go to plan?

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

“I hate it when people are late. What 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. This is such a sucky job.”

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

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

How do you react to life’s hiccups? Do you look for the good side in every situation and make the best out of it? Or do you focus on the negative things and harp on them all day long?

Living in Singapore, there is a complaining culture. People tend to complain about things that don’t go to plan. It may be complaining to friends, family, the authorities, or corporations as a consumer.

However, when I was traveling in Europe and the U.S., I realized that complaining happens everywhere, be it in Asia, Europe, or the States. It’s just that people complain about different things. In Singapore, people tend to complain about the rising costs of living, traffic during peak hours, and work issues. In Holland, people complain about the erratic weather and trams running behind schedule. People in London tend to complain about the weather too (the “gloominess” due to constant grey clouds and drizzle) and the Tube going through never-ending engineering works.

While these are problems no doubt, there is something else driving the complaining. Even if these issues get resolved, the complaining wouldn’t stop. People would eventually find something else to complain about. We need to change complaining behavior by changing how we approach the problems. How do we do that?

  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 something else bothering you?
  3. Fix the offending issue. What can you do about the unhappy situation? Less talk, more action, will solve the issue. Refer to Principle #2 of How to Be Happy.
  4. Focus on positive, not negative, things. Giving attention to something will create more of the same thing. Say if you spend 5 minutes being frustrated at X, you’re going to create more frustration. On the other hand, if you spend the same time on things that bring you joy, you will get more happiness and joy. Refer to 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 in other activities! 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. As I shared in my escapism article:

“The proverb ‘Ignorance is bliss’ is probably one of the most delusional 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 will always be there until you face it. It’s like an ostrich burying its head in the sand — just because you turn your head away from everything and pretend that everything is okay, does not mean that it is okay.”

Any problems that have been bothering you of late? How can you address them?

Instead of avoiding our problems, acknowledge their presence. Identify baby steps to address them, and take these steps. A small step made in the right direction is progress.

Read: The Power of Little Changes

3. Compare yourself with others

Are you comparing yourself with others?

(Image: Pink Sherbet)

Do you have a habit of comparing yourself with others?

“Wow, he is doing so well in his career. I wish I can have half his success.”

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

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

“Why do others have no problem finding 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 that others have that you don’t, think about the life you want to have. Use others as inspiration if you want, but remember this is your vision for yourself.

Once your vision is created, take steps to realize it. The fact that others have achieved similar goals proves that you can do it too if you take the right steps. It’s a matter of whether you want to or not.


4. Worrying about things that have not happened yet

In general, most of the things we worry about never manifest. The percentage would differ from person to person, but people tend to have self-created worries than real concerns. For example:

  • 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 comparing, there’s a line between contingency planning and overwhelming yourself with self-created worries. When you spend all that time worrying about the future, you aren’t living in the present. You aren’t experiencing life the way you should.

Anticipate scenarios and plan for them where necessary, but don’t get carried away with your worries. When planning, ask yourself: “What can I do such that [X negative scenario] does not occur?” rather than being swirled in fear. That’s the point of planning — to identify how to achieve your desired results, not to psyche yourself out.

5. Let your problems overwhelm you

Unhappy girl

(Image: Pink Sherbet)

While you may be facing problems, many people have problems too. People who have “made it” also face struggles, something that I shared here. Some people thrive because they have learned to handle their problems, not because they don’t face problems.

I’ve written about how to handle daily setbacks here. In addition, here are my other tips to handle problems:

  • Grow. Problems overwhelm you because they are bigger than you — currently. When you grow, you will become bigger than the problem, where the “problems” that used to overwhelm you will no longer be of concern. Read: Level 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 much more manageable.
  • Break it down. With the one problem you are working on, 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 the things you love.

But many 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, stop staying late at work. If you don’t like to eat sushi, stop eating sushi.

You are the CEO of your life, so you call the shots on what you do and what you don’t do. No one person, object, or situation should have 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 drain you

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, pr try to change you (see #8).
  • Have no more love. Being with a partner who no longer loves you or whom you no longer love.
  • 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 and constantly throwing a wet blanket on your dreams. Basically the naysayers.
If so, there’s a big problem.

There’s a big difference between adapting to build a relationship and compromising yourself to the point where you become miserable. By relationship, I’m referring to all relationships from friendships, family relationships, and work relationships, not just romantic relationships. If you’re constantly upset/miserable/unhappy/disappointed/discouraged/frustrated with someone, you should evaluate if you want to continue interacting with this person.

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

8. Try to change someone

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?

Girl Leaning on Tree

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

Share this guide with others you want to bring happiness to. Share buttons can be found below this post. 🙂

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

Images: UnhappyGirl looking through windowUnhappy girl, Puddle, Girl trapped, Girl leaning on tree


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