I am not a ‘happiness guru.’ That’s why this series is called “How to be Happy–Lessons from You and Me.” Emphasis on the you. When I asked you last week what your definition of happiness was, here are some of the responses I got:
“I suppose happiness is knowing who you are and what you are destined to become and then living your life in accordance with that knowledge.”
“Happiness is the joy we feel striving towards our potential.”
“The peace and contentment you get when things are well with your world and you know you are living a generous and kind life.”
“Indoor plumbing.” (I would heartily agree with this one!)
Dictionary.com says, ”
I would disagree with this definition. One might consider money, power, and prestige to be good. But the attainment of these things does not necessarily bring happiness. One need only to think of any given celebrity to prove this point. I would agree with those who have said that happiness is tied up in knowing who we really are and in striving toward our potential.
Here is my definition: “Happiness is an overall feeling of contentment and satisfaction achieved by a true knowledge of one’s divine identity and purpose, and in living according to that knowledge.”
I boldly declare that happiness is something that we can control and obtain. The coming weeks will be dedicated to specific things we can do to increase our happiness. But before we explore these possibilities, I thought it would be helpful to identify the barriers to happiness.
This list is not exhaustive. Furthermore, I do not make this list to judge or condemn those who feel unhappy or who have experienced these things. I would be willing to bet that every human has experienced one or more of the following pitfalls to happiness (including myself). I also submit that most people do not do these things on purpose, with the express desire to become or remain unhappy. Rather, these are snares that we often find ourselves caught in unawares. I also understand that some people are clinically depressed and may have issues regarding the functioning of their brains that make happiness more difficult. Nevertheless, I encourage you to consider the things in the list, and evaluate yourself in relation to them.
10 Sure-fire Ways to be Absolutely Miserable
1. Don’t forgive. This is at the top of the list for a reason. Every single person on the planet has been hurt or offended by another person. What we choose to do with our feelings about those experiences has such a huge impact on our happiness. It has been said that not forgiving is like drinking poison and then expecting the offending party to die. I have observed that some people cling to their pain desperately as though they would drown if they let go of it. They seem to derive a sense of self-worth through all they have suffered at the hands of others. Forgiving, in their minds, would be the same as saying that what happened to them didn’t matter.
2. Dwell on the past. Failures. Missed opportunites. Mistakes. Sins. Unhappy people seem to be mired in the past, replaying events over and over again. They feel sad, or cheated, or like they can never make up for what they have done (or haven’t done). Alternately, these are those who relish “The good-old days” and are constantly dissatisfied with the present. For these people, the past was filled with halcyon days when they were youthful and beautiful. Today just cannot compare.
3. Be afraid. There is so much to be afraid of. Failure. Embarrassment. Terrorism. Natural disasters. Rejection. Unhappy people are often paralyzed by fear. They can’t move forward, because the thought, “What if…?” plagues them constantly.
4. Always think of yourself. Nobody likes to think they are selfish. Few people would classify themselves as such. But beyond being overly concerned with money and material things, unhappy people are often stingy with their love. They consider their feelings more important than other people’s feelings–their needs more important than others’ needs. They have a myopic view of life, and the only thing they can see is how things will affect them personally. They also worry that others are constantly talking about them negatively. Is somebody over there in the corner laughing? They must be making fun of me. That person just glanced my way. They must be telling bad secrets about me. The world spins around them, but it only swirls up a cloud of negativity.
5. Complain. The weather. Their spouse. Their ex-spouse. Their children. The food. Their favorite football team (or formerly favorite football team). It seems that unhappy people have minds with neural super-highways to the land of constant complaint. In my mind, complaining is a cry for attention. It says, “Love me! Hear me! Validate my suffering!” Everyone needs attention and love, but complaining is not the best way to get it.
6. Put yourself down. Unhappy people often engage in negative self-talk. “I’m so ugly. I’m so fat. I’m so stupid.” Again, this seems like a cry for love and attention. It is the unhappy person’s plea for others to prove them wrong. We want people to disagree with us–to tell us that we’re not ugly, fat, or stupid. But when they do, we continue to insist that we are all those negative things, and strive to come up with more shortcomings to add to the list. The problem with constant negative messages to ourselves is that we start to believe them. We identify with them, and don’t think we can ever overcome these feelings.
7. Compare yourself to others. Social media has made it infinitely easy to access the lives of all those who are seemingly more beautiful and successful than ourselves. Not only do we have our neighbors and co-workers to compete with–now there are people from all over the world we can feel inferior to! The most common thing we do is compare our own weaknesses with others’ strengths. Doesn’t seem fair, does it? In the end, comparing ourselves to others is always a losing proposition.
8. Don’t work. I’m not talking here to people who are having trouble finding a job and are currently unemployed. I am talking about having a general attitude of laziness, with no goals in life. If the majority of your time is taken up by television, video games, or Facebook, I can guarantee that you are not happy. Those with no ambition or desire to learn cannot be happy.
9. Base your happiness on the actions of others. “If only my husband and children would….” “If only the government would….” “If only my boss would….” We can’t control the actions of others, though we often wish we could! Unhappy people often put themselves in a holding pattern, waiting for somebody else to do something to make them happy. They lament the fact that they can’t control these other people and are looking forward to some future day when they can either get away, or exert their control over these people. (I am not talking here about people who are in abusive relationships. I in no way encourage anyone to stay in an abusive relationship).
10. Focus on all the bad in the world. The evening news assaults us every day with all the evil in the world, and very little of the good. It’s so easy to believe that we are all going to “hell in a handbasket.” Depression and hopelessness soon follow. Unhappy people often give up hope on the whole human race, and by extension, their own future.
Have you fallen into any of these traps? Were there others I left out that you feel should be included in this list? Leave a comment below and tell me what they are. Remember please to keep comments clean and friendly. All comments will need to be approved before appearing on the site.
If you found this article helpful, please share it! The more people who participate, the more we can learn from each other! Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss out on the rest of the posts in the series! Just type in your email address above the big pink “subscribe” button in the sidebar.
If you’ve missed any other posts in this series, you can find them on my Happiness page.