It’s O.K. To Be Unhappy

So much is made in our culture about being happy, or getting to personal happiness, that one wonders if the effort in and of itself is unhappiness-inducing alone. We don’t have much room for unhappiness in our culture, so we try to medicate it, hide it, or fill it with bought stuff. We try to eradicate it, rather than dealing directly with it, which creates other problems.

Is it then taboo to actually be unhappy? Is there any room for our unhappiness when we truly feel unhappy?

Being unhappy is o.k. It’s when we don’t admit this unhappy state to ourselves that we get into trouble. A constant state of unhappiness may be called depression, yes, and you may get stuck there, but actually experiencing the temporary state of unhappiness while it’s happening won’t sink you. Many times, there are other emotions that need to be felt that are attached to unhappiness: sadness, anger, fear, loss, etc. You won’t get stuck there if you deal directly with the experience of unhappiness, but if you think it to death, it will stay stuck.

Unhappy On The Outside

I differentiate between externally-based unhappiness (your life story) and internal unhappiness (what’s going on in your mood aside from your life story). The two are different experiences, but can overlap. There are the things, situations and people that will trigger your unhappiness (outside), and there is a deep basin inside of you independent of your life situation that can be happy or unhappy (inside). When you can figure the difference out, you can change both to help your situations both on the outside, and on the inside.

If your life story makes you unhappy – your job, your friendships, your marriage, your health, your financial situation – is it possible to change your story? Can you minimize or get out of situations or relationships that create the situational unhappiness for you? The implications to those decisions may be great or small: obviously, if you are needing the job that makes you unhappy, or can’t leave an unhappy relationship, the decision may be harder and one that’s drawn over a longer period of time. But at some point, can you get out of that negative experience, for your own health and happiness? What are the costs to you?

Unhappy On The Inside

As far as internal unhappiness, sometimes really tuning into it helps quite a bit. Not beating it to death with “why’s” and questions, and making it worse, you might find that the unhappiness needs to simply come and go, and that’s all. It may bring up tears, or pain, but it may just need some “airing out,” something that’s impossible to do when you’re avoiding it or thinking about it to death. Getting in touch with the “felt sense” of the unhappiness in your body (heart, stomach, other places), you can often work through it if you allow it to surface when it happens, and not run from it.

Some people so strongly identify with their unhappiness. They don’t know who they would be without their version of unhappiness. They think they would end up becoming nobody if they let go of their unhappiness, anger, pain, etc. They risk losing the “known” quality of their unhappiness, which makes it their identity, so the “threat” of becoming happy really creates a challenge to how they see themselves overall. The risk of losing that identity is stronger than the will to let go of the unhappiness, so many people keep it. You know those people: you feel dark, or brought down by them when you’re in their presence. They suck energy and vitality from you and others around them.

Some Questions To Ask Yourself:

Ask yourself whether you’re unconsciously keeping yourself in an unhappy situation. Are you playing the victim? Are you too scared to make the change? Have you kept comfortable enough in an unhappy situation because it’s familiar? Do you stay unhappy “for other people,” and not for yourself? Are negative messages from growing up getting in the way of you moving forward towards things that make you happy? What are they?

How to make your unhappiness worse:

  1. Turn away from it, and avoid it
  2. Blame it on other people
  3. Turn to drugs, alcohol, consumer items, workaholism, etc.
  4. Resign yourself to it
  5. Think about other things
  6. Analyze it to death

How to deal with your unhappiness:

  1. Identify it first
  2. Admit to yourself you might be unhappy
  3. Talk it out
  4. Journal about it
  5. Sit in meditation with it
  6. Change your “life story” (see next point)
  7. Identify things, people or situations that make you unhappy, and create a plan to deal with them, either through direct confrontation, communication, or possibly minimizing it/them or removing it/them from your life.
  8. Get in touch with the “felt sense” of your unhappiness in your body, and see what other emotions are attached to your unhappiness (fear, sadness, anger, shame, etc.).

Unhappiness is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s healthy to deal with it directly, and the practice to getting used to unhappiness is helpful for moving through it. It’s when we avoid it, contain it and turn to other “happiness surrogates” that trouble starts.

About Jason

As "The Man That Men Will Talk To," Jason Fierstein, MA, LPC is a private practice counselor and psychotherapist for men and couples in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. He works with struggling men to find happiness in their lives, and with their wives.
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