10 Places Unhappy People Search for Happiness

10 Places Unhappy People Search for Happiness

“I’ve got nothing to do today but smile.”
―Paul Simon

This past holiday season Angel and I stayed at a hotel near her parent’s house in South Florida.  On Christmas Eve we met a family of six who were staying at the same hotel.  We saw them relaxing in the lobby by the Christmas tree, sharing stories and laughing.  So on our way out, Angel and I wished them a happy holiday season and asked them where they were from.  “Oh, we’re from here,” the mother said.  “Our house burned down to the ground yesterday, but miraculously, all of us made it out safely.  And that makes this a very merry Christmas.”

Her words and her family’s optimistic attitude made me smile.  They reminded me that the most fulfilling moments in life come when we finally find the courage to let go of what we can’t change.  And that when life gives us every reason to be negative, we must think of one good reason to be positive, because there’s always something worth smiling about.

Truth be told, when people are perpetually unhappy it’s often because they are searching for happiness in the wrong places.  They look for it…

1.  In the fantasy of an easy life.

Life is tough, but you are tougher.  Pain makes you stronger.  Facing fear makes you braver.  Mistakes and heartbreak make you wiser.   Sometimes things have to go very wrong before they can be right.  Sometimes you have to go through the worst, to arrive at your best.

Your journey isn’t supposed to be easy, it’s supposed to be worth it.  To never struggle is to never grow.  It doesn’t matter what’s happened or what you’ve done; what matters is what you choose to do from here.  Accept the circumstances, learn from them, and move on.  Letting go is often a step forward.  Sometimes you have to walk away from what you thought you wanted to find what you truly need and deserve.

2.  In a past that no longer exists.

You are changing.  The universe around you is changing.  Just because something was right for you in the past doesn’t mean it still is.  This could be a relationship, a job, a home, a habit, etc.  Giving things up doesn’t always mean you’re weak; it may simply mean you’re strong enough and smart enough to let go of the old to make way for the new.  Don’t stress about the closed doors behind you.  New doors are opening every moment and you will see them if you keep moving forward.

As the Dalai Lama once said, “A new way of thinking has become the necessary condition for responsible living and acting.  If we maintain obsolete values and beliefs, a fragmented consciousness and self-centered spirit, we will continue to hold onto outdated goals and behaviors.” (Read Buddha’s Brain.)

3.  In a future that isn’t guaranteed.

Too often we spend our energy stuck in the maze of life, thinking about how we’ll escape one day, and how amazing it will be.  And imagining a future like this keeps us going, or so it seems.  But we never escape.  We simply use thoughts of the future to escape the present, over and over again, until we’ve reached the end of our lives without ever having truly lived.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The future depends on what you do today.”  Nothing could be closer to the truth.  Do something today!  You can’t stop the future.  You can’t rewind the past.  The only way to live is to press play.  Go ahead and press play!  The clock is ticking – the hours are going by.  The past increases and the future recedes, possibilities decreasing and regrets mounting… but only if you hesitate to accept and enjoy your life right now while you’re living it.

4.  In their own excuses for procrastinating.

The best thing you can do for yourself is to stop saying “I wish,” start saying “I will,” and then go do something about it.  The world isn’t going to dominate itself.  You just have to wake up one morning and decide that you don’t want to feel like this anymore, ever again.  And then make a change, just like that.

In all walks of life, luck happens when preparation meets opportunity.  And opportunity dances only with those who are already on the dance floor.

If something doesn’t have space in your day, it probably won’t happen in your life.  Knowing isn’t enough; you must apply.  Willing isn’t enough; you must DO.  If all you can do right now is a little bit, do it.  Those little bits will add up quickly.  Value that is built over time, in small increments, tends to be value that also lasts for a long time.  Doing something, even if it is just a little bit, is infinitely more productive than doing nothing.

5.  In their super comfy comfort zone.

You may feel comfortable bobbing around in the little lake that you’re used to, but if you don’t stretch your comfort zone and venture out into the adjoining waterways, you’ll never discover the beauty and immensity of the ocean – you will never even know it exists.  Holding on to what’s comfortable may be the very reason you often feel like something is missing in your life.

Remember, just because you venture out into the world doesn’t mean you can’t return home whenever you want to.  It’s okay to come back to where you started, but it’s NOT OKAY to never leave.  (Read Start: Punch Fear in the Face.)

6.  In material possessions they don’t need.

You can never, ever get enough of what you do NOT need to make you happy.  Think about it.  It’s nice to have money and the things that money can buy, but it’s also important to make sure you haven’t lost track of the priceless things money can’t buy.  You don’t need a lot of money to lead a rich life.  Good friends and a loving family are worth their weight in gold.  It really is the little things that mean the most… like a long hug at just the right time.

Instead of focusing so intently on what you want to get, consider the things you can let go of.  Eliminate some excess baggage, lighten your load and feel a weight lifted.  So many of the things you think you need you do not need at all, you simply want them.  And as your wants diminish, your freedom and abundance grow.  Challenge your impulses, and free yourself of needless needs.

7.  In waaaay too much of one good thing.

As Oscar Wilde once said, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

Eating too much makes you obese.  Spending too much money makes you broke.  Working too much leaves your family at home missing you.  Playing too much leaves important work undone…  and so on and so forth.

Happiness depends on the proper distribution of applying your positive resources consciously to the hungry deficits in your life.  All details aside, the important thing to remember is this:  Long-term happiness is never found in one good thing; it is a combination, it is a balanced lifestyle.

8.  In the wrong relationships.

Know that it’s less important to have more relationships and more important to have quality ones.  Spend time with people who make you better.  Surround yourself with those who are going to lift you higher.  You will only ever be as great as the people you surround yourself with, so be brave enough to let go of those who keep bringing you down.  Find people who respect you as much as you respect them.  Nurture your relationships only with those who are happy and proud to have you in their lives.

You deserve it.  Don’t settle.

9.  In the endorsements of those who don’t matter.

Keep up your dignity and always be true to yourself.  You can’t let other people tell you who you are.  You have to decide that for yourself.

There will always be people who don’t approve of you – the way you look, the way you talk, the things you care about, the styles you like, the music you listen to, etc.  But the truth is these people’s opinions don’t matter one bit.  It’s up to you if you let them ruin your day, or if you decide to stand up for yourself and accept yourself just the way you are.  Just be sincere and do your best.  And if it’s not good enough for someone, it will surely be for someone else.  You’re not here to please everyone.  Be nice, be yourself, and the right people will eventually find you.  (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)

10.  In the blame game.

Sigmund Freud once said, “Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.”  Don’t let this be you.  When you blame others for what you’re going through, you deny responsibility – you surrender full power over that part of your life.

In reality, the price of happiness and greatness IS responsibility.  And no one else is responsible for you.  You are in full control of your life so long as you claim it and own it.  Through the grapevine, you may have learned that you should blame your parents, your teachers, your mentors, the public education system, the government, etc., but never to blame yourself.  Right?  It’s never, ever your fault… WRONG!  It’s always your fault, because if you want to change – if you want to grow and move on with your life – the only person who can make it happen is YOU.

The floor is yours…

When it comes to finding happiness, where do some people make a wrong turn?  Where else can happiness NOT be found?  Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

Photo by: Noukka Signe


  1. Susan Rae says

    Honestly, this is the type of material we should be teaching right alongside conventional subjects in school. There’s so much internal turmoil that isn’t addressed until we reach our breaking point out in the ‘real world.’

    I would add: Happiness is never found in a lie of any kind. The truth, even when it hurts, will ultimately set you free.

    Thanks so much for all the sound advice you put into the world. I read your blog almost every day. I have your audiobook and love listening to it in the gym. And I look forward to a Marc and Angel workshop or conference someday soon, I hope. :)

    • Gena says

      Happiness, is found from being you, with no pretenses of any kind. You can’t buy it, package it or take it, but you can grow it from within and share it. Happiness is found in simple pleasures, nature and the small things in life

  2. says

    Happiness is never found in a mindset of victimhood. The happiest people I know never cast themselves as the victims of their own sad story. They are able to recognize when something is out of their control, but they always take full accountability for their own well-being (and the well-being of those they care about) to whatever degree they can. They made positive decisions and take positive steps forward.

  3. says

    I think we often look for happiness in lateral moves. For example, “if I just get a different job,” or “if I move to a new town…” Those things won’t provide happiness if you don’t get to the root of what’s causing the unhappiness in the first place. I found that out a few years back when I said those same exact things. For awhile, I was happy, but it wasn’t long before I was battling the same demons, and I realized that I hadn’t really dealt with the underlying issue. The saying “wherever you go, there you are” is true, and especially when pursuing happiness.

  4. Dev says

    Another post that’s spot on! I used to be an unhappy person looking for happiness in all the wrong places. If I were to list all these places, this comment would be 5,000 words long. But what hurt me the most was resentment…

    Happiness cannot be found in an unforgiving heart!

    I copied this paragraph down from your book:

    “Forgiveness is the remedy. It allows you to focus on the future without combating the past. To understand the infinite potential of everything going forward is to forgive everything already behind you. Without forgiveness, wounds can never be healed and personal growth can never be achieved. It doesn’t mean you’re erasing the past, or forgetting what happened. It means you’re letting go of the resentment and pain, and instead choosing to learn from the incident and move on with your life.”

    I referenced it regularly when I was bringing myself to forgive a close family member for betraying me. It helped tremendously! Thank you.

  5. mahlapane says

    Saw this site last night, read few articles including this one, and I must say… I felt different when I went to bed with a calmer mind. Woke up feeling new this morning too, like a weight has been lifted. Thanks for the great work.

  6. says

    The message within the article is great. When you look at all 10 ways a common theme jumps out. It is about living in the present. Often people look to recreate a past that can no longer exist because they have changed. They also dream of a future that hasn’t come and they are not ready to live in. Living in the present and continuing to take action day by day is the only way to truly achieve happiness.

    In our fast past world people will often lose sight of where they are on the journey and not be present with the learning opportunities at hand. The greatest human strength comes from always being present with who you are and where you are now. Knowing that by always taking action towards truly living your personal values every day will lead you to exactly where you are needed to do the most good.

  7. says

    I loved lots about this article. #9 in the blame game made me want to stand up and cheer! I try to lead my life so that I make changes for what I want. It’s hard to watch other people be miserable but do nothing to change it… only blame others. I love being in control of my life. It’s empowering! Thanks for another great read.

  8. Melinda says

    Thank you so much for your continued wise words. They have refocused my thinking during some very difficult times over the past year and are motivating me to move forward.

  9. Michelle Angel says

    Happiness can not be found in a bottle, a pill, a drug, a addiction, another person. Happiness can only be found first when you are confident in yourself, and have a relationship with God. Without GOD our lives are empty and meaningless. Happiness is being who you are and loving yourself enough to see the good in all others around you. Happiness is found in the little things in life. A butterfly, a star, a smile….. It is the little things that mean the most.. Keep smiling everyone. :O)

  10. Monica says

    I stumbled onto your blog and I feel so blessed. This reinforces and states concisely the kind of life I have now chosen. I look forward to purchasing your book asap.

  11. says

    I love this post! And would add that happiness isn’t found by playing small and deprecating our own value… we all have something to share that someone else needs to receive.

    Busting through the resistance of being seen and heard can be very frightening, but that’s the arrogance of the ego. The energy of the emotions that come from making a difference in someone’s life is amazing and profound, and worth every ounce of effort to get beyond the fear. And you never know just how many people you actually impact through the trickle down effect.

    I’d wager you two are blown away at times by the response you get from your honesty and insights… so, once again, thank you for sharing and for making a positive difference in this world.

  12. says

    The greatest lesson I’ve learned from both politics and creative projects is that you can’t save people from themselves. You have to shake that burden off your back and take care of yourself. The right people will join you and help you lift all of you up and forward. The wrong people, the ones who can’t see it and won’t be helped, will only drag you down, hold you back, put up obstacles and hurt you to maintain the status quo.

    It’s a hard lesson to learn when your natural tendency is to help and you want to make a positive difference, or when you truly care about the other people’s welfare, but it’s necessary when the alternative is your own misery and unhappiness.

  13. says

    And Marc and Angel, in reference to what @Dev said, I’m hoping you can answer this question: How do you forgive someone who doesn’t ask for forgiveness, takes no responsibility for their own actions, doesn’t admit to their mistakes, much less take responsibility for them or acknowledge them, makes no apologies for it and doesn’t care if they hurt you?

    I want to forgive, am trying to forgive, and am way better now than I was a few months ago, but it still creeps up on me and I want the pain and resentment gone for good. And I’ve reached over-saturation on merely learning the lessons from it. I’m tired of learning lessons and I don’t care anymore if that was the entire point of it. I’m not sure forgiveness is something I can just decide to do and force, because I’ve tried that already, but I know for my own well-being that it needs to be removed from my life. I just don’t know how to get rid of it.

  14. Diandra says

    Simply amazing! I’m so grateful to have found you guys! Your thoughts make my mornings so good, just reading all your inspirational articles! They are so true and moving, thank you!!

  15. says

    What Melissa says I am also finding hard to deal with, how do you forgive someone who ‘doesn’t ask for forgiveness, takes no responsibility for their own actions, doesn’t admit to their mistakes, … and doesn’t care if they hurt you?’ And someone who just seems to move on to something else as if nothing ever occurred. I am trying to cultivate forgiveness, I have acknowledged and apologized for my own past mistakes, but I have received no acknowledgement or apology for the hurt that has been caused to me. Sometimes I have good days when I think ‘ok, enough – I forgive you regardless’, and then I have days when all the pain comes crashing down on me and I remember not so much what happened, but the aftermath, the fact that someone hurt me so badly, knowingly, and yet failed to acknowledge responsibility or to offer an apology. I know people often act out of fear and anger and from being in a bad place, but surely a simple acknowledgement helps both parties to forgive and to move on. I feel in limbo with this and it can hurt so much at times.

  16. Janet says

    I can honestly say the comment about long hugs is a huge understatement – there’s something to be said about ‘long hugs’ but this whole article is chock full of golden nuggets, to read and reread again…thank you Marc for this :-)

  17. says

    Going along with #6….just money in general. The problem with money is that there is never enough to make us feel “full.”

    Nelson Rockefeller, one of the richest people in the US at the time, was asked how much money is enough.

    He said “Just a little bit more.”

    No matter how much money or things we have or pursue, it will never lead to happiness, always the opposite.

  18. FarzanaHafsa says

    How can you think so clearly and write so well, Marc? I have been following your blog for some time now and I find your posts to be very insightful and inspiring – often they are good reminders for me. I share your blogs frequently on Twitter (I am out of Facebook for a while). I believe many people I know would benefit from reading your blog. Keep posting and all the best! You guys are great.

  19. says

    Susan Rae, the problem with trying to teach stuff like this in school is that you are asking teachers, who have VERY varying degrees of emotional intelligence to deliver the curriculum. It’s a lot easier to teach how to conjugate a verb or solve and equation than to teach someone how to come to peace and not have knee jerk emotional responses to the world around them. That’s why those skills are such a premium in the adult world.

  20. says

    Oh wow, @Chris, if you’re someone I know that I’ve hurt (and it would be unknowingly), please reach out to me so we can talk it out and I can apologize. If not, hang in there. As cliched and annoying as it is, people keep telling me it gets better with time. I don’t know if it’s true, ’cause there are things from high school that still creep up on me, but I’m holding on hope that it is. :)

  21. shellb says

    I am in academia and teach mostly required classes in my discipline. It is amazing how so many of my students echo these sediments in class discussion without realizing it. I have instituted a new part to my classes…putting one of these truths on the big screen before each class starts for those who want to ponder. Allow them to digest and hopefully digest well.

    It took me long after college to see the truth in what you say here…thank you for the reiterations of truth and an outlet in which I can share that which I wish I knew then.

  22. Martin Ferre says

    Thanks for this advice. I love to read all your blog articles and I look forward to reading your book.

    From Buenos Aires, best wishes 😉

  23. Paul says

    Just like the book “Buddha’s Brain” says, feeling happiness is a flow of energy that we control, much in the same way as we choose to raise our hand or take a step forward. Neuro-chemical control.

    Thanks for the reminders Marc and Angel.

  24. Laurel says

    Great blog and I agree with all completely, except #10. I don’t think there is an absolute here. Sometimes other ARE to blame. If someone killed my child, am I in full control? I’m supposed to take responsibility? I’m not allowed to blame that person who took my child’s life for causing me untold misery? Of course, there comes a time, to let go of that because yes, then, it does give that person even more power. But bottom line. We can’t control others, the forces of nature and acts of God and therefore, we are not in full control of our lives. We do have the capacity to change ourselves and our thinking, however.

  25. Kevin Halls says

    Yet another interesting article and question.

    As I’m edging towards sixty years on this spinning planet I find that I’m still learning day by day, and things that I used to find important or time consuming no longer seem relevant. For example for so many years I spent time drinking in pubs and clubs, but even though I still enjoy a drink it isn’t the center or focus of my days anymore. I look back and think I was never really happy in that environment but because everybody I knew did it I thought that was the norm. In fact I find more happiness these days doing simple things like walking, keeping fit, eating decent meals instead of rubbish, listening to music, and of course spending time in the company of people who make me feel good. So I’d say don’t go and try and find happiness in bars or clubs as it can leave you empty in the pocket, and more importantly empty of true fulfillment and well-being.

  26. Jen says

    For those asking about the forgiveness, it isn’t about the other person, it is about YOU.

    -Forgiveness doesn’t absolve them of what they did, and they may never apologize for it.
    -Forgiveness does not mean you need to be in a relationship with them or act like nothing happened, etc.

    Forgiveness to me means you let it go, learn from it and move on. If they apologize that is great bonus. I noticed from my own life experiences that harboring unforgiveness does nothing but make me feel awful and I have seen it eat up family members with bitterness over things that happened years ago and over people they didn’t speak to for years and yet that unforgiveness lived in them and made them and others around them miserable because of it. It is not easy but it is worth it to let it go. I don’t know who said this but I think of this quote often “holding onto (anger, resentment, bitterness you name it) is like drinking poison and expecting it to kill the other person.”

  27. Betsy says

    Hello, I waited until today to comment because it is my late husband’s birthday. We had a great life together, and after 29 months alone, I have a past that no longer exists (#2), and a future that isn’t guaranteed (#3), but I am still taking one day at a time. Keep on keeping on.

    After reading these posts, I take something from each one. I see many of the same people leaving comments, and I enjoy reading them. It is comforting to know others feel the same way. We all have a story.

    Thank you all, I’ll keep reading.

  28. trish says

    I was lucky to have an interpersonal communications class taught by a wonderful college professor that taught me most of these principals to live by…they are all so true. Daniel Macintyre was my professors name and he has written two books, both available on amazon: “Daily Practices: 52 powerful practices that will transform your life forever” and “Anything is Possible: 91 truths about what is possible for your life.”

  29. trish says

    Oh, and I stumbled upon this blog and quickly added it to my bookmark bar so I won’t forget to read daily. Wonderful, beautiful and so true. Thank you for reminding me what life is all about.

  30. @lice says

    I don’t think it is really as much “forgiving” someone or a past hurt as it is just becoming at peace with the lessons learned. That part of your life is gone and continuing to dwell there will never allow you to move forward.

  31. says

    Such a pity. Searching for happiness, when it all starts from within. Does anyone notice those points above are external? Things we can’t really get a hold of? The only thing we can is ourselves. Working from within and finding that “joy” thing in being us is one great step towards true happiness.

  32. says

    Wow! What an excellent article. It reminds me of some audio tapes I came across a number of years ago by the late Earl Nightingale ‘ entitled We become what we think about!’

    Thanks for sharing.

  33. says

    @Cassie: You’re absolutely right. We have to address the issues within ourselves to experience freedom and happiness. Well stated.

    @Dev: Every day as you become closer and closer to forgiving your family member, the weight on your shoulders will become lighter and lighter. Congratulations on taking responsibility for your own happiness. =) It’s truly a big step in the right direction.

    @Melissa Webster: I couldn’t have said it better. Thank you! I also think you and @Chris will benefit from this article on forgiveness: http://www.marcandangel.com/2013/07/23/10-reasons-to-forgive-the-person-you-hate-the-most/

    @Avone: The path to every goal requires a hundred small steps – one after the other. Figure out where you want to go, take a step, and keep on stepping. Diligence and persistence will get you there. You’re making progress, just take it one day at a time.

    @All: Remember, all the happiness you ever will find lies within you. As Tope reminded us, “The only thing we can control is ourselves.” Begin today by taking responsibility for your own actions and contentment. As always, thank you for the ongoing conversation. =)

  34. becky says

    I am not trying to feel sorry for myself or anything like that. But I am struggling with being happy, I do not have a goal, a dream etc. All I can think is how long will this misery go on? I have a great job, stressful but great , 2 teenagers at home and I have always had to be the one that took care of things since my early teens. I just need help finding a dream or hope for the future. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I don’t like feeling like this…

  35. Jay says

    I acted irresponsibly, behaved in a way which damaged my long time relationship. It has caused hardship and pain – I have not evolved very far to feel good.

    By reading your article I have begun to realize and accept my mistakes. Thank you so much for publishing such an article to enlighten us. These golden words have been helpful to me.

    Thank you once again.

  36. says

    Wrong place to search: consuming things.
    -Buying stuff we don’t need.
    -Eating food we don’t need.

    It just covers over the anxiety temporarily, but the problems grow.

    Best to face problems and happiness will follow.
    Simple to say. Hard to do, but not so hard if you just put one foot in front of the other. You’ll get there.

  37. says

    The Paradox of Intention says:

    “You must have goals but your happiness CANNOT be tied to those goals. You must be happy FIRST before you reach your goals.”

    Jim Loehr of “Power of Full Engagement says:

    “Money can’t buy you happiness but happiness can help you get rich.”

    So you have to address the REAL issues of why you are unhappy. For some of us, our unhappiness is rooted in faulty negative core beliefs we acquired as a result of devaluing experiences early in life.

    These toxic experiences produced faulty beliefs such as “I’m not worthy, I’m not enough, I’m not lovable”.

    Then we unconsciously look for more and more experiences to reinforces our “worthlessness”, such as bad relationships, and that’s why we end up in unhappy states.

    These unhappy states has us looking for happiness in the wrong places… I’ll be happy when… “I’m richer, thinner, prettier, and can buy more STUFF, etc.”

    So stop seeking outside validation. When you do the work to discard your faulty beliefs, (through therapist, coaches and/or personal development programs) you will be happy NOW in your journey to achieving your goals.

  38. Karen Blair says

    It’s tough when a relationship fails only because one partner is immature. Forgiving that person is tougher – because that person doesn’t deserve forgiveness, hasn’t done anything to earn forgiveness, and may not appreciate the value of forgiveness (they certainly didn’t see your value, did they?). Your forgiveness, like your love, has to be freely given, for that’s the only way to free yourself to move on blah-blah-blah, however this time you already know that that person doesn’t see the value of what you bring to the table. Silk purse, meet sow’s ear. Yes, it hurts to forgive them, just like it hurt to love them. But once you forgive, imagine that this is a spring cleaning of your heart. The mud they tracked onto the floor can be washed away. The floor may not be as good as new, but it will be good to see it again.

  39. says

    There are times when I pretend to be busy just to escape responsibility. It doesn’t fall on number #10 and what I’m about to suggest may fall on a lot of items you mentioned but, it’s like you hide behind white lies so that you won’t get involved. Almost the same as not taking the blame but it’s like when it comes to dealing with familial responsibilities, I often find myself saying, “I can’t attend this and that because I’m tied up with work.” But the truth is, you’re lazy to deal with the process of applying for a vacation leave, booking your flight and go on a trip… things and/or circumstances like these. It’s embracing convenience too much until you don’t live anymore. It’s being too much of an introvert. I don’t know what it means exactly or I don’t know what this is called. Is it sloth? Laziness?

  40. Leena says

    I really needed to read that! Thank you. When you have been stuck for a long time, you really don’t know what makes you happy and how to get yourself back in the right path…

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