Fighting Unhappiness

TL;DR

Unhappiness comes from stress, caused by a mix-and-match of the following factors:

  1. Unmet needs
  2. Unchangeable things
  3. Unresolved trauma
  4. Unmet expectations
  5. Substance abuse

Starting

If you’re consistently miserable, changing your situation will be difficult.

  • Approaching this change needs the right attitude because you must sacrifice many, many old ways of thinking.

Misery Cause #1: Unmet Needs

We possess many needs.

  • Everyone requires the same things, but not the same quantities.
  • We’re usually unaware of our needs until we start feeling pain from not having them.
  • Reacting to unmet needs often sabotages other needs.
  • If we catch our needs beforehand, we can detect future issues before they arise.
Physical needs keep us alive:
  • Food — sometimes caloric energy, sometimes a specific nutritional need
  • Water
  • Shelter — protection from weather and other living beings attacking
  • Sleep
  • Sex (which usually includes physical attractiveness)
  • Other things like breathing, going to the bathroom, and getting enough sunlight
  • The two most common causes of misery are dehydration and not enough sunlight

Psychological needs relate to how we see ourselves in the world:

Frequently, most things we do meet multiple physical/psychological needs at once.

Without self-correction, we will imagine the future will happen exactly how we see it right now:
  • A bad day can, in theory, become the start of a bad year or a bad life.
  • It’s a waste of time to obsess about it, and we should simply become aware of the risks so that we can do something about them.
  • If we don’t know what to prepare for, we get stuck into a locked state of hyper-prepared misery, which brings many psychological hardships with it.
  • The best solution is to simply pick something and random and work on it.

We tend to have a “center” that satisfies many of our needs:
  • Over our lives, our center becomes the perceived source of those needs.
  • Because of how many things it affects, we focus our efforts on this center.
  • To grow, we must center our minds on values and principles (the true value of religion), but that requires shifting focus away from everything else in the world around us.

Unmet needs will eventually ferment into an existential crisis:
  • Familiar and common things will feel bizarre.
  • Personal choice will feel severely limited.
  • We begin overemphasizing death and mortality.
  • We become aware that we can’t reliably plan major life decisions.
  • Further, once we realize we can’t anticipate anything, we’ll develop an anxiety and terror from that uncertainty.

Most needs fit the PERMA model

To be fulfilled, we require positive emotion, focus on the present, relationships, meaning, and observable accomplishments.

Positive Emotion — any small pleasure:
  • Consume something fun:
    • Look at cute things like small animals or babies.
    • Enjoy something funny.
  • Spend time in nature:
    • Look up at the stars.
    • Go to the beach or mountains.
  • Eat or drink something:
    • Have coffee, tea or juice, especially chamomile/green tea or orange juice.
    • Chew cinnamon or peppermint gum.
    • Eat watermelon, bananas, grapes, or avocados.
    • Eat food with amino acids, like yogurt or nuts.
    • Eat pasta, oatmeal, cornflakes, or tuna.
  • Enjoy art:
    • Listen to your favorite songs or upbeat music loudly.
    • Look at a work of art.
  • Relax your body:
    • Take a bath with Epsom salt or with rosewater and coconut milk.
    • Roll your feet over a rolling pin for five minutes.
    • Rest for 20 minutes on your back with your legs upright against a wall.
    • Take a nap.
    • Massage yourself.
    • Try to sleep as well as possible.
  • Reflect on good events:
    • Write down things that make you happy, you like doing, people you love, and good things that happened to you.
    • Write down unhappy thoughts or concerns and either throw them in a trash can or fold them up.
    • Reminisce about how you’ve changed for the better.
    • Tell yourself one thing you’re grateful for.
  • Use stress relievers that release endorphins:
    • Smile for 60 seconds.
    • Touch money.
    • Squeeze the fleshy spot between your index finger and the thumb.
    • Blow on your thumb.
    • Laugh, even if it starts out sounding fake.
    • Forgive a lingering grudge.

Engagement — focus on the present:
  • Do something physical:
    • Go for a walk.
    • Do full-body stretches.
    • Dance.
    • Do a full workout.
    • Clean out a closet or do chores to bring clarity to the physical world.
  • Create something:
    • Sing or play music.
    • Draw or paint something.
    • Write a book.
    • Make something you’ve needed to make.
    • Paint out feelings or write them in a journal.
    • Throw a paper airplane.
  • Do something different or new:
    • Leave work early (with permission).
    • Change your routine.
    • Take a different route.
    • Learn a new skill or doodle.
    • Take a calculated risk on something that will improve you.
    • Consider what you want out of your job.
  • Live in the present moment:
    • Control your breathing and take deep breaths.
    • Meditate and learn about the world around you.
    • Analyze something you’ve accepted as commonplace.
  • While it’s relatively controversial, lose sleep and get work done you’ve been wanting to do.

Relationships — meaningful time with others:
  • Greet up to 6 people every day
  • Spend time with happy people
  • Encourage someone
  • Enjoy your pet
  • Have fun with some friends
  • Hug someone
  • Listen to other people’s problems
  • Spend some time with a child or elderly person
  • Vent to a best friend
  • If you’re married, have sex
  • Share with others who won’t judge or condemn you

Meaning — feeling responsible for something beyond yourself:
  • What you do isn’t nearly as important as finding a clear meaning through what you do.
  • Take responsibility for yourself
  • Join a church or club
  • Help someone who needs help or volunteer somewhere
  • Openly love someone around you, or say hello to a stranger

Accomplishment/Achievement — belief in improvement:
  • Become more productive:
  • Push past your limits:
    • Learn something new.
    • Do something uncomfortable you’ve meant to do.
    • Do the one to-do that you dread the most.
    • Find a bad habit to stop.
    • Challenge yourself to venture beyond your comfort zone.
    • Try to work more efficiently.
  • Assess your achievements:
    • Track how far you’ve changed.
    • Write down a list of your skills.
    • Find new achievements you can reasonably attain.


Misery Cause #2: Unchangeable Stressors

Accepting reality is the humbling task of admitting we’re often weak, incapable, and incorrect:
  • We often prefer what’s familiar over what’s correct.
  • Be brutally honest with yourself about what you’re afraid of, what may harm you, and what you can’t know.
  • Note how much you spend thinking about political matters or others’ feelings:

We frequently think we can control things we can’t.

Are you suffering severe physical or emotional pain?

Do you have chronic long-term problems?

Have you experienced any major life changes?

Are you happy with your job?
  • Accept that your current life situation could always be worse.
  • Explore other options or accept your situation.

Are you happy with your living situation?

Are you happy with your social network?
  • Poor social skills cause tremendous anxiety with others.
  • Take time to get to know other people more and make more friends.
  • Sometimes you need a new social group, and sometimes you’re the reason you don’t have friends.

Are you satisfied with the past, present, and future?
  • Unhappiness from the past and present come from ingratitude
  • Unease of the future is focusing on something you can’t control.
  • We often find tremendous dissatisfaction through arbitrary comparisons of the past, present, and future.

Have you recently suffered a loss?
  • Grieving goes beyond death to cover a vast variety of people and things.
  • While grief is a highly individual experience, we broadly transition through five stages:
    1. Denial & Isolation — a short-lived response that buffers us against the first wave of pain.
      • When severe enough, even the feelings tied to the pain can have separate waves of denial.
    2. Anger — trouble accepting reality, even while the initial shock has passed.
      • This anger will usually express as frustration toward objects, strangers, friends, or family.
      • The anger itself is a misplaced need for justice on our terms.
    3. Bargaining — trying to regain control while feeling helpless and vulnerable.
      • We usually bargain with what we can do now, then move on to impossible promises, regrets, then pondering hypothetical possibilities, often including a deal with God or another higher power.
    4. Depression — misery about the event, mixed with a feeling of hopelessness, that expresses in 2 forms:
      1. Withdrawn: making quiet preparations to say goodbye and separate from the person or experience.
        • Withdrawn people simply need a hug.
      2. Volatile: a varied over-reactivity to the experience.
        • Volatile people need simple clarification, reassurance, helpful cooperation, and a few kind words.
    5. Acceptance — a withdrawn, overall sense of calm about the situation.
      • This is not happiness, and is simply a resting state for feelings to run their course.
  • At any point, any situation can make us regress and fall back through any number of stages, but we will have to progress again through the stages to reach acceptance.


Misery Cause #3: Unmet Expectations

Typically, we’re completely unaware of our expectations.

High expectations make us unhappy:
  • We often try many things with very high, unreasonable expectations.
  • Many of the happiest people in the world have the fewest possessions or accomplishments.
  • Many of the most miserable people have near-unlimited resources at their disposal.
  • Low standards for ourselves, things, and others make us happier, even when we’re not necessarily successful.

But, we also frequently believe bad things will stay the same.

Social media sets false standards for our expectations about pretty much everything:
  • Social media shows people who appear happier, funnier, more attractive, and interesting than anyone we know, including ourselves.
  • This is especially dangerous for teenagers with limited experience with how people typically behave.
  • To realign to reality, take a break from social media and replace it with time in nature.

More choices create more dissatisfaction:
  • More options mean you invest more energy into the decision, meaning you expect the thing to give better results.
  • Remove possibilities to get more satisfaction from your decisions:

Control your expectations:
  • If you’re resentful, you’re either immature or someone is misusing you.
  • Ignore any decisions you can’t make right now.
    • Focus less on a “best” option and more on “acceptable” ones.
    • Learn gratitude for horrible decisions you never have to make and the blessing that you even have your current decisions.

Learn to love constraints:
  • Premeditate your choice for when and where you want to choose.
  • Remind yourself that every moment of indecision is wasting time and energy.
  • Make final, irreversible decisions.

Actively choose instead of merely “picking”:
  • Weigh out the pros and cons based on what you desire more than fear.
  • Avoid thinking about your decision afterward to foster regret.
  • Avoid comparing your decision to others’ choices.


Misery Cause #4: Unresolved Trauma

Anything that isn’t completely resolved in our mind will come back to haunt us:
  • Memories of an event will force your mind to relive the shock over and over again, even after decades.
  • Our post-traumatic stress makes us react impulsively against something that triggers the memory.

We tend to incorrectly redirect past trauma through several possible pathways:
  • Overly personalized — making a broad thing too personal
  • Overly broad — making a general rule out of something specific
  • Permanent association — making a permanent rule out of something temporary
  • Non-association — treating the experience as completely unrelated to legitimately relevant things

The only solution is to patiently expose ourselves to experiences that relive the trauma until we remove the harsh emotional ties to our past.

Everyone has a different way to release trauma

We tend to incorrectly redirect past trauma through several possible pathways:
  • Be patient with yourself and your thoughts to let yourself work through the pain:
    • Visualize yourself as a small child, as well as everyone else involved.
    • Talk to yourself like you would talk to someone you love.
    • Talk to yourself or a friend about how you feel.
  • Crying is one of the most effective ways to release trauma.
    • If you can’t cry, yawning also releases stress.
  • Focus on meditative deep breathing:
    1. Exhale completely.
    2. Take 4 seconds to inhale.
    3. Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
    4. Take 8 seconds to exhale, then repeat.
  • Focus on repetitive, mindless tasks to relieve tension:
    • Cleaning and exercise helps you feel a direct improvement.
    • Playing Tetris or other video games may help break from severe trauma, but only for a few hours at a time.
    • Avoid anything that takes a long time, is unproductive, or can be unhealthy (such as marathon game sessions or overeating).
    • Pain medicine numbs emotional pain along with physical pain, but don’t self-medicate unless you’re making a critical decision you can’t postpone.
  • If you can’t break through after a few months of self-reflection, seriously consider professional psychotherapy to gain some traction.

Release often requires forgiveness

There are three forms of forgiveness:

A. Exoneration
  • Usually what people imply with the word “forgive”, which restores the offender completely as if the event never happened.
  • There are three common exoneration situations:
    1. Someone caused a legitimate accident, but not negligently.
    2. Someone didn’t understand the pain they caused.
    3. The person who hurt you:
      1. Is truly sorry.
      2. Takes full responsibility without excuses.
      3. Asks for forgiveness.
      4. Genuinely doesn’t want to repeat the action.
  • If someone has fully apologized and is trying or has tried to make amends, you are morally responsible to exonerate them.
  • If you can’t forgive someone completely repentant, there may be something more wrong with you than your offender.

B. Forbearance
  • A far more common situation of “trust but verify”, where the offender has only partially admitted guilt.
  • Forbearance is necessary when the offender:
    1. Makes a partial or potentially inauthentic apology.
    2. Mixes blame into their expression of sorrow that implies complete innocence.
  • Forbear someone if you want or need to stay on acceptable terms with them:
    1. Let go of that particular offense.
    2. Remove grudges and fantasies of revenge.
    3. Stay watchful of their behavior in the future.
  • With time and love, forbearance can become exoneration and full forgiveness if that person changes.

C. Release
  • Unlike exoneration or forbearance, release is personal separation from the offense inside the mind.
  • Release is always necessary for ourselves, but especially when the offender doesn’t believe they did anything wrong or gives a thoroughly insincere apology with no promise of reparations.
  • Release-only situations often come from:
    • Adult child abuse survivors.
    • Victims of infidelity.
    • Betrayal from friends or family members.
  • Release doesn’t have many requirements:
    • You don’t need a continued relationship with the offender or even another encounter with them.
    • You’re only required to give up trying to “fix” what happened to you.
    • Release allows you to let go of the hurt feelings and past trauma and stop defining your life with a past wound.
  • Your happiness, regardless of who wronged you or how, depends on releasing all grudges and ill intent toward anyone.
    • Release isn’t forgetting, but is accepting that you now bear the consequences of something that happened outside your control.
    • If you ever go to sleep without releasing the grudge, it will encode itself into your subconscious and become harder to work through later.
    • By not releasing the old pain, those people will repeatedly re-hurt you in your mind without your permission.
    • Psychotherapy, your individual efforts, or religion can all get you there.

We must also forgive ourselves:
  • It’s easy to hold a grudge against ourselves over:
  • We are often more unforgiving towards ourselves than anyone else can be.

However, forgiveness is not instant, and the Enright Process captures its 4 phases:
  1. Uncovering — gaining insight on an injustice committed.
    • The injustice doesn’t have to necessarily be real, but it must feel real.
    • The largest hurdle is in uncovering what, exactly, had happened, which requires tons of willpower and honesty.
  2. Decision — committing to releasing the injustice.
    • This doesn’t actually mean doing anything about it, but more accepting the experience isn’t worth holding on to it anymore.
  3. Work — taking efforts to walk through the injustice and release it.
    • The work involves gaining a more thorough mental understanding of the offender and accepting whoever that person is.
    • The result of it is a sensible realization that the offender is simply a human being, and not evil incarnate.
  4. Deepening — finding a type of meaning through giving up control.
    • Contrary to any intuition of an unforgiving person, releasing control gives a stronger connection with others, decreases negative experiences, and can often give more purpose in the rest of life.


Misery Cause #5: Substance Abuse

Every single thing we use more than once gives a diminishing return:
  • Diminishing return is the fact that using one more of something will be slightly less effective than the previous one.

We abuse a substance when we expect more than it can provide, then ignore diminishing return:
  • Most people think of drugs or alcohol, but there are many, many more.
  • Absolutely any habit in the wrong time or place can become an addiction.

Addicts will continue investing more and more resources into their substance until they start destroying friendships in the process:
  • The earlier you detect an addiction, the less you will lose from it.

Every addiction recovery group uses the 12-step program made by Bill Wilson and Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith in 1939:
  1. Admit you have no power over your substance and can’t manage your life anymore.
  2. Come to believe a power greater than you can restore your sanity.
  3. Decide to give your will and life over to God’s care.
  4. Conduct a fearless, thorough personal moral inventory.
  5. Admit to God, yourself, and another person the exact nature of your wrongs.
  6. Become entirely ready for God to remove all those character defects.
  7. Humbly ask God to remove your shortcomings.
  8. Make a list of everyone you’ve harmed and become willing to make amends with all of them.
  9. Make direct amends to them wherever possible, except when it would injure anyone.
  10. Keep taking personal inventory and promptly admit when you’re wrong.
  11. Work to improve your conscious contact with God through meditation and praying, asking only for knowledge of God’s will for you and for power to carry it out.
  12. With the spiritual awakening from the first 11 steps, try to carry the message to other addicts and to practice its principles in everything.

In practice, recovering from an addiction is treating yourself like an extremely strong-willed small child, with the “adult” regulating yourself with a set of standards independent of yourself.


Prolonged happiness, however, requires maintenance against life’s further hardships or falling back into old habits.

This page is Part 2 of How To Be Happy. Part 1 was Defining Happiness.