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“Why am I unhappy?” – 10 no bullsh*t tips if you feel this is you

It’s a question for the ages: why am I unhappy?

Why does it seem like everyone around you has things to do, places to be, and events to be excited about, while you are permanently stuck in a state of emptiness, numbness, and unhappiness?

What is it about life and happiness that everyone else seems to get but you just can’t figure out?

It’s not easy. I know. I was deeply unhappy for years.

I was a guy in my mid-20s who was lifting boxes all day in a warehouse. I had few satisfying relationships – with friends or women – and a monkey mind that just wouldn’t shut itself off.

During that time, I lived with anxiety, insomnia, and way too much useless thinking going on in my head.

My life seemed to be going nowhere. I was a ridiculously average guy and deeply unhappy to boot.

But after spending countless hours studying eastern philosophy and western psychology, I discovered the real cause of my unhappiness, and with a few drastic mindset shifts and behavior changes, I’ve been able to create a life that is much more meaningful and fulfilling than the life I was living.

But before I dive into the mindset shifts and behaviors that helped me, it’s first important to understand why so many people are feeling unhappy and depressed in the modern world.

I think you’ll be able to relate to these causes of unhappiness. I know I did.

The Modern Epidemic of Unhappiness

It might not always seem like it, but we are living in the best age of human history.

The 21st century is the most peaceful period worldwide in written human history, with less war and violence than ever before.

While we have a long way to go to ending poverty, hunger, disease, and other chronic issues of humanity, more of us than ever before have the rights and means to live a normal, rewarding life, and we continue to trend positively as time goes on.

But unhappiness also seems to be trending upward.

The 2019 World Happiness Report is one of the latest in a long line of studies showcasing the steady rise of negative feelings around the world.

Since 2007, happiness around the world has significantly dropped year-by-year, with mental health issues consequently growing every year.

The problem is that there isn’t one explanation, no single factor that we can reverse to rewind the global growth of unhappiness.

The likeliest explanation for the general shift from happiness to unhappiness is that we have unknowingly adopted a set of trends and changes to the way we live and what we expect from our lives which have made it more difficult to consider ourselves happy.

Some of these factors include:

  • The growing use of technology
  • Social media and the “digital” second life
  • Less overall facetime with those around us and weakening social and interpersonal skills
  • The growing reliance on addictions, including addictions to alcohol, food, work, gambling, drugs, sex, and more
  • Competitive stress
  • Climate change stress

Social unhappiness is not something that we can solve, at least not overnight, or even in just a few years.

Without knowing it or intending it, we created a world where unhappiness seems to have become our default setting, making each day heavier and harder to deal with.

But changing the world again isn’t the answer, particularly when we can’t pin it down to a single issue.

The best way we can begin moving away from unhappiness is by accepting that the world might naturally make us unhappy, and now – as people – it’s our responsibility to actively work towards a happy life.

Changes in our mindset, in our habits, and in our perspective are changes we can control, so this is where we need to begin when it comes to understanding our unhappiness and, ultimately, healing it.

Why Unhappiness Is More Prevalent Than Ever Before

When studying the modern crisis of unhappiness, both at a social and individual level, it’s important to ask the question – are we really unhappier than ever before, or do we simply have the resources to study and assess our unhappiness in ways that previous generations didn’t?

For example, did people in the Middle Ages have the same time to worry about and overthink their happiness or unhappiness that we do today?

And in knowing that, does that make our unhappiness less problematic?

Is our unhappiness simply a result of the conditions we have created in the modern world?

And even if it is, does that trivialize its existence?

In the early 20th century, philosopher Bertrand Russell asked these questions and sought to understand why people were reportedly unhappier than previous generations.

He believed that his fellow philosophers had embraced unhappiness in an act of “intellectual snobbery”, in which writers, philosophers, and other educated individuals around him had learned to become “proud of their unhappiness”.

How?

Because they believe that their unhappiness proved they were part of the educated elite who were smart enough to discover the meaninglessness and loneliness of the human condition.

But Russell believed that this mindset was pathetic, and argued that in the face of a world that drove people to unhappiness, the true act you should be proud of is accomplishing a state of happiness against all odds.

So Russell sought to understand the aspects of the modern world which drove people to unhappiness, and in his 1930 The Conquest of Happiness, he did exactly that: assessed the differences in modern and pre-modern society and how these led to societal unhappiness.

Here are the modern causes of unhappiness that Russell highlighted:

1. Meaninglessness

Meaningless is truly a modern dilemma. As we learned how to study and understand the world and universe around us, we also learned how tiny and meaningless our lives were in the grand scheme of things; and this meaninglessness could be attributed to the sense of, “Why should I even try?”

This existential angst is the first thing we have to get over, and knowing how to find meaning in a universe that ultimately doesn’t care that we exist.

2. Competition

The shift to capitalist societies worldwide meant that competition became one of the most important aspects of our lives. We compete in terms of achievements, salaries, and the things we own.

This led to individualism, and the focus on self-growth and self-actualization, and while these are positive steps in our self-development, they also consequently led to a natural disconnect from those around us.

3. Boredom

The Industrial Revolution saved us from toiling in fields and factories performing endless tasks to survive, but it also gave us something previous generations never had: ample time to think and be bored.

This boredom comes with the loss of purpose, which adds to the loss of meaning.

4. Fatigue

Fatigue is a purely modern issue because it’s a kind of exhaustion that our forefathers never had to deal with.

Hard, back-breaking labor can make you feel accomplished and exhausted at the end of a long day, but many of us no longer participate in that kind of work.

Instead, we do grueling 8-12-hour days in an office or behind a desk, exerting continuous mental effort while our bodies stay stagnant.

This leads to a disconnect between our minds and bodies – we are exhausted from mental fatigue while our bodies feel like they haven’t done a minute of work.

This ultimately gives the brain a confused sense of whether it should feel tired or not tired, leaving you restless and exhausted at the same time.

5. Envy

Although Russell didn’t know it at the time, his description of envy as a modern issue leading to unhappiness reflects contemporary discussions surrounding FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and jealousy on social media.

While we can connect in more ways than ever before, we also end up feeling disconnected from those around us, because we want what they have but cannot have it ourselves.

We end up comparing our lives to their lives and feel unaccomplished because we haven’t reached their heights.

6. Guilt and Shame, Persecution Mania, and Public Opinion

Russell’s last three points all have to do with how others feel about us – guilt and shame, persecution mania (or self-absorption, and the idea that people are thinking about us negatively or positively), and public opinion.

These are modern issues because we now live in communities that are bigger and more connected than ever before.

We no longer have to worry about just the thoughts and judgments of our family, neighborhood, and village; we now have to think about the possibility of everyone on social media judging us negatively.

Related: I was deeply unhappy…then I discovered this one Buddhist teaching

Unhappiness VS Depression: Knowing the Difference

With both unhappiness and depression reportedly at all-time highs, how do you know whether you are unhappy or depressed?

Is it simply an issue of semantics and which word you would prefer to use, or are there real differences behind unhappiness and depression?

According to clinical psychiatrists, there are important differences between what counts as unhappiness and what counts as depression.

While there is some overlap, there are key lines between the two.

Unhappiness

Unhappiness generally comes with feelings of numbness, emptiness, and flatness.

Words like dejected, sorrowful, miserable, joyless, down, and sometimes depressed all feel like states you can relate with.

Unhappiness can include both the feelings of negativity after a stressful event – a break-up, a family death, or job loss – as well as the chronic unhappiness surrounding the feelings that life is difficult and you have little control over the things that happen to you.

Depression

While depression also comes with emptiness and numbness, diagnosable depression also includes physiological symptoms, including increased fatigue, appetite changes, and sleep disorders.

You might also experience memory problems and decreased concentration.

Finally, you will find it difficult to find the motivation to do the things you love, and you might experience suicidal thoughts until you get the help you need.

Simply put, depression is a kind of extreme unhappiness, one that may have underlying genetic factors involved.

Antidepressant medication is almost always required to help clinically cure or ease depression, because depression is heavily influenced by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, whereas unhappiness can be attributed to a psychological mindset more than anything else.

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Are You Addicted to Unhappiness?

We naturally assume that we’re all configured to pursue pleasure and avoid pain; that happiness is the goal we naturally seek to achieve, and unhappiness is something we strive to leave behind.

But this isn’t actually true, as there are some of us who relish in the state of unhappiness, chasing it and boasting the state of having it.

Psychiatrists aren’t certain what makes people addicted to unhappiness.

Some believe it’s not actually an addiction to unhappiness at all, but an addiction to the familiarity of the feeling of being dissatisfied.

Other explanations for unhappiness addiction include:

1. Lifelong struggles with negative and traumatic experiences create an unconscious need to return to the familiar negativity

2. Some of us believe that feeling happy is ignorant because of how many issues and problems exist in the world, so unhappiness should be the norm

3. Some use dissatisfaction and unhappiness to be better people, living healthier lives and working harder towards their goals

4. They fear happiness because they believe that things will ultimately end up disappointing them, so they avoid being disappointed by never being happy to begin with

5. They believe that unhappiness is more realistic and practical, and they are proud of their more sensible emotions

6. Negative parenting styles taught people unrealistic expectations of themselves, meaning they can never reach their own goals

7. Issues with self-esteem and insecurity making people believe they don’t deserve happiness

8. Happiness can be frightening for those who aren’t used to it, so they avoid things that might make them happy

Do you think that you or someone you know may possibly be addicted to unhappiness?

Here are some obvious characteristics of people who are chronically unhappy:

1) They need to be miserable:

For unhappy people, there is nothing more terrifying than life “getting too good”.

They might have just gotten a promotion, a new job, a great relationship, or anything else, but they’ll focus on the one or few small negatives in their life to put themselves in a bad mood.

They don’t know how to appreciate life, and instead always try to find ways to sour their own mood.

2) They always compete with others

They always need to be the biggest victim in the room.

When other people start getting attention for their own difficult circumstances, unhappy people have to pull the spotlight back toward them, proving that they are the biggest victim (and they’ll never take responsibility for their issues).

3) They can’t bounce back

We all experience setbacks, and we all have to get back on our feet and try again. But unhappy people magnify the setbacks and try to build their entire lives around them.

They use the setbacks to justify their terrible mindsets and become enslaved to their own negative emotions. In many cases, these are just excuses to stop trying or stop leaving their comfort zone.

4) They fall to compulsive and addictive behaviors

Unhappy people generally aren’t very strong-willed, so they are also prone to falling to compulsive and addictive behaviors.

They jump from one distraction to another as a form of escapism from their “difficult” life, and they often have problems controlling their relationships with drugs, food, alcohol, and sex.

5) They are heavily influenced by present emotions

It doesn’t matter how good their week has been; if a single bad event disrupts their mood, they will forget all the positives in their life and lash out like the world is over.

This leads them to have unfulfilling, dramatic, and toxic relationships, in which they are often emotionally and verbally abusive to their partner for not being as unhappy as they are.

Related: What J.K. Rowling can teach us about mental toughness

How You Unknowingly Create Your Own Unhappiness, and How To Be Happier: 5 Mental Patterns to Address

Unhappiness may not feel like a choice, but in many ways it is: a long-term choice resulting from a series of mental and behavioral smaller choices that we make every day.

It’s important to understand that the human mind and body is a machine – a biological machine, with its own needs and requirements, and keeping the mind and body healthy is essential towards keeping yourself happy.

We make our own unhappiness without realizing it through so many of the little things we do.

Here are some mental and behavioral decisions we make that influence our unhappiness:

1. Prioritizing Loss Aversion

Why this makes you unhappy:

You prioritize avoiding negativity over seeking positivity. You care more about your own fear of dealing with pain and sadness than earning your own self-actualization and achievement.

So you live inwardly, meaning you haven’t lived up to your potential, and you cripple yourself by never putting 100% into anything you do.

How to become happier:

Let go of the fear. Your greatest fear shouldn’t be the possibility of failing, but the possibility of never having tried in the first place.

You will be happier at the end of the day knowing you went out and gave it your all, even if you end up with the bruises and blisters from the attempt.

Whether or not you succeed, at least in your attempts you feel what it means to be alive.

2. Focusing on the Little Things

Why this makes you unhappy:

You care too much over things that don’t really matter. Petty disputes and squabbles, meaningless grudges, pointless competitions that no one besides you cares about.

You can waste years and decades of your life focusing on the tiny, toxic, pointless little things, and your entire mindset can be consumed by the negativity breeding in your own insistence to be unhappy.

How to become happier:

Set aside the little things and look at the one and only big picture that matters: someday you will die and all of this will be over.

Your insecurities, your small wounds, your niggling toxic voices in the back of your mind – all of these will mean nothing, and if you spend your life listening to them instead of living the life you want to live, then it will all be gone before you ever got a chance to live it.

3. Being Passive and Indecisive

Why this makes you unhappy:

You hate the idea of too much freedom because you’re always worried about whether you’re making the right choice or not.

You don’t know if you should do this or that, so you end up ultimately just living life passively; going where the wind takes you, but in many cases the wind takes you nowhere at all, so you live an uneventful life.

You never learn how to deal with the anxiety and worry of making important decisions, so you just avoid them, leading to a boring, uninteresting, and unmotivated life.

How to become happier:

Grab life by the throat and embrace every decision you have to make.

Realize that in most cases, there is no right or wrong decision – as long as you do what feels right and put your all into it, then that decision will be a positive for your life.

Stop being indifferent to the world around you; have opinions, make choices, and care about things.

It may lead to pain and strife, but all that will come with a sense of purpose and meaning, which will ultimately bring you happiness.

4. Having Low Self-Esteem

Why this makes you unhappy:

Low self-esteem can be a difficult issue to deal with, and there is no overnight fix or cure to it.

But if you never accept that you have low self-esteem and self-worth, then you will never make the steps towards fixing it.

Your life will feel meaningless, because you have no sense of having contributed to the world or community around you, and you will never feel like you have found your own place in the world.

How to become happier:

Work towards growing your self-esteem, and the best way to do this is to start focusing on the things that would make you proud of yourself.

Lose weight, further, your education, hit the gym and feel better about your body, or dive into a hobby or organization that you truly care about.

Become someone you can love, and your happiness will naturally flow out of you afterwards.

5. Worrying About Control

Why this makes you unhappy:

You have an obsession with control, and while this might make you a good manager or team leader, it will also make it difficult for you to accept most of what life has to offer if you never learn how to ease up.

Control is an illusion – sure, while you might be able to control what you have for breakfast or how you handle your daily tasks, you will never be able to control the unexpected.

An unexpected breakup, an old friend coming back from the past, or a death in the family: all of these and more are out of your control.

How to become happier:

The longer you worry about control, the longer you will be unhappy with your life. Learn to roll with the hits and live with unexpected bumps and surprises.

Random chances and probabilities are a part of life, and they’re a part of what makes life so amazing.

Would you really want to know exactly what will happen to you for the rest of your life?

Of course not, and that wonder and excitement – even when things don’t always go your way – make life what it is.

Related: How to love yourself: 15 steps to believing in yourself again

5 Behavioral Patterns to Address

6. Staying Indoors

Nature and the outdoors are important for our mental health. People who spend more time in nature have reduced stress, stronger immune systems, and greater cognitive functioning.

7. Falling to Addictions

Allowing your mind and body to fall victim to drug and alcohol dependency leads to a variety of negative consequences, including irritability, insomnia, physical pain, decreased energy, fatigue, and more.

8. Failing Your Body

The body needs activity, but it can be easy to go through daily life these days without doing anything physical at all.

Studies have found that inactive individuals are twice as likely to show signs of unhappiness than active individuals.

9. Not Getting Enough Sleep

Like with physical exercise, sleep is also incredibly important to regulating your moods.

Your emotions can go wild without proper and consistent regular sleep, because these are the essential hours your brain needs to thoroughly reset and charge.

10. Isolating Yourself

No matter how much you may consider yourself an introvert, humans are still naturally social creatures.

Isolating yourself away from the rest of the world can weigh significantly on your mood and mental health, which is why it is so important to get in-person contact with other people, even if it’s just through simple and quick interactions.

Unbecoming Unhappiness: Learning to Live Happily

Happiness is a choice, and so too is unhappiness. Life can be excruciating and painful, and in our darkest days grief and unhappiness are states we can never escape.

But allowing those dark days to become our entire lives is a choice that we make, whether or not we recognize it.

Acknowledge that unhappiness is something you may have started encouraging at some point down the line, and learn to live with the aim of being happy again.

And part of this means reevaluating what happiness means to you: is happiness excitement and wonder, or is it peace and stability?

Figure out what your happiness is, and wake up every day with the intention of moving toward it.

5 things you can do every day to become happier in life

Image Credit: Shutterstock – By nd3000

Here are some habits that helped me become happier in life. The key thing is, you don’t need to make huge life changes. 

As it turns out, being happy is something that can be done right at home. Try these five things to become happier:

1. Meditate

Meditation is a huge part of happiness. Being mindful and living in the moment makes you a happier, healthier person. But, meditation scares a lot of people.

Sitting down and clearing your mind seems impossible—especially when you’re overwhelmed with your life.

Meditation can be done in just a few minutes each day. And thanks to the different apps, like Calm and Headspace, and online sites like YouTube, you can do guided meditations in as little as five minutes.

It can help you live in the moment, appreciate what you have, and teach you skills to better process the events in your life. 

(To learn more meditation techniques to help you live in the present moment, check out Hack Spirit’s eBook: The Art of Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Living in the Moment)

2. Go outside

You know when you take a deep breath of fresh air? Going outside is good for you. Not only does it up your vitamin D levels (which is important for being happy), but it also reduces stress.

Getting outside for just 20 minutes a day can create a big change. And studies show that your happiness maxes out at 57°F, so it doesn’t even have to be summer!

Try going for a walk before work or on your lunch break. If you don’t want to walk, just relax out on a park bench or in the grass. It doesn’t take much, and it doesn’t have to be long.

3. Exercise

Ah, the dreaded exercise. You’re already busy, and you can’t imagine adding in another thing to do. But the great thing is, it might not take very long at all.

In fact, research shows that a seven minute workout may be all you need to get the mental health benefits to make you happier.

Everyone can fit in seven minutes, and there are even seven minute workouts designed for this.

4. Go to sleep

Did you know that even one hour less of sleep can impact your health? It’s time to redesign your sleep.

Take a nap, get seven to eight hours of sleep, and manage your time better to make sleeping a priority. If you’re having problems sleeping, try to make your room better for sleep.

Use blackout curtains, don’t use your phone before bed, and keep your room cool and comfortable to help promote sleep.

5. Be grateful

As it turns out, your perspective is everything. You have to be grateful for what you have, and this can be a hard habit to learn.

Because we’re used to instant gratification, we have a hard time being thankful for everything. If there’s one thing you can do, learn to be grateful.

Gratitude journals can help, but mindfulness is the most important thing that you can do. You’ll find that the more you look for things to be grateful, the more things you’ll find. 

Start small. When someone does something for you, always say thank you. Then, look for the normal things you’re grateful that you may not think about often—your home, bed, phone, computer, food, etc.

Thankfulness breeds gratitude.

In conclusion

Happiness isn’t something that happens to you, it’s a state of mind. You choose to be happy, no matter your circumstances.

Though it can be incredibly hard sometimes, doing these five simple says will help you become a happier and healthier person.

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Lachlan Brown

Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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