If you’re doing a happiness project, it’s worth spending a fair amount of time thinking about…unhappiness.
Although it’s helpful to focus on the positive, to count your blessings, and to remind yourself of what makes you happy, it’s also very important to pay attention to what’s undermining your happiness.
Unhappiness, although less pleasant than happiness, is a worthy emotion. Of course, sometimes unhappiness is caused by something we can’t affect – like illness or a job loss – but often it points to places where something isn’t working, but is within our power to change. Maybe your daily life doesn’t reflect your values. Maybe you need to put some distance between you and a happiness leech. Maybe you’re not living up to your expectations for yourself. Maybe you’re not getting enough sleep. (Note: ordinary "unhappiness" isn't the same thing as "depression," which is a serious, urgent condition that requires expert intervention.)
When I was making the decision to switch from law to writing, I was prompted to act by unhappiness – unhappiness inspired not by working in law, which I enjoyed, but rather by the pain of not pursuing writing. I remember that around that time, I read a line from Juvenal: “An inveterate and incurable itch for writing besets many, and grows old in their sick hearts.” A sick heart! This resonated with me so deeply that I knew I had to give writing a shot as a career.
So ask yourself – right now, what’s an obstacle to your happiness? Or to think about it another way, if you could wake up tomorrow with an issue magically resolved, what would you choose? (A factor in your own life, not global warming!) It might be big, it might be small.
When you think about unhappiness, push yourself to be specific. If your answer is, “I hate my job,” try to pinpoint the problem. Are you bored? Do you dread your commute? Think the work is of no social value? Have conflicts with your boss or a co-worker? Find it constantly encroaching on your private life? Frantic with the fear of losing your job? Feel unappreciated? Etc.
If you think, “My kids drive me crazy” or “I don’t feel good about myself” or “I feel overwhelmed,” ask why and how. When you identify a problem very specifically, it’s easier to spot possible solutions.
For example, as part of my happiness project, I realized that I hated nagging, and I hated being a nag, and yet I was doing a lot of nagging. When I zeroed in on this issue, I came up with a long list of strategies to try to quit nagging; okay, I have to admit that I haven’t quit nagging altogether, but I nag a lot less. And that makes me happier.
So ask yourself: Right now, what’s an obstacle to your happiness? If you feel comfortable, please post your answer here. I’d be fascinated to see what people have to say, and I’m sure others would be, as well.
* Knowing my love for children's literature, a thoughtful reader emailed me this link to a print by Jane Mount, "Ideal Bookshelf 42," which shows a wonderful collection of children's books. The whole site, 20x200, is very interesting -- works of art starting at $20.
* It’s Word-of-Mouth Day, when I gently encourage (or, you might think, pester) you to spread the word about the Happiness Project. You might:
-- Forward the link to someone you think would be interested
-- Link to a post on Twitter (follow me @gretchenrubin)
-- Sign up for my free monthly newsletter (about 43,000 people get it)
-- Buy the book
-- Join the 2010 Happiness Challenge to make 2010 a happier year
-- Put a link to the blog in your Facebook status update
-- Watch the one-minute book video
Thanks! I really appreciate any help. Word of mouth is the BEST.