Take a look around you.
How many happy people do you see?
How many of them are smiling or exhibiting other signs of happiness?
Unless you’re with a bunch of kids, I’m willing to bet the number of unhappy people far outweigh the happy.
Why is that?
Where did we go wrong?
Why are there so many unhappy people?
I was raised in Brooklyn and one place where unhappy people congregate is on the subway during rush hour. There are days when not one person on a crowded subway is smiling. You can learn a lot riding the MTA subway system and one of the most interesting things I’ve learned is why people are unhappy.
There are 7 main reasons:
A weary mother sits with furrowed brows as she is thinking about her son’s exam this weekend. This is the exam that will determine if he’ll get into a good high school. She’s worried about him going to the zone school near their home. She imagines her son hanging out with the wrong crowd, dropping out of high school and getting a minimum wage job.
Mark Twain once said, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened.” When you worry, you’re creating an unreal negative situation in the future, believing it is possible and feeling all the negative emotions in the present. In simple words, you’re terrorizing yourself and really for no good reason.
Quick Fix: Don’t worry. Be happy (Who knew Bobby McFerrin was so insightful). There is no benefit whatsoever to worrying. If there is no solution, worrying about it won’t help you. If there is a solution, you should be using your energy to implement it.
2. Giving Up Control
A middle-aged business man sits slumped in one of the subway seats looking dejected. His boss just demoted him because of a project gone bad due to the slumping economy. He needs the job to pay his rent so he had no choice but to stay with the firm.
It’s hard to be happy when the world is conspiring against you. People who take on the role of a victim, are never happy. This is because they don’t have any control. They believe that their unhappiness has been caused by an external factor and it can only be taken away by the external factor. They live in the miserable land of “if only”.
Quick Fix: Empower yourself by taking responsibility for everything that is happening in your life. You always have the choice for the decisions in your life. Never give this power to anyone else if you want to be happy.
3. Holding a Grudge
A high school student is standing up with one hand on the straphanger and the other on his phone. His teeth are clenched as he looks at his phone. His “friend” just posted an embarrassing video of him on Facebook and now he is plotting his revenge and the demise of his “frenemy”.
How often do you hold a grudge?
With your family members? Your friends? Complete strangers?
Anytime you hold a grudge, the only person that is affected is you. Your target usually has no idea what hateful thoughts you’re throwing at him or what horrible fate awaits him/her in your imagination. Meanwhile, in the real world, you’re unhappy, angry and frustrated and it’s affecting every aspect of your life in a negative way. What are you really gaining?
Quick Fix: Forgive AND Forget. Remember that if you don’t forget, you’re not really forgiving. Do this as soon as you can because if you allow someone to make you angry, you’ve given them control over you (Reason #2). Let it go because the best way to get back at someone is to let them know that they can’t get to you. You’ll be much happier for it.
4. Having One Set of Rules
A woman starts yelling at another woman for not letting her off the train before getting on. They exchange words and it is clear that both women are upset over the situation.
The easiest way to be unhappy is to believe that everyone should play by your rules and that your standards were the ones that have been approved for use by the world’s population. Think about the last time you were angry, wasn’t it because someone violated one of your deeply held beliefs?
Quick Fix: Understand that your set of rules is just that, your rules. No one else has to live by them. Just because you think it’s rude that people don’t wait to let other people off the train doesn’t mean other people feel the same way. Accept that your standards are not other people’s standards and you’ll notice many things that used to bother you won’t anymore.
5. Comparing to Other People
A young professional is standing on the subway tired, frowning and in deep thought. He just met up with some old college friends and found out that they were moving up rather quickly in their respective companies. He’s reflecting on his life and wondering where he went wrong and why he wasn’t experiencing similar levels of success.
Comparing yourself to others can be motivating if you have a strong self-esteem but more often than not, you’ll end up feeling bad about your own inferiority. The reason this happens is because people usually compare only one specific part of someone else’s life and it’s usually the other person’s best part.
Quick Fix: Stop comparing. Accept who you are. If you must compare, compare with yourself. Were you better than you were yesterday. If you must compare with other people, then make sure you compare every aspect of your life. Roger Federer may play tennis better than me but I can speak Chinese better than him. (Yes I just compared myself to Roger Federer and he was found wanting…in one particular aspect of life)
6. Making Life Harder Than It Has to Be
A recent entrepreneur sits in the corner of the train thinking about his slow-growing business. He’s put so much effort into it and have done all the “right” things but sales are slow. He’s frustrated with the progress and broods in the corner.
“I’ll be happy when I make 10 million dollars.” or “I’ll be happy if I had enough to eat for the night.”. Which one of these people will have a better chance of being happy? This has nothing to do with high or low standards. Happiness and success is what you make it. Many of you are making life much harder than it has to be.
Quick Fix: Why make it so hard to reach your goal? Set your own definition of success and define it as something that is achievable today. Life is too short to be spending time on activities you don’t enjoy.
My definition of success is that as long as I am pursuing my passion, I’m successful. How much money I make doesn’t matter as long as I’m pursuing my dream. If I gave up my passion to make a million dollars a year, I’ll no longer consider myself successful.
7. Being Pessimistic
A young woman runs down the stairs just to have the train doors close on her. “I always miss the train.” she says to herself and lets out a sigh that deflates her whole body. A man on the platform says to her, “At least the trains are running tonight.” She gives him a dirty look.
It’s easy for us to see things that we look for or that we bring into focus. If you’re thinking about buying a car and doing research on a Mini Cooper, you’re going to begin seeing Mini Coopers everywhere.
The same thing happens when you’re pessimistic. If you think you have bad luck, you’re going to notice all the instances when bad things happen to you. It’s really tough to be happy when you’re only aware of negative things happening to you.
Quick Fix: Look on the bright side. Be optimistic and always look for a silver lining. Having a sense of humor really helps as well. Consciously record good things that happen to you so when something bad happens, you can honestly say to yourself, “That’s interesting. I normally have such great luck.”
So those are the 7 top reasons along with the 7 quick fixes. Here is the abridged version of the quick fixes for your convenience:
- Don’t worry.
- Empower yourself.
- Forgive and let go.
- Be open.
- Don’t compare.
- Define own success.
- Be optimistic.
Happiness is important.
It’s ranked up there with life and liberty.
And you should pursue it. It’s your right.
Use this roadmap to guide you there.
If you’re unhappy, which one of these reasons resonate with you?
If you’re happy, how do you do it? What ways do you find most effective?
Robert Chen is the founder of Embrace Possibility and his passion is to help undervalued individuals reach their full potential. If you’re going through a tough time right now, check out Robert’s article on How to Feel Better Right Away.
If you find that you’re having trouble getting what you want out of life, check out How to Always Achieve Your Goals.
Photo credit: ‘Big Smile’ by Big Stock