If you’re reading this article you’re probably not a super happy person; or maybe you think you should be happier in life than you actually are.
I assume you already read dozens of articles listing “top ten things you should do” in life to be happier, and they surprisingly didn’t work. Probably you haven’t even tried those ten things, because you intuitively know they don’t work.
Well, let’s build up a case here, see why these things don’t work, with a ray of hope at the end of the blog post for how you may actually find your own piece of happiness in life. If you’re looking for any miraculous solutions, you can stop reading the article at this point.
Other people can’t make you happy
The first wrong assumption is that other people can make you happy. If you hope that other people will make you happy, you’ve put your happiness into very risky hands. Other people will sooner make you miserable than happy, when you put your happiness in their hands.
You may assume, for example, that you will be happy when you fall in love with the right person. Someone who will really love you back and understand you to the bone. And then it happens. And you’re happy all the way up to the first fight. Or the first time your love is in a bad mood. Or they flirt with someone else. Or whatever. Then everything collapses. And you’re unhappy again.
Neither a perfect lover nor a perfect boss can make you happy. Or a new friend. Or an alien. Other people will sooner make you miserable than happy. Many unintentionally and many on purpose. Because they are just humans like you are. Much like you make others’ lives tougher if you’re unhappy. Why? Because people have to listen to all your bitching, whining and complaining, while deep inside they might hope you’ll make them happy.
Much like you make others’ lives tougher if you’re unhappy. Why? Because people have to listen to all your bitching, whining and complaining, while deep inside they might hope you’ll make them happy.
I know it kind of sucks. You can’t make other people permanently happy, other people can’t make you a happier person, but they can surely make you unhappy – an abusive partner or parents, a jackass boss or an ignorant friend or whoever you love.
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So here is what you should do regarding relationships and happiness:
First of all, you should at all costs avoid people who make your life miserable intentionally or are zombies or energy vampires. And you should surround yourself with happy, encouraging and supportive people who bring out the best in you. While doing that, make sure you aren’t infecting them with your unhappiness.
Then you should expect that even the loveliest people, even the most positive living beings, will hurt you from time to time. So you should always have a center on yourself, and be aware that your happiness shouldn’t depend on other people (we will see how you can achieve that at the end of the blog post).
You can absolutely be in a bad mood when someone disappoints you, but you should also get yourself back in your center after a short while.
Other people can’t make you a happy person, but they can make your life a little bit happier or completely miserable. So don’t put your happiness in the hands of other people, but make sure people aren’t the ones making you unhappy and miserable.
If you cut out of your life all the negative people who drag your happiness level down, it may be a solution to being happier in life. But unfortunately, that’s rarely the case.
You will probably find other things to be unhappy about or attract other assholes in life who will make you unhappy again. The outside world, including your relationships, only mirrors your inner emotional state and processes.
If you’re unhappy, it's very hard to have happy relationships. And if you were a happy person, you would have ditched the negative people in your life a long time ago. To sum up:
- Crappy people in your life = May be the reason why you are unhappy in your life
- No crappy people in your life = If you are still unhappy, read on
Shopping will only make you happy for a while
Shopping and fucking is the picture of happiness in the 21st century. Excuse my French. MTV, reality shows, ads. Shopping and fucking should make you really happy. Let’s dive deep into that assumption.
In the previous epiphany, we already figured out that other people can’t make you happy. That includes their bodies. A lot of passionate sex can definitely contribute greatly to your quality of life, but it can’t make you happy.
Much like any other addiction can’t, from alcohol to drugs and gambling. Right after the climax, you face the reality of life once again.
It’s no different with shopping. Material things can bring you a short-term feeling of happiness. I’m happy like a child when I buy myself a new computer. But after a few days, my happiness level stabilizes to the default level. There is no possession in the world that could make you happy forever.
You won’t believe it, but I did ride a jet ski once and was not very happy.
Research has shown that when extremely good things, like winning the lottery, or extremely bad things, like accidents, happen to people, it only influences their happiness level in the short term. After a while, people are generally as happy or unhappy as they used to be.
So shopping and fucking won’t bring real happiness into your life. At least not in the long term.
- Shopping = Short-term happiness
- Addictions = Short-term happiness
- If you go too far with addictions or, in addition, you get yourself even more in debt for your unnecessary shopping excursions, it’s the perfect recipe for being even less happy in the long term
Money only helps in the beginning
I was really poor when I was young. And I worked hard as hell to save some money on my bank account. Money can’t make you happy, but a lack of it can definitely make your life miserable. If you can’t afford a thing and you’re constantly scared of how you’ll go through the next month, you don’t have time to be happy.
Worry takes everything away. Much like if a lousy boss destroys your day the moment you walk into the office.
You see, it’s the same as it is with people. A shitty relationship will make you unhappy. Lack of money will definitely make you unhappy. But having both will only contribute a little to your long-term happiness level. Go figure.
So yes, money can contribute a lot to happiness to a certain point. It’s an enabler of happiness, like good relationships are. It’s hard to be happy if you are poor and drowning in debt or if you have an energy vampire spouse.
I guess the magical amount of money is somewhere between 2x and 3x of an average salary in your living area (and not drowning in debt) when money still plays a great role in your happiness levels.
With savings in your bank account, there’s still a great probability that you’ll be unhappy at some point, but you are at least not that stressed out. Yes, money can’t buy happiness, but it can make you less unhappy and less under pressure. And it can solve many of your problems.
But after 2-3x of average salary, money has zero contribution to your happiness level.
- Poverty = Definitely a strong reason why you can’t be happy
- You have quality relationships in your life with no zombies, you don’t look for happiness in material things and addictions, you earn 2-3x of average salary, but are still unhappy? Read on.
Accomplishments aren’t happiness
The next thing you may confuse is happiness with accomplishments. When you achieve something new, when there is a new accomplishment to add to your success list, you probably feel happy. But again, only for a while.
Here’s the first issue. Your brain prefers to remember all your failures rather than successes. In a jungle, if you failed to escape a tiger that would have been much more tragic and mandatory to remember than if you won a village coconut tree climbing competition.
Thus you tend to forget every one of your accomplishments very quickly and every failure sticks with you much longer. If you fail at public speaking, for example, your brain will make sure that it’s going to be much harder to step on the podium next time.
That’s what you have to deal with. Success brings short-term happiness and soon you forget about everything. You can experience a failure and it can stay with you for a long time, especially if you don’t gather the courage to manage and overcome your fears.
It definitely helps to have a list of your past accomplishments to remind you how awesome you are. It helps you see the objective reality and it helps to gather courage for new challenges and get out of the comfort zone. But it’s not the recipe for long-term happiness.
- You need accomplishments in life to feel happy and good in your skin
- Accomplishments won’t bring you real happiness in life
Things that increase happiness just a little bit
Research has shown that there are a few things that greatly contribute to your happiness level:
- Regular exercise
- Enough socializing
- Meaningful work
- Not being overwhelmed by work
These things definitely contribute to your happiness level. You can read more here about these six things that contribute to being a more happy person.
They will definitely increase your happiness level to a certain degree, but they won’t convert you from an unhappy to a happy person. Unfortunately, the doors to eternal happiness are not that easy to open. Again there’s a twisted catch.
If you don’t socialize enough and isolate yourself, you will definitely become unhappy sooner or later. Short-term isolation (like being in monk mode) may sometimes help you advance in life, but we are social beings, so we have to socialize.
If you don’t take care of your body, you will have health problems sooner or later, and health issues will definitely make your life miserable. You will feel great after exercise. But it won’t make you a permanently happy person.
If you work at a job you don’t like, aren’t good at what you do or don’t feel like you contribute, it’s hard to be happy. You spend one third of your life at work. You can’t hate what you do 1/3 of your life and be a happy person. Maybe for a few hours on a Friday night, but that’s it.
Another mistake of how you can chase away happiness is to be drowning in tasks, even if you enjoy your work. It’s an addiction, it’s called workaholism. Sooner or later the stress levels become too high. When you get the feeling that you have more on your plate than you can handle, your nervous system will go crazy, goodbye happiness.
And it’s really hard to be happy if you don’t see what you have in life, and you only focus on what you lack. Gratefulness really can change your perspective on life. But it usually makes you a more grateful (obviously) and peaceful person, not happy.
If you don’t have all these things in life it’s hard to be happy – modest exercise, a job you love, enough socializing, and gratefulness. But even if you have all of them, happiness is not guaranteed.
If you are chronically unhappy all these things may help you a little bit, but in general you will still find 1001 reasons to be unhappy.
So what is the solution then? Wait a moment, before we go to the true source of unhappiness, there’s one more trap.
Gap between expectations and reality
The media world is creating a big gap between expectations and reality. In the media world, everyone is handsome, rich, happy and living their dream. Every day, you’re exposed to thousands of ads showing you all these happy people.
Not surprisingly, that’s also why you connect happiness with buying new things. And you figure out that shopping doesn’t really bring long-term happiness.
Now if you sit on the subway in any major city in the world, you see that the media world is far from reality. Beautiful people are not that common. People have life scars and bruises on their faces. Many people seem sad and depressed. It’s no paradise. It’s a fight.
Accepting reality isn’t easy. Everybody wants to live like a Hollywood star, but only one out of million is that lucky. And not all movie superstars are super happy. Money, fame and looks help live a quality life in a great way, but they don’t bring happiness, as we’ve discussed earlier.
But hoping and expecting that you’ll live the life of a Hollywood star by posting a few photos on social media is a recipe for a happiness disaster. It’s the same as if you expect that love will do all the hard relationship work instead of you or that you will have a six-pack by going to the gym once in a while.
Everything you want to have in life, you have to work hard for. And many times you don’t even get it. Some things are not even accessible to you at all. In some life areas, you’re better off, in others you’re far behind the average, depending on your genes, smarts, inheritance etc.
Life isn’t fair and you have to play with the cards you were dealt. If you don’t accept that, you will always be unhappy. If you will live in a naïve illusion of how the world should be and that you may get lucky someday, you will definitely be unhappy. To be really happy, you have to accept the reality of life.
But if you decide to accept it, there is a big trap you can fall into. Instead of accepting reality, you lower your standards. You give up and decide to not fight. To not strive for progress and improvements.
Instead of accepting that you have to work hard for years to get a good-looking body, to find the work you enjoy, a person who is your perfect fit for a spouse, you simply give up and go where life kicks you. And usually that isn’t any place nice. If you aren’t going forward, you’re going backwards. If you’re going backwards, your unhappiness slowly rises.
It’s a tricky situation again. You have to narrow the gap between your expectations and what is really achievable in life from your starting point.
At the same time, you mustn’t lower your standards and make sure you keep the growth mindset. Not going forward means a disaster in life sooner or later, and disasters are nothing but a big pile of unhappiness.
- Living in a naïve media world of fame of fortune = Fake happiness
- Accepting reality = Hard but the only way of being truly happy
- Lowering your standards and not going forward in life = Unhappiness comes sooner or later
To sum up, here is what you should do to be happy in life, but even if you do it, it’s not a guarantee that you will really be happy. Probably not.
- Having a happiness center on yourself (being aware that you are the only one responsible for your happiness)
- No crappy people in your life
- Lots of socializing and love – spouse, family, friends
- Earning 2x – 3x of the average salary in an industry you love
- Understanding that material things and shopping won't bring happiness
- You need accomplishments, but they are a different category from happiness
- Be as healthy as possible with regular exercise
- Do meaningful work and don't be drowning in tasks
- Focus on what you have in life, not what you lack; practice gratefulness
- Make sure you go forward in life with the growth mindset
- Don't live in a naive fictional world, accept reality as it is
All that, but happiness is still not guaranteed? Now it may seem that everything is hopeless. So let’s try to turn things around a little bit. Here is the right question.
What causes you to naturally do all the things stated above, without forcing yourself to do it? Loving yourself and life. Lack of it is the real reason behind your unhappiness.
The secret to why you aren’t happy in life
Here is a simplified model. When you are born, your mother is your whole world. Read that again. Your whole world. Her emotional availability, her smile, her relationship with your father, her attention to your needs, that’s your whole world.
When you become just a little bigger, your home becomes your whole world. The relationship with your mother, father, siblings and other relatives. Your home becomes your whole world.
You see where this is going. Your relationships with your parents, your home and your early experiences in life become the basic model on which you interpret how the world looks like. Your map. Your subjective reality. Your happiness potential.
If your parents were not happy, if your home was not a happy environment, how could you be a really happy person?
Now here are the two tricks.
You have to see your parents as perfect when you are little, so you feel secure. Because only perfect parents can protect you. Consequently, you project their faults on yourself.
You’re the one responsible for their imperfections – fights, divorce, misfortune and sadness. You think it’s you. The shittier their relationship, the shittier you see yourself. Harder to be happy.
Here’s another catch.
You need an environment that is loving, stable, encouraging, and pays attention to your needs and potentials. If you have all that, you develop trust in life and people, you have a sense of autonomy, you take initiative and you become aware of how you can contribute to the world with your competences.
If you don’t have a stable and loving home, shame, guilt, doubt and inferiority develop.
- Likes themselves as they are
- Has a strong sense of self and their autonomy
- Has no problems with their needs being met
- Knows how to express feelings
- Knows where they’re going in life and what they want
- Is not afraid of conflict and knows how to set boundaries
- Takes initiative and contributes creative ideas
If you don’t express and assert yourself in a healty kind of way, no shopping spree, accomplishment or relationship will help you with your happiness levels.
Again, here is a very simplified version of what happens. Over the years, you internalize your mother’s voice and your father’s voice and the voice of other people who brought you up as your inner voice. And you see the world as you saw your “home” environment.
Now, no environment is perfect, there must be friction, because friction causes a desire for personal growth and development. But there is a point where the environment becomes toxic and basically destroys a child’s life and their potential for happiness.
That’s the main reason why you are unhappy. Your inner voice and your subjective map of the world. That can happen in hundreds of different ways, from a depressed mother when you were infant, an unstable home with lots of fights or moving from city to city, an emotionally cold home, overly critical parents, nobody considering your needs etc.
Here’s one more catch. You remember when I mentioned that you have to see your parents as perfect. Well, many people never realize that their parents aren’t perfect. They still think their unhappiness has nothing to do with their home environment. It has.
Unfortunately, if you can’t see this, you often do the same things to your kids. No one can be the perfect parent. But it’s mandatory to not be a toxic parent.
I don’t know how your unhappiness was triggered in your home environment. But I certainly know that every article starting with “10 things you should do to be happier” is misleading you. It may help a little, but it’s not the source of your real problem. To blame your home environment or your past also won’t do any good.
That’s the main reason why you are unhappy. Your cold and critical inner voice and your subjective map of the world where there is no place for your happiness.
There is actually only one thing you have to do, assuming that there is no other solid thing that can be blocking your happiness, like drowning in debt, having a shitty boss etc. You have to change how you see yourself and how you see the world. You need to rewire your brain. You need to finally allow yourself to be happy. There is no outside factor that can make you really happy in life.
You need to reshape your internal perception; you have to upgrade your subjective reality map and your inner voice. The good news is that it can be done. The bad news is that it’s a long and demanding process. But if you’ve read the article all the way to this point I have no doubt that you’re motivated.
Cognitive therapy and emotional accounting
You are unhappy because of your negative inner dialogue. In other words, your negative thoughts. You may not be even aware of it. Your inner voice is constantly there and it’s similar to the environment you were raised in.
It can be a cold voice, a critical voice, a pessimistic one, or negative in any other kind of way. That is what is causing your unhappiness.
Sometimes it slips out of people as self-dialogue. I’m such a clumsy person. Many people are not even aware of their inner voice. But the extent of your negative inner voice is enormous. It makes you unhappy, your mood slumps, your self-image crumbles, your body doesn’t function properly, your willpower gets paralyzed, etc.
There are 10 different types of negative thinking that make you an unhappy person:
- All-or-nothing thinking
- Mental filter
- Disqualifying the positive
- Jumping to conclusions
- Magnification and minimization
- Emotional reasoning
- Should statements
- Labeling and mislabeling
The first step of becoming aware of your negative inner dialogue is to pay better attention to it. You have to build a better connection with yourself and really hear your inner voice.
You will hear your parents, your experiences, your environment in it. And then you will see how negative it is. How it makes you unhappy. How is never ever anything good enough.
Here’s a simple exercise you should start with. First get familiar with all 10 different types of negative thinking. Then count the number of negative thoughts that pop up in your head every day. Buy some kind of a counter and start counting them. Just to become aware. It’s called mental biofeedback.
If there is no inner smile on your face, you are thinking something negative. Now become aware of it!
When you become a master of observing your inner dialogue, you need to slowly change it. It’s called emotional accounting. You basically draw a table with five columns:
- Negative thought (“I am so clumsy”)
- What kind of a negative feeling it causes and its intensity from 1 to 10 (“Anger, 9”)
- Type of negative thinking (“Overgeneralization”)
- Rational response – correction (“Not true; it does happen to me from time to time, like every other person alive. I am handy at lots of things, for example …”)
- Intensity of the negative feeling after the correction (“Anger, 3”)
The key is to correct your inner voice with a rational response. That way, you slowly begin changing your inner voice to a more positive one. Not surprisingly, you also become a more positive and happy person.
It’s a demanding task, but worth it. If you find it too difficult, you can maybe do it with a therapist. There are many good cognitive therapists that will help you to fix your inner dialogue and give you additional advice on how to become a happier person.
But even with cognitive therapy, there is one more thing you’re missing.
Rewriting your brain with the new experience
Only updating your inner dialogue may not be enough, especially if you do it the wrong way. For example, if you try to force yourself to change your inner dialogue. You only make it even more negative. You reinforce its negativity.
The ultimate way to rewrite your childhood experience is a new experience. An experience of a stable, loving, encouraging and warm environment that pays attention to your needs. You experience a new kind of relationship that becomes your new inner voice.
As you might have guessed, that takes years of work, but it’s probably the ultimate way of becoming a happier person. It’s one of the aspects of how psychoanalysis works. More about it in one of the following blog posts.
If you are unhappy, your unhappiness will only grow stronger with age. I thought it was the hardest in adolescence, but I was wrong. There are a few things you can do to really become a happier person. But they aren’t as easy as many articles suggest.
Nevertheless, if you decide to do something about your happiness levels, it’s time you start doing research and find more information on how it can really be done. Start by researching cognitive psychology and psychoanalysis.