12 Common Causes and Proven Cures for Unhappiness

Causes and Cures for Unhappiness

For the average person happiness is a choice, yet numerous people are unhappy.  There are many reasons, but it all boils down to one simple principle:  They choose something else over happiness.  Because it often takes less effort to be unhappy.

For example, instead of seeking happiness, they…

  • Lazily follow the path of least resistance.
  • Refuse to accept change.
  • Aimlessly try to control the uncontrollable.
  • Etc. etc. etc.

Averting these poor choices and the negative attitudes that accompany them is the key.  The list below will give you some ideas on how to do just that.

Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.
– Abraham Lincoln

1.  Lack of meaning in one’s day to day life.

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”  With the modern 9 to 5 work schedule it’s so easy to trap yourself into doing what you don’t want to do for 40 hours every week and then mindlessly waste all your free time being lazy.

Sure you have responsibilities.  And no, you won’t be able to do what you want to do every waking minute of your life.  But you almost always have a choice to do more of what you really want to do – to work on something that matters to you – something that moves you and gives your life meaning.

You must leave time to follow your inner curiosity and passion.  The Happiness Project is a great read on this topic.

2.  Obsession with the past or future.

Right now is life.  If you dwell on things that happened in the past, or obsess yourself too much with the things that might happen in the future, you’ll miss everything.

Focus on the present, not yesterday or tomorrow.  As Helen Keller once said, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us.”

Oftentimes we fixate our minds on the way things can be, should be, or will be someday.  But life always takes place in the present.  You never know what the future holds – whether or not you and your loved ones will still have good health or even be alive.  The opportunity to enjoy life is now.  Make time to do so.

3.  Feeling out of shape and unhealthy.

Remember, your health is your life, and your body is the greatest tool you’ll ever own.

If you are a little overweight, cut back on some of the fatty foods, get outside and take a two mile walk every day.  Losing extra body fat decreases your health risks, makes you look and feel better, and generally increases your self-esteem and happiness.

Don’t go on binge diets and crash exercise regimens.  Instead, gradually change the way you eat and live so you create new health habits that can be sustained for a lifetime.  Read The 4-Hour Body for a solid, entertaining read on getting in shape.

4.  Unfavorably comparing oneself to others.

When you catch yourself comparing yourself to a colleague, neighbor, friend, or someone famous, stop!  Realize that you are different, with different strengths – strengths these other people don’t possess.  Take a moment to reflect on all the awesome abilities you have and to be grateful for all the good things in your life.

The problem with many of us is that we think we’ll be happy when we reach a certain level in life — a level we see others operating at – your boss with her corner office, that friend of a friend who owns a mansion on the beach, etc.  Unfortunately, it takes awhile before you get there, and when you get there, you might have a new destination in mind.

Instead, appreciate where you are and what you have right now.  Try comparing yourself to those who have less, those who are dealing with tragedy, and those who are struggling to survive. Hopefully it opens your eyes to all the things you should be grateful for.  PS:  Help people who have less if you’re able… you’ll see why.

5.  Focusing on negatives.

You can’t control everything that happens to you, but you can control how you react to things.  Everyone’s life has positive and negative aspects — whether you’re happy or not depends greatly on which aspects you focus on.  For instance:

  • Did you catch a head cold?  At least it’s only a temporary virus and nothing life-threatening.
  • Did you lose a basketball game?  Thankfully you got to spend the afternoon with friends doing something fun and healthy.
  • Did your stock market savings go down?  It’ll bounce back in the long-term.  And besides, it’s great that you’ve been diligent and fortunate enough to save a nest egg of savings when many people are barely making ends meet.

You get the idea — almost everything in life has a positive side, and focusing on these positives injects happiness into your atmosphere.  So stop concentrating on how difficult things are and why you don’t want to do them.  Focus instead on the benefits these things have and the opportunities they will create for you — the positives.

6.  Avoiding personal accountability.

Either you take accountability for your life or someone else will.  And when they do, you’ll become a slave to their ideas and dreams instead of a pioneer of your own.

You are the only one who can directly control the outcome of your life.  And no, it won’t always be easy.  Every person has a stack of obstacles in front of them.  You must take accountability for your situation and overcome these obstacles.  Choosing not to is choosing a lifetime of mere existence.

7.  Perfectionism and fear of failure.

If you work hard, do your best and then condemn yourself for not achieving perfection, you’re sabotaging your future.  Likewise, if your fear of failure, or of not being perfect, has driven you to take the safe road of doing nothing, you have already failed.

Perfect is the enemy of good.  Learn to accept the good – learn to love things when they are less than ‘perfect.’

If you find yourself at a point of intense decision making where you’re caught in a spiral of over-analysis and you’re making no progress, take a deep breath, break the spiral, make an educated guess on the next logical step, and take it.  Even if you get it wrong you’ve learned something, which is better than doing nothing.  Your failures along the road to your goals are simply opportunities to learn and grow.

Remember, the real world doesn’t reward perfectionists; it rewards people who get things done.

8.  A low self-esteem.

Don’t belittle yourself and don’t put up with people who try to belittle you.

Marcus Aurelius once said, “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”  Boost your self-esteem by recognizing your accomplishments and celebrating them.  Acknowledge your positive qualities, and when you come across a quality in yourself that you aren’t proud of, don’t sulk in your sorrows, proactively work on correcting it.

How you view yourself and your world are conscious choices and habits.  The lens you choose to view everything through determines how you feel about yourself and everything that happens around you.

9.  Financial debt.

The only way to get out of debt is to understand why you’re in debt in the first place.

But the sad truth is, if you’re a spendthrift…

You will not save money when you get your next raise.  You will not save money when your car is paid off.  You will not save money when your kids are supporting themselves someday.  And you wouldn’t even save a dime if I handed you $100,000 in cash right now.

How do I know this?

Because saving money has very little to do with the amount of money you have.  In fact, you will only start to save money when saving becomes an emotional habit – when you start treating the money you handle everyday differently.  The Millionaire Next Door is an excellent read on eliminating debt and building wealth.

In general, live a comfortable life, not a wasteful one.  Do not spend to impress others.  Do not live life trying to fool yourself into thinking wealth is measured in material objects.  Manage your money wisely so your money does not manage you.  Always live well below your means.

10.  All work and no play.

Fun is way underrated.  With all of our responsibilities, fun seems like an indulgence.  It shouldn’t be.  It should be a requirement.  Ponder what you did to have fun when you were younger and go do it again.  Leave the house messy and the yard un-mowed for a weekend and get out on the town.  When you’re older, you will remember the fun, not the clean house or yard.

Go to a carnival, play a card game, shoot darts with a friend, play catch with a kid, etc.

Make time for fun!

11.  Neglecting personal relationships.

The quality of our personal relationships correlates directly with our overall sense of worth and happiness.  Sometimes in the midst of life’s chaos we forget to do the little things that remind us we’re part of something greater than ourselves.  We need a certain amount of meaningful contact with other people to feel fully alive.

Make time for people, even if it’s just a quick meal at lunchtime.  It’s worth sacrificing a few minutes here and there to experience life outside your own inner bubble.

And remember, you don’t need a certain number of friends, just a number of friends you can be certain of.

12.  Procrastination.

Nothing is so draining and stressful as the eternal presence of an unfinished task.

There are plenty of ways to sabotage your personal happiness, dreams and desires.  Procrastination, however, is the number one killer.  Procrastinators self-destruct.  They hinder their own potential by placing colossal road-blocks along the path to happiness and success.  In other words, they subconsciously choose to fail.

Do you put off doing things that would bring you closer to your desired goals?  I know I do at times.  But why are we so foolish?

It has something to do with how our daily responsibilities overwhelm us.  In the midst of all the important things we know we need to do, we somehow convince ourselves that none of these things need to be done right now.  In other words, we decide that some peace and relaxation in the short term is what’s most important.

So we take another break, read another blog post, watch another TV show and just kick back and relax.  And life is blissfully dandy… for a little while.  But then suddenly the inevitable deadline has arrived.  Ahhh!  It’s panic time!

By taking the time and initiative to understand your own reasons for procrastinating and devoting a little energy to take the necessary steps to move forward, you can beat procrastination.  We all can.  In fact, simply writing this article was a testament to this.  I kept procrastinating on writing it because I lacked focus.  So I locked myself in my bedroom, eliminated all distractions, kept the end in mind and started writing.  And as usual, starting was the hardest part.  Now I’m done.

Read Eat That Frog for practical advice on conquering procrastination.

Photo by: Agustín Ruiz


  1. says

    Awesome Post. I think a lot of the procrastination comes down to Newton’s law: objects at rest tend to stay at rest. Once you get past that first hurdle, just getting into motion, the momentum takes over. Often, all it takes is that first push.


  2. Connor says

    Wow… Thank you.

    I struggle with every one of these.

    Perhaps I should say, I can now identify everything that makes me unhappy. Or at least some big causes. That’s some positive thinking. =)

    I appreciate the matter-of-factness: “They choose something else over happiness. Because it often takes less effort to be unhappy.” You don’t smear pity over anything. This is how you think it is, and here are ways to tackle the problems. As a person who has dealt with depression issues, when people approach it like this, it is a welcome relief to the ongoing pity party I like to hold for myself. It’s a bit like the cops coming in to break up the party – it sucks, but it’s probably a good idea.

    The most important number, I think, is #12 on procrastination. If you don’t have a good hold on those self-destructive tendencies, you’ll have a hard time trying to tackle any of the other numbers.

    Thanks for the post – a good wake-up call!

  3. says

    Really thought this was a great post. I loved all 12 points, but I really thought the advice to reflect on what you have done and all your accomplishments was great. I agree it is so important because it reminds us of what we really are capable of and also provides us with motivation to continue accomplishing things in the future. The advice to have fun was also a great recommendation as well that I will take to heart. I really do believe that you have to prioritize your mindset over over everything else and when you are having fun, you are recharging yourself and clearing your mind. There really is not anything better. Thanks for a great post and all the recommendations.

  4. says

    Inspiring as always Marc. I wanted to comment on number 7 specifically. In my world, there is actually a polar opposite to this perfectionism discussion.

    When I began really studying my own personal growth, I became a big time action taker. It got to a point where I would be so action oriented that I rushed into things without really thinking through my options. In some cases it worked out well because I got lucky but in most cases, I had actually wished I had put a bit more thought into my chosen action.

    There is a fine line. This article provokes the non-action-takers to stop worrying about perfection and just start getting shit done. Once you do this, there is a good chance you will end up like me and just start acting out of habit. Once you reach that point, it is really important to revisit all of your experiences as a ruthless action taker and use the lessons learned to help you make more calculated decisions on your next moves.

    You will be surprised how close to perfection you can get when you combine both sides :)

  5. says

    Thank you for a terrific post. I have written about the path of least resistance in my blog as well.

    To me, the path of least resistance is directly linked with #6 above – Avoiding Personal Accountability. It is easy to live your life simply reacting to situations around you and feeling as if the world is always going to screw you. When you do that, it can feel as though your life is spiraling out of control. But life is full of intentional challenges and we need to embrace these lessons as opportunities for growth.

    Love the post.

  6. saira says

    awsome post! now i have got the proof for Robert F.Schuler’s quote”Happiness is not a station you arrive at,but it is a way of travelling”.
    Really happiness is crushed by procratination.I 100% agree with it!!!!!

  7. JK says

    And now, after reading your post, I am going to move from this couch (for the first time in about two hours), go the gym (which is only downstairs in my apartment building so getting there shouldn’t seem like such an effort), and then after showering (the guaranteed way to change your mood) and cleaning my apartment (the guaranteed way to clear your mind) I’ll work on some more job applications (which I have been avoiding/procrastinating on for days, since it seemed so daunting). : )


  8. says

    Most of the activities listed here, I have conquered but I did seen a couple that I still need to work on. Thank you for the review. Obviously, I needed it.

  9. says

    Let’s see, too many points hit home. Basically #5-12 are really strong. I think #6 is particularly important in the US right now as a society. #7, 10 & 11 for those of us who are self employed entrepreneurs. And of course #12 for those items we neglect while failing at 7, 10 and 11. I would do well to re-read in the morning.

  10. says

    These are all good items related to unhappiness. One more you may want to add to the list is the feeling that you have no control over certain situations. Life is not a straight line event, and its very difficult to predict what obstacles are thrown at us. When we are confronted with an obstacle we sometimes feel it difficult to overcome, and may become disappointed, unsatisfied, and unhappy. We have to learn to deal with these “curve balls” that are thrown in our direction. My business deals with parents who tend to be confronted with obstacles that their kids put in front of them, and if they are not proactive in solutions then they become unhappy, unfilled, and have a sense of no control. If the parents are proactive they can minimize the “curve balls”, provide a safe Internet environment for their kids, and become fulfilled & happy again.

  11. says

    Great post! I believe that having a good memory is also somehow related to happiness. If you have a terrible memory like my Grandmother has then you become unsocial because you don’t have anything to talk about and this automatically depresses you.

  12. says

    Hey Marc,

    Everything here is hitting the nail on the head. The theme to it all is personal responsibility, we are responsible for our own happiness. Not to say that bad things don’t happen to good people, but we can’t control that, we only control how we react to the bad thing.

    The more I understand the nature of positive behavior the more I realize that much of my happiness is in my own hands. These points serve as great guidelines to follow.

  13. says

    I’ve had those days where I’m just not happy. Any one I think of the reason for it lies on this list. The beauty of it is that happiness exists within us. It is then a choice let it out or succumb to the life stressors. When you put it as simple as that, it would seem silly to choose the latter.

    I think recently the one I’ve been wrestling with the most is unfavorable comparisons to others. I never used to be so bad with this, but of lately I find myself constantly in a bad mood because of it. But life’s a journey. Paradise will be on the the horizon, always. But life is now. And I realized that we all have our own unique contributions. We should consider ourselves lucky that there are so many admirable qualities and contributions that we can live and learn from.

    Really great insight Marc.


  14. says

    As always, guys and gals, thanks so much for the positive feedback, and for keeping the conversation going.

    We hope you all are having a happy week. :)

  15. says

    Hi Marc,

    Great post as usual. I just wanted to say that the most important thing to remember is that we never know how much life we have left on this Earth so we have to make the most of it.

    I think that makes #11 the most important of all. Ive unfortunately had quite a few loved ones pass away recently and it is a painful reminder of just how important it is not to take life for granted.

    If anything, it helps motivate me to follow the advice you give above and really focus on being happy and content with what I have been given.

    Hope all is well with you!


  16. says

    Amazing post – thanks for this! Taking action to create change seems daunting until you start – then it becomes the MOST rewarding thing you could ever do and you discover things you didn’t know you could do. Great advice you guys – great work, Kim xo

  17. says

    You know what guys, I have had my flaws and I have learned my lessons. Had a few of the above listed. Now, I know that happiness is simple. Just decide to be happy and force a smile for some time. Once you mind begins to enjoy it, it will want to be more of it.

  18. says

    Yes, I agree. To be happy is a choice and requires conscious effort.

    It also requires knowledge.

    And these 12 causes and cures are an excellent start to understand this.

    Thanks for sharing!

  19. Anya says

    I have been reading for the past 35 years of my life. Inspiring, interesting, moving, and profound articles and stuff have been written and blogged. Yours is something NOT to be missed.

    I feel inspired, blessed, and special. They just put a smile on my face every time I read ’em. And nothing ever worked for that to be removed. Thank you!

  20. says

    Hi, I used this text in an English lesson today. All the students really enjoyed it, and I hope it will provoke an interesting discussion on Wednesday. Thanks for sharing.

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