Would you consider yourself a happy person? Be honest. Do you think you’re happy right now, with who you are and where you are in life?
Even if you answered no, that’s okay. The truth is, none of us really know the secret to happiness. And even if we are happy, it’s unrealistic for us to expect ourselves to be happy all the time. Because in life, the good often goes hand in hand with the bad. And everyone struggles to deal with their own negative thoughts, emotions, and experiences now and again.
But what separates our normal, everyday emotional struggles from chronic unhappiness? What’s the difference between someone who’s just unhappy now, in the moment, and someone with a problematic (and often self-inflicted) predilection towards being unhappy? Well, here are 8 bad habits that make people chronically unhappy:
1. They try to control everything.
While it’s only human nature for us to want to take control of our lives and plan out our futures, the truth is, no matter how hard we try, there are always going to be things we cannot change, control, or predict. And learning to adapt to this uncertainty and embrace the unpredictable nature of life is crucial to our happiness and peace of mind. But chronically unhappy people don’t understand this. They’re always trying to rigidly stick to a plan, only to fall apart the moment something doesn’t go the way they want it to.
2. They resort to self-blame.
Another habit of chronically unhappy people is self-blame and self-depreciation. Most of the time, their unhappiness comes from their own doing; they are too hard on themselves and focus too much, not on their successes, but on their own flaws and shortcomings. They are guilty of something psychologists call “negative self-talk,” which means they constantly think of themselves in an overly harsh and self-critical manner (i.e. “Oh, I’m such an idiot!” or “All I do is mess things up!”), which tears down their self-esteem and triggers feelings of depression and anxiety.
3. They have a fatalistic worldview.
Similar to the last point, studies have also found that chronically unhappy people tend to have a “depressive attributional style” (Seligman, Abramson, Semmel & von Baeyer, 1979). An attributional style is defined as the reason we often give for the things that happen to us, and it has two dimensions: internal vs. external, and global vs. specific. A depressive attributional style is both internal and global, which means that not only do you think you are to blame for the things that go wrong (internal), but that you overgeneralize it too and resign yourself to the idea that things will always go wrong (global).
4. They are easily discouraged.
Chronically unhappy people are quitters; they are easily discouraged, afraid of failure, and always take the path of least resistance. When the going gets tough, they’d rather throw in the towel than fight for what they want. They’d rather stay where it’s comfortable, safe, and predictable, no matter how unhappy it might make them, because they’re afraid of trying new things and taking risks. They don’t follow their passion because they think it’s going to be too hard. They give up at the first hurdle that comes their way and resign themselves to a life of mediocrity instead.
5. They have a victim mindset.
When studying and treating his patients, many of whom suffered from serious depression, founder of positive psychology Martin Seligman (2012) noticed that a lot of them suffered from “learned helplessness,” an overwhelming sense of powerlessness that often led to problematic and self-destructive behaviors. This is why those who see themselves as the “helpless victim” in their own story are so chronically unhappy; because they have wrongly come to believe that life is always going to be hard and there’s nothing they can do about it. So they remain stuck in their ways, always waiting for someone else to come save them because they can’t take action and save themselves from their own worst tendencies.
6. They’re too materialistic.
We might not like to admit it to ourselves, but the truth is, we’re all a little materialistic deep down inside. And while there’s no denying financial security can certainly afford us a lot of freedom and peace of mind, in the end, all the money in the world still can’t buy us true and lasting happiness. In fact, studies have even shown that it’s the opposite: constantly chasing after money and being too materialistic often makes us unhappier, lessens our life satisfaction, and reduces our overall sense of well-being (Van Boven, 2005) because we easily get tired of material things and inevitably end up wanting more the moment we see someone else having more than us — which brings us to our next point!
7. They’re overly competitive.
Chronically unhappy people tend to be overly competitive as a result of constantly comparing themselves to others. They are always trying to outdo those around them and be better than everyone else, often in terms of success, intelligence, status, or popularity. But what they fail to see is that their competitive personality is actually doing more harm than good because it often makes them unlikeable to others and breeds a lot of insecurity, jealousy, and resentment in their relationships. It also keeps them from being more grateful, which has consistently been shown to be a key component to our happiness (Witvliet, et al., 2019).
8. They’re always looking to the future.
Last but certainly not the least, chronically unhappy people are often too future-oriented for their own good. They are always worrying about the next chapter in their lives without even realizing that they’re right in the middle of what they used to look forward to. They think that if only they could do this, be that, or get there, then they can finally be happy. But happiness is a journey, not a destination. And by constantly thinking “I’ll be happy one day” instead of “I can choose to be happy today,” people like this only end up miserable and dissatisfied with their lives because they don’t know how to find happiness in the moment. They wrongly think of it as some elusive, faraway goal they have to always attain to, when really, it’s just learning to look at the bright side and appreciate all the simple pleasures life has to offer on a day-to-day basis.
So, do you relate to any of the things we’ve mentioned here? Are you guilty of doing any of these 8 things that make you chronically unhappy? Even if you answered yes, don’t worry. There’s still time for you to change, and acknowledging that you have a problem is the first step to overcoming it. And if you or anyone you know is seriously struggling with their mental health, don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health care professional today.
- Seligman, M. E., Abramson, L. Y., Semmel, A., & von Baeyer, C. (1979). Depressive attributional style. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 88(3), 242–247. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-843X.88.3.242
- Seligman, M. E. (2012). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. Simon and Schuster.
- Van Boven, L. (2005). Experientialism, materialism, and the pursuit of happiness. Review of general psychology, 9(2), 132-142.
- Witvliet, C. V., Richie, F. J., Root Luna, L. M., & Van Tongeren, D. R. (2019). Gratitude predicts hope and happiness: A two-study assessment of traits and states. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 14(3), 271-282.