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. While most of us want to be happy, sometimes we do things that make us unhappy — myself included. We may think that our happiness is the result of external occurrences, but we may be the ones contributing to our unhappiness.
Here are the top 10 things you may be doing that are keeping you unhappy. Are you doing any of them?
1. Complain incessantly
What do you do when bad things happen? Do you complain? Do you lament that life is unfair? Consider these common reactions to bad events:
- “Sigh, why do bad things always happen to me?”
- “I hate it when people are late. What a poor use of my time.”
- “This is such a sucky job. I hate it.”
- “I have a terrible boss. He/She is so irresponsible, unreliable, unhelpful.”
There is nothing wrong with complaining when done moderately. However, it’s easy to lose sight and enter a negativity spiral.
In Singapore, there is a complaining culture. After traveling to Europe and the U.S., I realized that complaining happens everywhere. It’s just that people complain about different things. In Singapore, people tend to complain about the high costs of living, transport breakdowns, and work. In Holland, people complain about the erratic weather and trams running behind schedule. People in London tend to complain about the gloomy weather and the Tube going through constant repairs.
While these are problems no doubt, complaining doesn’t make our life better. Constant complaining makes you come across as a negative person. Not only that, it’s easy to use complaining as a crutch — where you complain all the time but don’t do anything about it. So how can you stop that?
- Recognize when you complain. Awareness is the first step to solving problems.
- Understand the source of negativity. Out of the 1000 incidents you experienced this week, why did you complain about this particular thing? What’s driving your anger?
- Fix the offending issue. What can you do about the problem? Less talk, more action is important.
- Focus on positive things. When you get frustrated at something, you create more of the same. Say if you spend 5 minutes being frustrated at X, you will create more frustration. Why not focus on the positive things, so that you can create more joy in your life?
2. Avoid your problems
The second step to unhappiness is to avoid your problems. Such as ignoring your unsatisfying career even though it’s giving you pain. Ignoring your work problems rather than dealing with them. Ignoring your frustrations about your living environment rather than address them.
While ignoring is easy because you don’t have to deal with the issue, it creates more problems in the long run. A career that doesn’t satisfy you will kill you on the inside. Relationships that do not fulfill you will empty your soul. Not working on long-term goals will set your life on the wrong path.
What should you do then? Acknowledge your problems. Even if you don’t have the solution right now, at least you recognize the problems. For starters, identify baby steps to address them. Proactively dealing with your problems now rather than avoiding them will help you regain your happiness.
3. Compare yourself with others
Do you like to compare yourself with others? Consider these comments:
- “Why does this person have everything going for him but I don’t?”
- “Wow, this person is so rich. I wish I can have half his success.”
- “Why do others have no problem finding love while I keep attracting the bad guys/girls?”
There’s no point in comparing because everyone is different. Everyone’s path is different. You are different from other people, just as other people are different from you. If everyone is the same, wouldn’t life is very boring?
Instead of comparing yourself to others, a better way is to think about what you want. What do you want to have? How can you create that? Use others’ success as your inspiration for what is possible, and create your own success. Benchmark, but don’t compare.
4. Worry about things that have not happened yet
Do you worry a lot? In general, 95% of our worries never manifest. Consider these common concerns:
- Someone starting a new business: What if my business fails? What if I have no customers?
- Someone going on a date: What if he/she doesn’t like me? What if I do something stupid? What if he/she isn’t the one?
- Someone giving a presentation: What if I forget what to say? What if people think I’m boring?
- Someone going to an event: What if no one wants to talk to me?
Even though it’s good to plan for contingencies, too much worrying is pointless and unhealthy. Plan what you can, then take action. Most fears are self-created and won’t even happen. And just by taking action, you can figure out the answers along the way.
5. Let your problems overwhelm you
The 5th way to be unhappy is to let your problems overwhelm you. Perhaps you are facing a major life challenge now. Remember that other people are dealing with struggles too. Even the rich and the famous have problems too, something that I shared in this post. If you are feeling overwhelmed, here are some tips to handle them:
- Seek help. You’re not alone. There are people out there who can support you. Reach out. Ask for help. You will be surprised at how ready they are to help.
- One problem at a time. If you’re facing a few big problems at one go, it can be intimidating. Rather than handle them all at one go, take them on one at a time. It makes them more manageable.
- 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 have overcome them. The internet is a great place to start looking. Look up Facebook groups on related topics and ask the people for help.
6. Do things you don’t love
Are you doing things you don’t love? The surest way to be unhappy is to do things you don’t like. If you’ve been unhappy for a while, do a life audit and write the things that are making you miserable. Maybe it’s your job that’s draining you. Maybe person X has been a toxic influence. Maybe the noise around your home is frustrating you.
For the things that you dislike, how can you address them? If you don’t like your job, work on switching jobs. If you don’t like to talk to person X, then stop talking to them (or talk to them less). If you are unhappy with your home environment, take steps to move to a new place. Research your new place and move whenever you can.
While it takes a while to make such changes, especially major one, it’s better than sticking with them. Quit the things that are making you unhappy, and move to the things that make you happy.
7. Stay with people who drain you
Are you spending time with people who drain you? For example, people who take you for granted. People who make you feel worse when you talk to them. People who hold you back in your goals.
We are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with. If you are constantly spending time with people who drain you, you will end up feeling frustrated most of the time. Here’s an exercise for you: Who are the 5 people you spend the most time with or spend the most time interacting with? Do these people uplift you or drain you?
If they tend to drain you, that’s not a good sign. Ask yourself: Who do you like to hang out with? Who brings you joy? How can you spend more time with them?
8. Try to change someone
Are you trying to change someone? A sure way to be unhappy is to try to change someone. Even though your partner or friends may change in response to your actions, the best changes should come from within. Otherwise, you are forever in a push-pull relationship with them, where you try to change them to fit your image of them.
Rather than change others, ask yourself: “What is the change I want to see in myself?” 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
Just as changing others will not bring you long-term happiness, trying to please others will never make you happy, because:
- 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.
- You subject yourself to the mercy of others. You lose your personal power and sense of self in the process.
- You live your life for others when you should, first and foremost, live 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. Do you agree with it? If yes, then you want to work on those issues — but only because you want to do so for yourself.
If you disagree with the feedback, then stand by your view! Don’t change just because someone has an expectation of how you should behave. You live for yourself, not for others.
10. Attach yourself to goals/outcomes/statuses/people
Happiness comes from within. When you attach yourself to an external object, you set yourself up for unhappiness. For example:
- Money. You earn a million dollars and you attach yourself to this new-found wealth. However, money does not last forever. Perhaps you lose the money one day. You become constantly worried by the thought of losing your money. Or you worry about not earning as much as others because you define your worth by your money.
- Relationship. You get into a great relationship and you attach yourself to your partner. However, maybe both of you grow apart one day and he/she realizes the relationship is not for him/her. You then become a fear-based, obsessive-compulsive person, frightful that you will lose him/her. That’s because you define yourself by your relationship status.
- Job. You get a great job and you attach yourself to your position/company. But one day you get retrenched unexpected. You become devastated because you define your self-identity with your job. Without that job, you feel worthless.
What’s the solution then? Rather than fixate yourself on the external world, focus on your underlying intentions instead (which is Principle #5 of 10 Timeless Principles To Be Happy).
For example, don’t attach yourself to your partner, but the intention of a loving relationship. Don’t attach yourself to money, but the notion of abundance. Don’t attach yourself to a particular friend, but your desire to be connected with others. Don’t attach yourself to your job, but the message you want to deliver through your job. And so on.
When you do that, you will become a fuller person — someone who lives in the present (not the past or future), who lives as him/herself (not as what others want you to be), and who knows what he/she stands for. You are not defined by objects, statuses, or roles, but by your message and values.
Get the manifesto version of this article: The Unhappiness Manifesto
Read as well: 10 Timeless Principles To Be Happy