Unhappiness – One of its root causes and how to turn it around

What causes unhappiness? One of the root causes, in my opinion, is we complain all the time and about everything – the weather, our spouse or partner, our job, our co-workers, our relatives. You name it, we’re experts at complaining. We mastered this skill throughout our life, starting in our formative years. We watched our parents complain, our teachers, and later on the media. We’re so used to it we don’t even notice we’re doing it ourselves.

But we weren’t always like that. Think back when you were a kid, as far back as you can. You played in the puddles when it was raining, made snowmen and snow forts in wintertime no matter how cold it was, every day you were excited to go out and play with the kids in the neighbourhood. I remember I couldn’t wait for the day to start so I could go outside and jump rope! And I loved dancing in the rain. I still love to do that, but it’s been so long since I’ve allowed myself this pleasure. And that’s part of the problem we’re unhappy as adults, we don’t let ourselves have fun. The big difference between adults and children is children truly live and enjoy each moment of the day, whereas adults merely get through the day.

Let’s get back to the heart of the problem. Why do we complain? Because we’ve been conditioned to complain. And when we complain, we play the role of the victim. The thing is, we’re far from being victims – each one of us is the author and hero of our own movie – our life. How can I say that? Because we all have the freedom to choose how we respond to what happens in our lives. And how we choose to respond to life shapes our lives. Basically, the difference between a happy person and an unhappy one is how they react to the events in their lives.

Let’s take a typical work day in winter.

Morning:  You hurry to get ready for work because you hit the snooze button too many times, you step out the door and get upset (complain) because it’s snowing. You tell yourself (complain) the traffic will be bad and you’ll be late for work. You drive to work irritated (complain), you get mad (complain) at other drivers, criticize (complain) their driving, and zigzag between lanes trying to get to work faster. You arrive at your destination all worked up. You complain about the drive to work and/or the weather to anybody who asks you how you’re doing.

Lunchtime:  You each lunch at your desk while you catch up on messages and surf online or you run some errands.

Afternoon:  During a meeting, a colleague makes a negative comment about your work on an ongoing project. You immediately get defensive and the dialogue turns into a heated argument. The chairperson of the meeting steps in to calm things down. Afterwards, you relive that argument over and over in your mind and your resentment (complaining) against that person grows.

Evening:  During supper, you talk about (complain) what happened in the meeting with your spouse or family and get all worked up again. Next, you spend the evening watching your favorite series on Netflix followed by the news. You go to bed and have trouble falling asleep. You worry (complain) because you’re thinking (complaining) you’ll be tired in the morning.

Let’s sum up this typical day. You spent the whole day complaining. During your free time (lunch), you stayed in the office and looked at a screen or you ran errands. During the evening, you watched a series on TV and the news, which are not exactly soothing. To top it off, you had a restless night’s sleep – not surprising as stress is obviously not conducive to a good night’s sleep!

Now, let me ask you this:  “Can you choose to respond differently in each of these moments?” Because we do choose how we react, whether we’re aware of it or not.

Let’s relive this day with new choices:

Morning:  You feel refreshed and good because you had a good night’s sleep (you’ll see why as you read on). You have plenty of time to get ready for work because you chose to not hit the snooze button and to set the alarm earlier (you checked the weather report the night before). You put on a warm winter coat and gloves and step out the door. You choose to take a deep breath of that crisp winter air. I’ve always loved the smell in winter, it’s so fresh. And unless you can control the weather, there’s no benefit in complaining about winter, right? You drive to work and choose not to get upset at the traffic because you know you have plenty of time to get to work with the extra time you gave yourself this morning. You choose to not get mad at other drivers or criticize their driving – because you have no control over their driving – and you arrive at your destination on time and relaxed.

Lunchtime:  You choose to go out for a walk. You put on your coat and gloves and head out to stretch your legs and get some fresh air. You stop to eat your lunch on a park bench on the way. You come back to work feeling energized by the exercise and the fresh air. Tip:  with a bit of organization, errands can be made once or twice a week only and you and your partner or spouse can set up a schedule to share this responsibility.

Afternoon:  During a meeting, a colleague makes a negative comment about a project you worked on. You choose to not get defensive and to consider the comment objectively. Is it true? If the comment is valid, you choose to own your responsibility for the work and discuss how you can address the problem. If it’s not true, meaning if the comment is unfounded, you calmly state that fact, backing it up with tangible proof. The dialogue stays professional and your relationship with your colleague remains healthy.

Evening:  During supper, you choose to ask your spouse or family about their day and you share stories about the events of the day. In the evening, you choose to spend quality time with your spouse or family or to catch up on one of your favorite pastimes – something that fills you with joy and well-being. You also choose not to watch the news (watching the news right before going to bed is not advisable if you want to sleep well). You set the alarm after checking the weather and have a good night’s sleep.

To sum up this day, you chose to enjoy each moment at every opportunity you had and to not stress and complain about things and behaviours over which you have to control. When you do that, you can experience true joy and well-being.

So here’s a good rule of thumb for turning things around:  Remember you’re not a victim. You’re the author and hero of your movie, your life. You have a choice at every moment and the choices you make will determine how you’ll experience the day’s events and, ultimately, your life.

When you consciously choose your reaction in each moment, you transform your whole day. Do that every day and your whole life will change. You won’t live just for the weekend, you’ll live every day to the fullest.

Do you want happiness or unhappiness? It’s your choice.

– Sylvie Grégoire