An Unhappiness Manual

10 ways to make yourself miserable.

Posted Feb 01, 2018

RUBEN M RAMOS/Shutterstock
Source: RUBEN M RAMOS/Shutterstock

Unhappiness as a goal? For therapists, that's a sure sign of psychological trouble. For philosophers, it's a sign of a mistaken idea. Everyone agrees that happiness is the goal of rational people.

Why, then, are so many of us unhappy? Here are 10 reasons. (More could be added, but the outline is clear.) The path to happiness lies in the direction of satisfying relationships: A happy person feels accepted, nurtured, loved, and challenged. If you want to be miserable, follow these 10 steps to an unhappy life:

1. Measure your life against the successes of others.

Since there will always be someone who has more, who accomplished more, is more famous and in better shape, you will always come up wanting in comparison. Rather than appreciating what you do have, you will focus on what you don’t. This leads to endless desires that cannot be met.

2. Think that you are better than everyone.

It is easy to be a critic. It makes you feel superior and provides a temporary high. But it makes others feel smaller. Making yourself feel better by pointing out others’ weaknesses and faults is a good way to undermine relationships.

3. Dwell in the past.

Nostalgia is a longing for that which cannot be recaptured. Life was once full of wonder and innocence, you think, and the good and the bad were easily separable. Everything since has been downhill. To yearn for the past is to reject that life of the present and what possibilities for happiness still remain.   

4. Surround yourself with ugliness.

Beautiful landscapes lift the spirits; being with people who do beautiful things makes us feel better. Yet many choose ugliness in the TV shows and movies they watch; they choose ugliness by comporting with nasty people. Ugliness in its various guises is like a weight pressing on the soul. It is difficult to be happy under such a weight.

5. Always think of yourself first.

This is a formula for being unloved, since loving often means thinking about the other person first. When a relationship is lopsided, and one person is always first, it isn’t love that is present, but power. Being in love makes a person happy, so always putting yourself first precludes a loving relationship.

6. Assume you are responsible for everything.

Accidents happen, some people are victimized, and some are unlucky. They didn’t cause these things to occur, and assuming that they did leads to a sense of failure, guilt, or shame. Accepting what is beyond your ability to control is a step towards acceptance, thereby opening the doors to happiness.

7. Don’t sing.

William James, the great American psychologist and philosopher, once said that he didn’t sing because he was happy, but was happy because he sang. James’s insight was that our mood is influenced by subtle cues, some of which we create with our own bodies. Being in a comfortable, warm room, for example, puts us in a good mood. So avoid making your voice heard: Don’t sing if you want to continue to feel bad.

8. Insist on being right.

You may be right, at least some of the time. But to insist on being right in relationships you care about is corrosive. Relationships require reciprocity, and that means sometimes forgoing the pleasure of proving that your partner is wrong. As a friend says, you can either be right or have a relationship. The point is too strong, but it is well worth remembering. 

9. Put things ahead of people.

It is difficult to resist the commodification of everything. The message is always the same: Buy this, and you will be happy. But the happiness that comes with another purchase is most often short-lived. Pursuing more, bigger, and newer things too often means ignoring relationships, running roughshod over others, and bending the rules that govern your own sense of morality.

10. Always put yourself last.

Everyone counts in an ethical world — you no less than another. Your desires and wishes matter. Unhappiness is sure to be your lot if you can’t or won’t express what it is that you want. While there are times when getting what you want isn’t possible or desirable, there are also times when others should defer to your wishes. While your life may not be more important than another’s, it isn’t worth any less either.