Unhappiness isn’t about having more downs than ups. It’s about going through life forever desiring something else. It’s a state of lasting discontentment, for different reasons at different times.

The degree of unhappiness may vary from person to person, and the prevalence of some of the principles may be more dominant than others. We’re also deeply aware of the fact that there might be serious medical or psychiatric grounds for some people’s bleak life experience. Barring these conditions, the root cause of a life of discontentment is to be found in a combination of the following nine dispositions:

A destructive thinking pattern

Image of crowd, focusing on unhappy woman in centre - The ingredients of unhappinessUnhappy people entertain a thinking pattern that turns everyday conditions into a dramatic mental script, a storyline in which victims, villains and rescuers dominate the ‘movie’. They crudely classify situations as rewards and threats, categorize people as friends or foes and value any outcome as a personal loss or gain.

Essentially, they spend their lives in survival mode, exhausting themselves by framing life as a win-lose experience, defending themselves against illusionary enemies and responding in some forceful way to their fears.

These degrees of inner agony leave them susceptible to superficial solutions, control by ‘liberators’ and expensive remedies. A hostile mind shapes a hostile personal world.

Being a passive victim of circumstances

Unhappy people freeze or panic in the face of challenging conditions. They easily succumb to the blows of life—opting for bitterness instead of betterness. They’re on a never-ending mission to delegate accountability.

Finding culprits gives them more satisfaction than finding solutions. What happens around them often ends up being a very personal, explosive affair. They frequently surrender to illusionary harm, often spending time in the alleys of history. They’re masterful at explaining the nature of their complaints.

Being generally dissatisfied

Unhappy people ooze a spirit of discontentment—and therefore tend to stumble from conflict to quarrel. Something is always ‘blowing up’ or ‘burning down’, or there’s a feeling that something is about to.

The brick walls are not there to keep us out. the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. … The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.

– Randy Pausch

It’s difficult for them to enjoy simple things. In fact, they find many of the generous gifts of life irritating because of their lack of substance, or aren’t even aware of them. They’re caught in a wedge between what they have and what they argue they should have. Their preoccupations centre around what’s lacking.

They find it difficult to love, even more so when you add the word ‘unconditional’ to love. They argue that to unreservedly accept and care for life—and its variety of role players—is an unfair expectation. Gratitude is, at best, an occasional moment of good religious manners to them. They’re often glad when a day ends.

Forever blaming someone or something

Unhappy people leave their future to happen to them. Their tomorrows are in someone else’s hands. They never find time to plan. They consequently learn to hide behind a mentality of confessions, resentment and guilt trips.

They’re always ready to identify the perpetrator. And they spend endless hours in illusionary—sometimes even real—court cases, finding someone else at fault, reaping their limited moments of meaning at someone else’s expense and “bringing someone to book.”

All of this turmoil occurs because the definition of their lives and the quality of their future have been ‘outsourced’—and are therefore normally hijacked by ‘offenders’.

Living in a state of disconnect

Unhappy people are masterful ‘dislikers’. They always want something else. When they’re at work, they want to retire. When they’re retired, they want to work.

Professionally, they’re ‘doing someone else’s job’ for a living. Their passion has remained a theoretical reference. Their career and workplace is essentially a source of misery. Their hearts aren’t there and their best energy is spent on something else.

This lack of engagement inhibits their contribution and often leaves them economically deprived, whatever their native level of talent. They’ve settled for professional detachment and a soulless work experience. And it starts with the fact that they aren’t too excited about life itself.

Abusing or disregarding the self

Unhappy people aren’t well—and normally don’t look, sound or feel well. They neglect their health, allow their spirit to run dry and become intellectually lazy.

This shows in the second half of their lives when youthfulness doesn’t coat the damage anymore. Their finances are ever so often a mess. Their scars of discontentment exhibit themselves in their appearance, sentiment and behaviour.

They blame the disrepair on a hostile environment. But the vandalizing actually started long ago, sadly often by indifferent parents, and then continued as a personal style. They passively oversee an unnecessary erosion of their lives—essentially opting for treatment instead of avoidance.

Being isolated from or overwhelmed by people

Unhappy people are often insecure. This may mean that they hide from people, or on the other side of the social scale, that they invite every stranger into their lives as ‘friends’. Their relationships are marked by unnatural constraints and obligations, constituting a social pendulum swinging between dependence and rejection.

Their associations are regularly burdened by control and forceful interactions—normally because of being exposed to such relationship models early in their lives. They usually allow a crooked ranking of relationships, by not befriending themselves or attending to those in their own households first, before allowing outsiders into their lives.

Being cynical and negative

Man sitting alone outdoors in dark with hood on - The ingredients of unhappinessUnhappy people can spread contagious pessimism and erode the spirit of those around them. They’re masters at describing a problem or designing doomsday scenarios and at dressing up hopelessness.

Their conversations are built around personal criticism and general objections. It’s as if they’re happy when they can be unhappy! They expect the worst from life; worrying and grieving offers them a strange sense of satisfaction. They view their setbacks as permanent, pervasive and personal.

They extract energy by trying to prove that life is a dark and dangerous place. They’re often depressed.

Failure is not a single, cataclysmic event. … Failure is a few errors in judgment, repeated every day.

– Jim Rohn

Passively accepting unhappiness as fate

They don’t regard happiness as a verb and a concept that they can actually do something about. They’re simply the unlucky ones, not destined for inner harmony and outer advancement.

They focus on what they don’t want or don’t have in life, instead of concentrating on what they want and what they can do about it. They spend their days in defensive mode. They depend on a flawed formula for happiness.

Can you see yourself and others you know?

How depressing it is to just review this selection of unhappiness traits! It’s one long description of severe inner turmoil.

Skim the list once more and recall a person you know who shows some of these destructive symptoms. And can you recall a person who doesn’t display any of these traits? Do you agree that the first person is someone you wouldn’t exactly describe as happy, while the second one may very well strike you as happy?

Do you realize how difficult you make things for yourself and people around you if you accommodate these behaviours?

And what about you? Do you perhaps recognize some of these ‘habits of unhappiness’ in your own life? If you do, do you realize it’s probably a subconscious decision to hold onto them? You’re free to blame your parents for them, but at a certain point, looking over your shoulder for the reasons some of these traits are part of your life just won’t cut it anymore.

How willing are you to admit it or do something about it? Do you realize how difficult you make things for yourself and people around you if you accommodate these behaviours?

Just a reminder again, as is the case with happiness, unhappiness isn’t necessarily an absolute state. Some people are ‘less unhappy’ than others. The point remains that ‘less unhappy’ still doesn’t mean happy. And the remedy is simple—starting to consciously chip away at unhappiness every day, stopping yourself when you digress and saying no when you see it coming.

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Front cover of book The Happy Mind - The ingredients of unhappiness
Excerpted from the book The Happy Mind: A Simple Guide to Living a Happier Life Starting Today by Kevin Horsley and Louis Fourie. Copyright © 2017 by Kevin Horsley and Louis Fourie. Printed with permission from TCK Publishing — www.tckpublishing.com.

image 1: Pixabay; image 2: Pixabay