The Secret to Why You're Unhappy

What if the key to happiness was less elusive than we thought? Find out if you resonate with any of these four common behavior patterns that breed unhappiness and discontent.


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4 Reasons You May Never Feel Happy

Awareness of negative behaviors can help you move towards a happier life.

Niro Feliciano LCSW

The Good Enough Life


KEY POINTS

  • People who constantly feel unhappy may be stuck in common behavior patterns that prevent them from feeling satisfied.

  • These four behaviors affect the perception of who we are, where we are, and what we have.

  • By identifying these behaviors, we can take steps to learn new perspectives and coping skills to experience greater life satisfaction.

Happiness can be elusive. It is here one moment and then seemingly out of reach the next. Our cultural definition of this mercurial experience tends to center around achievement, acquisition, and the ability to constantly improve oneself or our set of circumstances. This type of happiness can be difficult for anyone to sustain due to its inconsistent nature and the stress caused by constantly striving to maintain this rather ephemeral phenomenon.


There is another type of happiness that is not based on acquisition or achievement, but rather appreciation: contentment. To be content is to be satisfied with who you are, where you are, and what you have. “Contentment” is far more sustainable than our popular definition of happiness as it does not require you to do much, other than to appreciate and take note of what is already good. Even for some people, however, contentment is nearly impossible to access.


I do not want to underestimate the power of trauma, anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders that impact one’s ability to access happiness. These disorders necessitate a higher level of treatment, and with proper care, those who suffer from them can often live a life full of happy and content moments. Socio-economics certainly plays a role; it’s hard to feel content when there is uncertainty in meeting basic human needs for food, clothing, and shelter. However, from working with clients of all backgrounds for 16 years in therapy, I have seen certain behavior patterns emerge that significantly limit one’s ability to find contentment in their life no matter how much they have or achieve.


People who have an unusually difficult time feeling content:


1) Constantly Compare: Whoever said comparison is the thief of joy could not have been wiser. It is difficult to feel satisfied with everyday life when constantly looking at it through the lens of other people’s experiences. With comparison so readily available at one’s fingertips through our devices, many people fall into this behavior daily. I have found that comparison that fosters discontent always looks at those who have more and achieve higher levels of success (upward social comparison) but rarely compares with those who may not have or do as much (downward social comparison). Because the spectrum of comparison is infinite, there will always be examples of the former, leading to pervasive unhappiness if constantly looking at life as a “less than” experience. When clients who are aware of this behavior begin to balance comparison with an awareness of those who may be struggling in ways that they are not, they enlarge their perspective and feel less negative. In addition, when clients learn to intentionally stop and ask themselves, “What is good in my life right now?” they have been able to turn the lens to begin to appreciate their own life as a unique and valuable experience.


KEY POINTS

  • People who constantly feel unhappy may be stuck in common behavior patterns that prevent them from feeling satisfied.

  • These four behaviors affect the perception of who we are, where we are, and what we have.

  • By identifying these behaviors, we can take steps to learn new perspectives and coping skills to experience greater life satisfaction.


Happiness can be elusive. It is here one moment and then seemingly out of reach the next. Our cultural definition of this mercurial experience tends to center around achievement, acquisition, and the ability to constantly improve oneself or our set of circumstances. This type of happiness can be difficult for anyone to sustain due to its inconsistent nature and the stress caused by constantly striving to maintain this rather ephemeral phenomenon. There is another type of happiness that is not based on acquisition or achievement, but rather appreciation: contentment. To be content is to be satisfied with who you are, where you are, and what you have. “Contentment” is far more sustainable than our popular definition of happiness as it does not require you to do much, other than to appreciate and take note of what is already good. Even for some people, however, contentment is nearly impossible to access. I do not want to underestimate the power of trauma, anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders that impact one’s ability to access happiness. These disorders necessitate a higher level of treatment, and with proper care, those who suffer from them can often live a life full of happy and content moments. Socio-economics certainly plays a role; it’s hard to feel content when there is uncertainty in meeting basic human needs for food, clothing, and shelter. However, from working with clients of all backgrounds for 16 years in therapy, I have seen certain behavior patterns emerge that significantly limit one’s ability to find contentment in their life no matter how much they have or achieve. People who have an unusually difficult time feeling content: 1) Constantly Compare: Whoever said comparison is the thief of joy could not have been wiser. It is difficult to feel satisfied with everyday life when constantly looking at it through the lens of other people’s experiences. With comparison so readily available at one’s fingertips through our devices, many people fall into this behavior daily. I have found that comparison that fosters discontent always looks at those who have more and achieve higher levels of success (upward social comparison) but rarely compares with those who may not have or do as much (downward social comparison). Because the spectrum of comparison is infinite, there will always be examples of the former, leading to pervasive unhappiness if constantly looking at life as a “less than” experience. When clients who are aware of this behavior begin to balance comparison with an awareness of those who may be struggling in ways that they are not, they enlarge their perspective and feel less negative. In addition, when clients learn to intentionally stop and ask themselves, “What is good in my life right now?” they have been able to turn the lens to begin to appreciate their own life as a unique and valuable experience. 2) Externalize Blame: People who cannot see or take accountability for the ways they have contributed to the conflict in their lives, often suffer in relationships, especially close ones where challenges are inevitable. These people feel that things happen to them, and do not have an awareness of how they may have triggered or instigated a situation that has left them feeling unhappy. In their world, it seems that everything is someone else’s fault. Yes, it is true that in a relationship conflict one person’s actions and words may have greater consequences than the other, but it is a rare situation when one is entirely blameless. This perspective often leaves people feeling helpless to change their negative situations. Clients who work to see how they may have contributed to a difficult situation, even unintentionally, feel a greater sense of control and agency to improve difficult relationships. 3) Resist Acceptance: Practicing acceptance in adverse circumstances is integral to coming to terms with difficult unexpected life events and moving through them. Clients who tend to fixate on asking “why questions” have a harder time accessing acceptance. “Why did this happen to me?” “Why am I going through this?” These are questions that we likely will not find adequate answers for in this moment. Although acceptance can happen after processing the event, looking to “how” and “what” questions help to bring people closer to it. Questions like: “How can I move forward?” “What can I take from this?” “What are my strengths even during this trying circumstance?” Even “who” questions such as, “Who can I call for support or talk with who may understand?” help to make acceptance more accessible and empowers the client to move through a situation where they feel stuck in negativity.


4) Live Distracted: Most people struggle with some level of distraction for the same reason that comparison is a pervasive issue: devices. Distraction instantly removes one out of the present moment which creates rapid thought switching. The research confirms that constant thought switching leads to a low level of anxiety, a decrease in productivity, and even exhaustion. Constant distraction makes it very difficult to experience appreciation happiness rooted in the here and now. Although goal setting is an important and valuable source of fulfillment, fixation on thoughts such as “I will be happier when” a goal is achieved or the level of success attained also can also serve as a distraction from the good of the present moment. Clients intentional about increasing awareness of their level of distraction begin to experience more calm and a sense of purpose and fulfillment as they bring their attention to life in the present.


Identifying these common behavior patterns may help you take the first step in recognizing why you may often not feel satisfied with yourself or your life. Through education and or therapy you can intentionally learn to replace these specific behaviors and reverse thought patterns. To learn more on the steps to overcome these behaviors and access lasting contentment see This Book Won’t Make You Happy.




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