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5 Ways to Tackle Self-Generated Misery

Time to take a good look in the mirror.

Key points

  • Most people lack the tools or willpower to change their misery-producing behaviors.
  • Attitudes that result from self-imposed misery include avoiding responsibility and complaining.
  • Some ways to challenge misery include finding support, targeting problem behaviors, and increasing self-care.
Source: Milada Vigerova/Unsplash
Source: Milada Vigerova/Unsplash

For nearly 30 years, people have visited my psychotherapy office in an attempt to escape a feeling of misery. Many thought they'd find relief in new jobs, careers, or relationships. Yet, they discovered happiness didn't stick around; the job ended, the relationship faltered, or their career cooled, and they found themselves right back where they started: miserable.

"Why does this keep happening to me?" they wondered. (See "3 Self-Defeating Habits That Destroy Happiness.")

What is self-generated misery?

Although self-generated misery isn't a clinical diagnosis, it's a condition that is all too common. Most people engage in behaviors that ultimately result in unhappiness.

For some, these behaviors are passive or self-neglecting tendencies, such as

For others, misery is the result of actively self-destructive behaviors, such as

Though everyone is different, one thing is for sure: As long as these tendencies go unaddressed, sustainable happiness will remain evasive. (See "3 Keys to Sustainable Happiness and Joy.")

Signs of self-generated misery

Self-generated misery tends to produce certain tell-tale attitudes. These attitudes include

  • Blaming others
  • Avoiding responsibility
  • A lack of gratitude
  • Constantly complaining
  • Feeling victimized
  • Relentless fault finding
  • Incessant arrogance
  • Constant pessimism
  • Delusional nostalgia
  • Validation hunger

Seeking external solutions for internal problems

Nearly all self-generated misery springs from a core feeling of powerlessness. You can't motivate yourself to change your behaviors or consider new choices. You seek short-term external solutions rather than address the internal conditions that produce unhappiness.

These external solutions, such as overeating or abusing substances, offer relief in the moment but ultimately lead to unhappy outcomes. And what's most disheartening: As long as those internal conditions go unaddressed, misery will always resurface.

For example, you may change your job or relationship. But when you take your penchant for self-destructive or self-neglecting behaviors with you, it's only a matter of time before such poor choices poison the job or relationship and produce unhappiness.

In other words, you may change the people and environment you interact with, but the poor outcomes remain the same.

How to tackle self-generated unhappiness

It would be best if you wrestled with your self-destructive or self-neglecting tendencies to get started. For many, this will be a mammoth battle. What is the best battle plan?

Individual or group therapy is the ideal place to find such support, in addition to online support groups, self-help books or seminars, or connecting with a life coach or counselor.

Once you gather your support team, here's your to-do list: (See "5 Reasons Why Writing Lists Is Good for Your Mental Health.")

  1. Identify problem behaviors: Do you waste too much time on social media? Is your sleep schedule erratic? Do you procrastinate?
  2. Target those behaviors: What can you do differently? Who can support you? What positive activity can you introduce?
  3. Practice self-care: Can you find a workout buddy? Are you watching your eating habits? Are you engaged in a creative hobby or activity?
  4. Reward yourself: Can you find a way to reward daily progress? Can you celebrate your gains?
  5. Keep your eye on the prize: Challenging self-destructive behaviors is lonely. You will feel lost. You'll want to give up. Don't get lost in the ups and downs. Stay focused. And remember your ultimate goal: happiness.


Still unhappy? See "5 Keys to a 'Warrior Approach' to Sustainable Happiness," "5 Essential Steps to Be Happier and Achieve Your Dreams," and "5 Steps to Finding Purpose and Feeling Happier."

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