In 25 years of private practice, I’ve seen many unhappy people. Some have very understandable reasons for being unhappy, such as poor health. But oddly enough, those are not the people who are the most miserable. The unhappiest people are those who create their own hell and continually feed their misery. These are some of the most common thoughts and behaviors that contribute to being unhappy.
1. Expecting to be happy ALL THE TIME or expecting to be as happy as your friends. Life has an ebb and flow, there are going to be months and maybe even years that are a struggle. Cherish the good times and have faith that the bad times will pass too.
2. Spending wayyyy too much time trying to figure out other people. This is a big one. My clients and also some of my friends are surprised that I rarely analyze the behavior of others. It’s usually a waste of time. Unless you are a criminal profiler, it’s not worth your time either. People do what they do cause they want to, because it’s how they have behaved in the past and probably how they will behave in the future. Don’t take it personally, because it’s probably not about you anyway.
3. Getting even. People who fantasize and try to figure out how to get even are almost certain to be miserable. Confucius said it best. “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, first dig two graves.” Enough said.
4. Spending too much time thinking about yourself. This can really make you miserable because you’re bound to come up with something that you don’t like about yourself and your life. People who think about themselves generally talk about themselves a lot, which is very tedious if you are the listener. Self absorbed people wear out their welcome rapidly. It may sound obvious, but volunteer work is healthy for you and the community and gives you something to think about other than yourself.
5. Playing it safe. Take some risks, even if you are a conservative person. Expand your comfort zone a little bit all the time. At the very least, do something different than you’ve done before. Continual mental stimulation is an antidote to depression and may even help prevent Alzheimer’s.