Everywhere we turn in modern society we are bombarded with advice on how to achieve the most elusive commodity in the world: Happiness.
Magazine articles scream out their top tips for happiness from glossy front pages. TV can easily lead us to believe happiness can either be bought or simply obtained through swallowing the latest and greatest anti-depressant pill. In short, there is a multi-million dollar industry built around the premise of living “Happily Ever After.”
So, where’s the advice on being unhappy?
I’ve yet to see a book on the Top 10 Tips To Misery hitting the New York Times Bestsellers list. Why isn’t the blogosphere trending with articles on Living Miserably Ever After? Put simply, it doesn’t sell. Most people already have enough unhappiness in their lives. The last thing they wish to seek is how to garner more of it in their lives. However, once we dig a little deeper it becomes clear that this isn’t always as clear cut as it seems.
Sometimes we choose to be unhappy
What about the friend who’s always getting involved with unavailable men, or that colleague who actively seeks out things to get annoyed by? Why are they seemingly edging ever closer to making themselves unhappy? Actually, when you really think about it, many of us spend much of life making ourselves miserable by choosing to stay in a bad marriage, or refusing to quit a soul-sucking job. Whether we initially began with the very best intentions and life’s complications got in the way, or whether we made these choices without much forethought, the point is that sometimes in life we simply get in our own way, sit our asses down, and refuse to budge.
Which leads me to ask that pertinent question:
Do we secretly get a thrill out of being unhappy?
In my case, the answer to this intensely difficult question was a big “Heck Yes!” I spent close to five years being miserable. No, I wasn’t locked up in solitary confinement, nor was I living in a war zone. The source of my misery came simply as a result of my own choices. These choices were well-intentioned at the time. In the beginning, I brushed up against happiness enough times to feel some semblance of contentment. I was in a healthy relationship and had a great job that enabled me to live in Los Angeles. However, time passed, circumstances changed, and I suddenly found myself at the mercy of my own unhappiness.
I did nothing to change my circumstances.
The company I had spent many years working for in LA closed its doors and I was transferred over to the New York office, bringing my long-term boyfriend with me. At first, things were great… until they weren’t. New York City is a tough town and people generally love it or hate it. My boyfriend hated it. In fact, he made it known every single day. Meanwhile, I was dealing with a high-stress job that resembled nothing to what I had initially signed on for.
Essentially, I was stuck in an unhappy relationship and an unhappy career. Yet for years and years, I did absolutely nothing about it. I would spend the working day stressed and unhappy only to come home to more stress and unhappiness. There was no escape, at least in my mind. These were my choices and I was sticking with them – happiness be damned.
I was ignoring my needs, allowing others to control me, and catering to others until I was exhausted. I began to resent my own self-imposed obligations. In hindsight, there must have been a part of me that was secretly getting a thrill out of my circumstances, like being a martyr, if you will.
Personal martyrdom involves a vicious cycle of self-sabotage. In my case, I was repressing my own needs, which ended up making me feel controlled by the demands of my job and relationship. There is no fulfillment in this. Believe me. However, I still stayed.
I refused to ask for and receive help.
Another challenge of embracing martyrdom is to open up to asking for and receiving help. I was too proud and stubborn to admit that my picture-perfect life in NYC was turning into a nightmare. I refrained from reaching out and speaking the truth to my friends which simply isolated me further. I struggled to connect with people on a deeper level because I was too scared to admit that my life was unraveling.
On top of that, I was slowly falling in love with my own misery because it was all I’d known for such a long time.
My continual acts of unnecessary self-sacrifice were a way of making me feel good about myself whilst masking the actual act of self-sabotage. I was giving up on hopes, dreams, and passions that would make me truly happy.
Eventually, my misery got the best of me and started to manifest itself in physical illness which was the wake-up call that I was so desperately seeking. Time was quickly passing me by and I couldn’t afford to waste another decade putting my life on hold whilst working a job I hated and staying in a relationship that was well past its sell-by date.
Finally, I summoned up the courage to quit both my job and relationship and chose to start all over again. Looking back at this time has taught me so many valuable lessons on the seductive power of embracing your own unhappiness. The most important lesson of all was that being stuck in a victim mindset does just that. It keeps you stuck. It gave me something to complain about and most importantly held me back from attempting to follow my dreams.
Whilst my current life resembles nothing of the misery I went through for so many years, I still look back at that time as a pivotal moment in my life. It taught me so much about my own personal shadow behavior, it showed me what I don’t want out of life, and that my self-sabotage was keeping me stagnant.
Most importantly, it gave me the wake-up call that I needed. It gave me the opportunity to finally get out of my own way and open myself up to the belief that I was worthy of happiness.