top of page

Are We Making Ourselves Miserable?

"Happiness isn't a passive entity which can be obtained. More exactly, long-lasting happiness can be achieved by changing how you spend your time and your outlook on life." Bridget Grenville-Cleave

The idea we would make ourselves miserable is, at best, ludicrous. Don't you think so?

No one wants to be unhappy (I think); we prefer to be happy, but situational unhappiness is one of our many realities. There are no foolproof ways to remain happy all the time. The long and the short of it is that we do not live in a perpetual state of bliss; we will experience highs and lows in life. That being said, we are responsible for our happiness.

Sometimes, unintentionally, our attitudes have us basing our happiness on standards we did not establish for ourselves. We become more connected to external psychology than we realize, thus making it challenging to measure up to unrealistic standards of happiness. For example, by acquiring material possessions we can hardly afford in the hopes the new "toy" will fulfill a need or create meaning in our lives.

We have a choice over how we think and feel. Our thoughts power our feelings about our life satisfaction. Therefore, we must be aware of our thinking to understand our feelings. Our interpretation of things in and outside our control can directly affect our happiness.

Therefore, it's more effective when we exercise our choice to develop an understanding of what it means to be happy. Consequently, we must use simple strategies that sustain our day-to-day happiness. For instance, create a playlist of uplifting songs you listen to while walking or biking. When we endeavor to incorporate enjoyment into our everyday lives, we are less likely to inadvertently train ourselves to be unhappy and expect less and less.

What is happiness?

The American Psychological Association defines happiness as "an emotion of joy, gladness, satisfaction, and well-being."

The definition is broad but shows that happiness is subjective. Further, joy, gladness, satisfaction, and well-being are self-reports and cannot accurately be measured without people sharing their thoughts and feelings. For example, we can assume being paid higher wages for our work will make us happier. Sweet and Tasty Pie (not an actual company) employees received a pay increase of $1,000.00 per person; one employee is excited about the pay rise, and another, while appreciative, says the raise is insufficient given the workload and cost of living.

Indeed, neither of the two employees is incorrect. It is just a matter of perspective. When we do a bit of perspective-taking, we will realize the cognitive and emotional response to getting a raise is different, not because one employee is grateful and the other is ungrateful. Upon further inquiry, we may learn that there is a difference in the financial needs of both employees, hence the stark difference in their responses.

To be sure, other people can and will often do things to make our lives miserable. For instance, during a divorce, child custody hearing, gossip, lies, and relationship drama. Still, we get to decide whether an experience is a high or low priority. Dr. William Glasser, when explaining we have choices over our feelings, says, "For all practical purposes, we choose everything we do, including the misery we feel."

Let us dive into some common ways we make ourselves unhappy:

  1. Perfectionism, we aspire to be our best and never settle for mediocrity. However, we sometimes forget that perfectionism is different from having high standards. Setting unrealistically high expectations for ourselves that are not attainable based on our level of preparation and skill to perform a specific task usually leaves us feeling bewildered.

  2. The self-limiting beliefs we use to convince ourselves we are not good enough are often based on faulty assumptions that result in incorrect assessments of our abilities.

  3. We are holding on to our hurt to justify being angry.

  4. Making another person responsible for our feelings and constantly seeking their validation.

  5. At some point in life, we will compare ourselves to another person we believe is the standard bearer in our social or professional life. Making a social comparison is healthy and sometimes necessary when evaluating our performance and how we are doing. However, when we make upward social comparisons with someone more skilled and experienced than we are, we will be dissatisfied with the comparison.

  6. Dwelling on negative experiences that we cannot realistically change.

  7. We are using cognitive distortions, for example, using a mental filter to filter out positive experiences to think of the negative ones repetitively.

  8. We make too many compromises while ignoring our needs.

  9. Holding a grudge, Stoic Philosopher Seneca says, "Whenever we find it hard to forgive, we should consider whether it's in our interest that everyone is beyond the reach of pleading." Forgiveness is not about the other person but more about our mental well-being.

Some strategies for improving your happiness:

  1. One of the pioneers of positive psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman, shares his theory of well-being. The approach has five parts: (1) positive emotion, (2) engagement, (3) relationships, (4) meaning, and (5) accomplishment. The first letter of each part creates the acronym PERMA. Learn more about PERMA.

  2. Be kind to yourself, and practice unconditional positive regard. No conditions should be attached to how you think and feel about yourself.

  3. Add "yet" to your statement when you think you cannot do something in the present. The word yet, suggests there is still work to be done to meet your goal.

  4. Practice appreciating what you have without allocating your mental resources to what you do not yet have. Remember, pursuing your dreams is a process.

  5. Happiness is how you feel in a given moment and your overall functioning.

  6. Invest time into activities that support your priorities and interests.

  7. Be mindful that what is suitable for you now may not be best for you in the long term, so invest your time wisely.

  8. Use your free time for activities you find pleasurable that will improve your overall quality of living.

We make choices every day for better or worse. To live more fully, we must meet life enthusiastically and purposefully.

Empowering Minds. Inspiring Lives.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page