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Last Updated on January 1, 2020

Why Am I Not Happy? 5 Steps to Figure Out the Reason

Why Am I Not Happy? 5 Steps to Figure Out the Reason

In our diverse world, where everyone wants to stand out from the crowd and has their own opinions just about everything, there is a rather universal idea we all – regardless of age, race, location, gender — embrace…

We all want to be happy.

We want to feel that we matter, are loved, appreciated, problem-free, care-free, and financially secure. And this has become one of the most obsessive quests of our society—to be happy, at all cost, by all means.

Happiness has undisputed benefits—supported by countless studies—to about pretty much everything in our lives—from our mental or physical state, to careers, relationships, finances.

Although the self-help industry is still having a sunshine moment with its advice on how to get to this coveted state, no one (that I’m aware of) has come up with The Magic Potion—that one thing or action or thought—that can make us all content and whole for good.

Of course, we also all are knowledgeable enough to recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. And that it’s often a combination of things that each one of us should intentionally do daily in order to reach that enchanted place where everything is intensely bright and upbeat.

The reason that there are multiple antidotes to feeling gloomy is that there may be a million different explanations and their nuances of why someone is unhappy. It’s pretty much a different cause, path and experience for everyone.

Top this with the “hedonic treadmill” phenomenon[1] —and you end up with an incessant (and rather tiring) pursuit of something that, quite frankly, no one has been able to define in concreate measurable terms.

The second problem with happiness is that all of us become so hung up on the goal itself—that utopian state that we want to get to “one day.”

Naturally, you can spend your whole life waiting for happiness to finally come knocking on your door, hoping, anticipating, existing in perpetual discontent—and the moment may never come.

And then, looking back, you may ask yourself—was I truly that miserable or did I fall a victim of the happiness craze?

That is—how can you know if you are really unhappy, if happiness means different things for everyone, it’s impossible to measure directly, and it’s rather fleeting?

So, let’s start from the beginning— and examine the cause of why you’re unhappy, the symptoms and the treatment.

How Unhappy Am I?

According to the wellness site Mind Body Green, some of the most common manifestations you are not happy are:[2]

  • Feeling like you’re not as good as other people
  • Feeling like a victim of circumstances that are beyond your control
  • Feeling like your daily life is meaningless and task-driven
  • Feeling helpless, hopeless, or pessimistic
  • Protecting your heart with steel walls
  • Trying to fit in and belong, but rarely feel like you do
  • Feeling beaten down by the challenges you face in life
  • Feeling depressed, anxious, or chronically worried
  • Feeling like you’re not appreciated enough

If this sounds like you, on a regular day, then you are not a happy fella, my friend.

Why Am I Not Happy?

The most important indication that things are not great (at least in your mind) is the sense of “something missing.” You may not know what it is, but you feel hollow, incomplete. And you are aware that something needs to happen to make you come alive again.

Of course, finding the reason for your woes is vital to prescribing (to yourself) the right steps to make it all better.

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So, here are some of the most common reasons why you may feel heavy-hearted, or “like the joy has been sucked out of my life.”

Lack of Meaning

Everyone who’s someone in the happiness-advice trade will tell you that this is one of the main causes (of not THE biggest) of feeling blah. Especially relevant for our professional lives, lack of significance can be a dream-downer.

An excellent piece in the New York Times talks about Harvard graduates who make $1.2 million a year in salary, but still feeling miserable and trapped in what they describe as “wasting my life” existence.[3]

Simply put—you may feel unhappy because you need the “Why” in your life, as I also wrote in a previous post How to Get Unstuck in Life and Live a More Fulfilling Life.

Happiness Disruptors

Even perceived problems can feel quite real to many of us. Undeniably, though, any personal, financial, career, physical complications can make your happiness aspirations plummet.

The constellation of all the issues or walls you can run into can be quite vast. For instance, you don’t like the way you look, you don’t make enough money, don’t have any friends or significant other, your health is fragile.

All these can be serious impediments to an undisturbed-joyfulness type of life.

Lack of Self-Esteem and Self-Respect

Few years ago (2003), a paper by the psychologist Roy Baumeister rocked the science world. Titled “Does High Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles?” it presented the idea (supported by research) that self-esteem and happiness are linked.[4]

Specifically, high self-esteem leads to greater happiness.

In addition, according to the famous American author and speaker Gary Vaynerchuk, the main reason people are unhappy is because they lack self-respect—that is, they value others’ opinions above their own. Of course, it makes sense—and surely, it rings true with many of us too.

Personality

Linked to the above is another hindrance to becoming relentlessly upbeat, which may prove slightly challenging to overcome, if even possible—your personality.

Of course, not per the self-help industry which thrives on the assumption that you can, with your own willpower, become a different person altogether. Namely—a much better version of the current you.

But what the Wise Men also tell us is that you are either born to be a silver-lining kind of person or you are not.

You can, of course, work on yourself to start seeing the glass half-full (vs half-empty). But you may never reach the gregariousness of someone who is just born with a more care-free temperament.

Unreasonably High Expectations

Having high expectations of yourself can be beneficial, according to research.[5] It leads to higher performance—a phenomenon called the Pygmalion effect.

Having too high expectations of yourself, though, may be counter-productive. You can run into all slew of mental health issues—depression, self-sabotaging, self-punishment, etc. And it can spill over all areas of your life.

It’s certainly a case for future investigation.

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Social Trends

It will take perhaps at least few articles to list all the reasons why we can feel unhappy (a book even!).

So, some of the other causes of being disgruntled with your life can be: long hours at work, “always-on” culture bread by the internet, increased screen time,[6] or boredom with one’s life (i.e. lack of excitement).

Addiction to Unhappiness

Apparently, you can also develop an addiction to unhappiness[7] —that is, some people like negative feelings and are “happy to be unhappy.” Rather disturbing, indeed.

Unexplainable Reasons

Or, sometimes, you just can’t put your finger on one thing, or on anything, for this matter—you don’t know for sure what makes you feel unhappy, nor what will make you happy. It feels like it’s everything—your whole life is a mess.

But that’s not the end of the story. The most important questions you should be asking yourself are:

Why? What’s the cause of my unhappiness?

Because you can’t fix it when you don’t know what’s broken, right?

5 Steps to Figure Out Your Why

So, if you tick most of the symptoms above, it’s very likely that you are not living in Dream-land right now.

Here is my advice on how to find your lumps in the batter.

1. Mull over What “Happy” Means to You

Happiness can take different shapes—hedonic pleasure, life satisfaction, desire fulfillment.[8] All of these—separately or together—can deliver to us sprinkles of joy.

And because our lives are so diverse, the above will translate into different pursuits for each one of us.

For instance, my hedonic weekend happiness means reading a book or writing, while for someone else—it’s socializing, taking a walk, or going on a shopping spree at the mall.

Or, my life satisfaction can be to have a big family and leave a mark in the world this way. For others, it may be going after fame and fortunes. But either way, don’t fall for the society’s “narrative traps”[9]—that a bigger pay check, house, a certain job, person, etc. will give you a never-ending stream of bliss. It won’t, science confirms over and over.

So, once you know what your happiness vision board looks like, you will have a better idea of what’s “missing” in your life.

2. Re-Visit Your Expectations

As I already mentioned, unreasonable expectations you or others have set for yourself can be deterring you from feeling gleeful.

For one thing, aspirations often can become outdated. What you wanted ten or five years ago (or even six months ago) may not be relevant to your situation today and will need to be filed into a mental cabinet.

Another issue is that our culture is putting an exponential pressure on all of us to perform more and better, to try and stretch the 24-hours a day into 30, to chase kudos and recognition. Any outcome that has earned less than the gold is punishable by exclusion for the cool crowd, by receiving less in perks, bonuses, and appreciation even.

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As a result, anxiety, depression and all their dark friends start creeping into our minds and tint everything else that may be giving us joy and satisfaction.

So, taking periodic audit of your expectations—their validity and importance place on your happiness list, is pivotal to stopping unhappiness spread into your life.

3. Examine Your Way of Thinking

At the heart of the so-called Rational Emotive Behavior Theory (REBT),[10] which was established by the American psychologist Albert Ellis in 1956, is the idea that it’s never the actual event that upsets us.It’s our interpretation and thoughts about it. By inference, changing our thoughts will reduce (and hopefully remove altogether) our anxiety.

Let’s take this a stretch further. Positive (not delusional) thinking has been long proclaimed to be a winner when it comes to mental health. If you find yourself going down the spiral of negative inner dialogue, you must stop yourself immediately. It’s unhappiness trap.

But it’s not easy-breezy, of course, to do such conscious policing all the time. It can become a habit, though, psychologists tell us. We can teach ourselves to quell negativity, and there are many things that can be done: How to Have Happy Thoughts and Train Your Brain to Be Happy

And don’t forget to be grateful. It’s the best happiness shot there is.

4. The Good Old Pros and Cons

Although it may appear to be a less fascinating way to figure out whether you are unhappy or not, the pros-and-cons list has been around for a long time—and it’s still an excellent tool to let you examine things closely, evaluate alternatives and come to satisfactory answers.[11]

Interestingly, as history tells us, this invention is credited to Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century. Notorious for his productivity, he applied the pros-cons exercise to almost everything in his life.

The beauty of the method lies in its simplicity too. So, go back to the drawing board and start penciling down the things that you like and don’t like (make you unhappy) about your life, and the things that you know with certainty to make you happy today.

Of the “things-that-make me-unhappy-about-my-life” subset, have a think what you can do to move these along the continuum—to the brighter side.

You may be surprised to discover that you have much greater say in the building of your own happiness than chance, circumstances or others.

5. Mental Cleansing

Mental health is in the limelight quite often these days. And rightly so.

The way we care about our bodies and minds directly links to many of our life outcomes.

Mental clutter can become a well-being stumbling block. Overthinking, old grudges, past events, can all make it very challenging to feel elevated and content.

Doing a mental cleanse once a month can be the remedy to set yourself on the path to happiness recovery.

Pay a visit to the past to confront your fears, get rid of the people who bring you down, free yourself from any emotional baggage. It will help you silence the bully in your head.

Take a periodic stock of all the things that make you anxious and declutter. Why hold on to the things that you know to bring you grief anyway?

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Unless you are one of those unhappiness addicts I mentioned above (which calls for a more radical intervention), carrying emotional baggage without doing anything to unload it, is a anti-glee behavior.

Bonus Advice

Finding our Achilles’ heel of happiness can sometimes be a tall order. It takes time, conscious efforts and an honest desire to make it better. It also alludes that we are ready to take the plunge into the self-help territory and take actual steps to improve our situation.

But it’s not a lost cause, the research tells us. It’s possible to make yourself happy on a consistent basis.

Here are few universal suggestions:

One of the things you can do is to inject some meaning back in your life. And the best way to go about this is to flip the narrative. Case in point—the story of John F Kennedy’s visit to NASA in 1962. He ran into a janitor and when asked him what he was doing, he replied: “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

The happiness guru Gretchen Rubin tells us that there are two major path that lead a more fulfilling life:[12]

One way is through our relationships—having strong bonds and feeling that we belong.

The other route is through developing better self-knowledge—i.e. what things make us us, or glad, or sad. And base our way of living on our own values and goals, not others’.

The feeling that we are not making progress is a definite joy crusher. We should compare wisely, find our passions, and diversify our experiences. These are not magic pills but more so opportunities to make our time here worthwhile and fulfilling.

Final Thoughts

Happiness is notoriously hard to pin down.

There is no one definition of contentment, nor one way to ‘fix’ it. It’s one of those things that you can’t quantify and it’s idiosyncratic.

More and more we hear a murmur from the science world that perhaps the best way to happiness is acceptance—of your failings and shortcomings, of the fact that life is imperfect.

Knowing what makes us disgruntled is, of course, needed to find the right remedy for each one of us. Feeling constantly unhappy is not good and necessitates closer examination.

Finally, beware of the narrative trap that if you are unhappy, there is something wrong with you. It may be normal, for a while at least. Otherwise, how would you appreciate the highlight moments of your life if you don’t see them against the backdrop of the gloomy times?

Or, as the great singer Leonard Cohen tells us:

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

More About Staying Happy

Featured photo credit: Andrew Le via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Evelyn Marinoff

A wellness advocate who writes about the psychology behind confidence, happiness and well-being.

How to Get Unstuck in Life and Live a More Fulfilling Life How to Define Your Personal Values and Live By Them for a Fulfilling Life What Is External Motivation And How to Make Good Use of It? Is There a True Measure of Success? How to Define Your Own Why Is Internal Motivation So Powerful (And How to Find It)

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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

Have you ever walked into a room and felt like your nerves simply couldn’t handle it? Your heart beats fast, you start to sweat, and you feel like all eyes are on you (even if they’re really not). This is just one of the many ways that being self-conscious can rear its ugly head.

You may not even realize you’re self-conscious, and you may be wondering, “What does self-conscious mean?” That’s a good place to start.

This article will define self-consciousness, show how practically everyone has faced it at one point or another, and give you tips to avoid it.

What Does Self-Conscious Mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, self-conscious is defined as “conscious of one’s own acts or states as belonging to or originating in oneself.”[1]

Not so bad, right? There’s another definition, though — one that speaks more to what you’re going through: “feeling uncomfortably conscious of oneself as an object of the observation of others.” For those of us who regularly deal with extreme self-consciousness, that second definition sounds about right.

There are many different ways self-consciousness can spring up. You may feel self-conscious around people you know, like your family members or closest friends. You may feel self-conscious at work, even though you spend hours every week around your co-workers. Or you may feel self-conscious when out in public and surrounded by strangers. However, you probably don’t feel self-conscious when you’re home alone.

How to Stop Being Too Self-Conscious

When you’re in the throes of self-consciousness, it’s nearly impossible to remember how to stop feeling that way. That’s why it’s so important to prepare ahead of time, when you’re feeling ready to tackle the problem instead of succumbing to it.

Here are a variety of ways to feel better about yourself and stop thinking about how others see you.

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1. Ask Yourself, “So What?”

One way to banish negative, self-conscious thoughts is to do just that: banish them.

The next time you walk into a room and feel your face getting red, think to yourself, “So what?” How much does it really matter if people don’t like how you look or act? What’s the worst that could happen?

Most of the time, you’ll find that you don’t have a good answer to this question. Then, you can immediately start assigning such thoughts less importance. With self-awareness, you can acknowledge that your negative thoughts are present and realize that you don’t agree with them.[2] They’re just thoughts, after all.

2. Be Honest

A lie that self-consciousness might tell is that there’s one way to act or feel. Honestly, though, everyone else is just figuring life out as well. There isn’t a preferred way to show up to an event, gathering, or public place. What you can do is be honest with your feelings and thoughts.[3]

If you feel offended by something someone says, you don’t have to smile to be polite or laugh to fit in with the crowd. Instead, you can politely say why you disagree or excuse yourself and find a group of people who you relate to better. If you’re nervous, don’t overcompensate by trying to look relaxed and casual — it’ll be obvious you’re putting on a front. Instead, nothing is more endearing than saying, “I’m a little nervous!” to a room of people who probably feel the exact same way.

On the same note, if you don’t understand why someone wants you to do something, question it. You can do this at work, at home, or even with people you don’t know well. Nobody should force you to do something you don’t want to do.

Also, even if you’re willing to do what’s asked of you, there’s nothing wrong with asking for more clarification. People will realize that you’re not a person to be bossed around.

3. Understand Why You’re Struggling at Work

Being self-conscious at work can get in the way of your daily responsibilities, your relationships with co-workers, and even your career as a whole. If you’re facing some sort of conflict but you’re too nervous to speak up, you may be at the whim of what happens to you instead of taking some control.

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If you’re usually confident at work, you may be wondering where this new self-consciousness is coming from. It’s possible that you’re dealing with burnout.[4] Common signs are anxiety, fatigue and distraction, all of which can leave you feeling under-confident.

4. Succeed at Something

When you create success in your life, it’s easier to feel confident[5] and less self-conscious. If you feel self-conscious at work, finish the project that’s been looming over your head. If you feel self-conscious in the gym, complete an advanced workout class.

Exposing yourself to what you’re scared of and then succeeding at it in some way (even just by finishing it) can do wonders for your self-esteem. The more confidence you build, the more likely you are to have more success in the future, which will create a cycle of confidence-building.

5. Treat All of You — Not Just Your Self-Consciousness

Trying to solve your self-consciousness alone may not treat the root of the problem. Instead, take a well-rounded approach to lower your self-consciousness and build confidence in areas where you may struggle.

Even professional counselors are embracing this holistic type of treatment[6] because they feel that the health of the mind and body are inextricably linked. This approach combines physical, spiritual, and psychological components. Common activities and treatments include meditation, yoga, massage, and healthy changes to diet and exercise.

If much of this is new to you, it will pay to give it a try. You never know how it will impact you.

If you’re feeling self-conscious about how your body looks, a massage that makes you feel great could boost your confidence. If you try a new workout, you could have something exciting to talk about the next time you’re in a group setting.

Putting yourself in a new situation and learning that you can get through it with grace can give you the confidence to get through all sorts of events and nerve-wracking moments.

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6. Make the Changes That Are Within Your Control

Let’s say you walk into a room and you’re self-conscious about how you look. However, you may have put a lot of time and effort into your outfit. Even though it may stand out, this is how you have chosen to express yourself.

You have to work on your internal confidence, not your external appearance. There’s nothing to change other than your outlook.

On the other hand, maybe there’s something that you don’t like about yourself that you can change. For example, maybe you hate how a birthmark on your face looks or have varicose veins that you think are unsightly. If you can do something about these things, do it! There’s nothing wrong with changing your appearance (or skills, education, etc.) if it’s going to make you more confident.

You don’t have to accept your current situation for acceptance’s sake. There’s no award for putting up with something you hate. Confidence is also required to make changes that are scary, even if they’re for the better. Plus, it may be an easier fix than you thought. For example, treating varicose veins doesn’t have to involve surgery — sometimes simple compression stockings will take care of the problem.[7]

7. Realize That Everyone Has Awkward Moments

Everyone has said something awkward to someone else and lived to tell the tale. We’ve all forgotten somebody’s name or said, “You too!” when the concession stand girl says to enjoy our movie. Not only are these things uber-common, but they’re not nearly as embarrassing as you feel they are.

Think about how you react when someone else does something awkward. Do you think, “Wow, that person’s such a loser!” or do you think, “What a relief, I’m not the only one who does that.” Chances are good that’s the same reaction others have to you when you stumble.

Remember, self-consciousness is a state of mind that you have control over. You don’t have to feel this way. Do what you need to in order to build your confidence, put your self-consciousness in perspective, and start exercising your “I feel awesome about myself” muscle. It’ll get easier with time.

When Is Being Self-Conscious a Good Thing?

Self-consciousness can sometimes be a good thing[8], but you have to take the awkwardness and nerves out of it.

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In this case, “self-aware” is a much better term. Knowing how you come off to people is an excellent trait; you’ll be able to read a room and understand how what you do and say affects others. These are fantastic skills for people work and personal relationships.

Self-awareness helps you dress appropriately for the occasion, tells you that you’re talking too loud or not loud enough, and guides a conversation so you don’t offend or bore anyone.

It’s not about being someone you’re not — that can actually have adverse effects, just like self-consciousness. Instead, it’s about turning up certain aspects of yourself to perform well in the situation.

Final Thoughts

When you’re self-conscious, you’re constantly battling with yourself in an effort to control how other people view you. You try to change yourself to suit what you think other people want to see.

The truth, though, is that you can’t actually control how other people view you — and you may not even be correct about how they view you in the first place.

Being confident doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it happens in small steps as you slowly build your confidence and say “no” to your self-consciousness. It also requires accepting that you’re going to feel self-conscious sometimes, and that’s okay.

Sometimes worrying that there is a problem can be more stressful than the problem itself. Feeling bad for feeling self-conscious can be more troublesome than simply feeling it and getting on with the day.

Forgive yourself for being human and make the small changes that will lead to better confidence in the future.

More Tips for Improving Your Self-Esteem

Featured photo credit: Cata via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Merriam-Webster: Self-conscious
[2] Bustle: 7 Tips On How To Stop Feeling Self-Conscious
[3] Marc and Angel: 10 Things to Remember When You Feel Unsure of Yourself
[4] Bostitch: How to Protect Small Businesses From Burnout
[5] Psychology Today: Self-conscious? Get Over It
[6] Wake Forest University: Embracing Holistic Medicine
[7] Center for Vein Restoration: What Causes Venous Ulcers, and How Are They Treated?
[8] Scientific American: The Pros and Cons of Being Self-Aware

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