8 Subtle Things That Slowly Make You Unhappy

Psychologists and philosophers have spent centuries trying to get to the core of what happiness truly is. Understanding what makes human beings completely happy has proven to be a subjective rather than objective topic. Interestingly enough, this is where science plays a huge role in the research conducted on what makes us unhappy. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that tiredness, stress and loneliness are lead causes (Team, 2014). There are many other things which can slowly make you feel unhappy and you might not even realise that it is affecting you.

This article is not designed to diagnose sadness, unhappiness or any mental health condition associated with feelings of sadness. If you experiencing persistent unhappiness, sadness or episodes of feeling low, then get in contact with your doctor or mental health service for further support. 

Here are 8 subtle things which slowly make you unhappy. 

Social media, especially Facebook and Instagram. Do you find yourself scrolling through social media for hours on end? It could be contributing to your unhappiness. A study conducted at the University of Michigan by psychologist Ethan Kross,  found a direct correlation between time spent on the social media site and feelings of dissatisfaction, loneliness and isolation (Team, 2014). Furthermore, other studies have shown that blaming the “compare and despair” envy effect of social media sites and their potential to spark jealousy and suspicion in relationships (Muise, 2009). Social media is everywhere and is filled with messages about how we should look, feel, think and behave. Try limiting your time or having a ‘digital detox’ to resist and focus on your own mental wellbeing.

Over-analysing situations. Do you spend ages worrying about whether you have made the right decision? Researchers have linked questioning decisions with stress and unhappiness. In 2011, Dr. Joyce Ehrlinger and her team at Florida State University identified two types of decision makers: “maximizers” – individuals who obsess over decisions (big or small) and then fret about their choices later and “satisfiers”; those who tend to make a decision and then live with it (Nauert, 2018). It is likely that people who consistently over-analyse situations may end up, over time, experiences episodes of unhappiness.

Having too much choice. It is nice to have choice in life but a 2010 research paper from Stanford University’s Department of Psychology, discovered that having too much choice makes us miserable! Scientists at the University looked into the cultural ideas surrounding choice and found that freedom and choice are less important or mean something different among non-Western cultures and working-class Westerners. Some people find that by having too much variety can then be followed by uncertainty and regret about whether they had made the right decision.

Having a lack of control at work. Feel like you are overwhelmed at work? A study by a Danish university found no link between workplace depression and heavy workload, however researchers at the Department of Clinical Medicine at Aarhus University found some different results. They concluded that work environment and the feeling of being treated unfairly by management can most dramatically alter an employee’s mood (Sjøgren, 2013). Furthermore, the researchers found that perceived unfair treatment led to higher rates of the stress hormone cortisol. Overall, unhappiness and depression appears to be caused by management behaviour and work environment, rather than workload.

Talking badly about yourself in your head. Most people have a form of self-talk in their head which can help guide them and offer positive affirmations on a daily basis. But what happens when experience negative self-talk? This can slowly have an impact on our wellbeing and unhappiness. The reason we all have such harsh, negative self-talk is because we were taught as children that being “tough” on yourself was motivating and the best way to force yourself to be disciplined and get stuff done (Wignall, 2019). Take time to be kind to yourself and not put such high expectations on yourself. Learning how to be realistic can work towards building a more positive sense of self worth and happiness.

Having too much money. The saying goes that ‘money can’t buy you happiness’ and apparently research supports this! In fact, some research has shown that very wealthy people actually suffer from higher rates of depression (cited in Taylor, 2012). Taylor (2012) also stated that other research has indicated that a desire for wealth and material possessions is linked to a need to mask inner discontent.

Having a poor relationship with siblings. Do you and your siblings fight like cat and dog? Do you find it difficult to get along with them and have a good relationship? A 2007 study in theAmerican Journal of Psychiatry found that men who had very poor relationships with their siblings during childhood are at significantly greater risk for depression in adulthood, compared to those who get along better with their brothers and sisters (Bakalar, 2007). Furthermore, in 2012, psychologists at the University of Missouri concluded that teenage siblings who argue over two topics in particular – personal conflicts and fairness issues are more at risk of suffering depressive symptoms, low self-esteem and anxiety (Blue, 2012). Researchers believe that good sibling relationships in childhood could help children socialise and relate to their peers during the course of their development. So if you are not having good relationships with your siblings, this could be contributing to your unhappiness.

Having a wandering mind. It is perfectly ‘normal’ to daydream throughout the day but a 2010 study from Harvard researchers Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert identified mind-wandering as a major cause of unhappiness (cited in Wilkins, 2010) According to the research, only 4.6% of a person’s happiness could be attributed to what they were doing, but 10.8% of it was caused by what they were thinking about at the time, and people consistently reported being happiest when their minds were on what they were doing. The findings are backed up by age-old philosophy that living in the here and now leads to greater happiness. If you feel like your wandering mind is contributing to feelings of unhappiness, then now might be a good time to engage in some mindfulness exercises so you can practice on working on being in the present.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. We appreciate you taking the time to read our articles and giving feedback. Please leave any comments in the box below. Remember, if you recognise that you are feeling unhappy more often than not, talk to somebody you trust about how you are feeling or make an appointment to see a doctor. 

Take care and will update with some more articles soon. 

J 🙂


6 Subtle Habits That Are Sabotaging Your Happiness – Nick Wignall. (2019). Retrieved October 17, 2020, from https://nickwignall.com/sabotaging-happiness/

Blue, L. (2012, December 21). Sibling Rivalry: Squabbling May Lead to Depressive Symptoms, Anxiety, Among Teens. Time. https://healthland.time.com/2012/12/21/sibling-rivalry-squabbling-may-lead-to-depressive-symptoms-anxiety-among-teens/

‌Bakalar, N. (2007, June 12). Male Depression Is Linked to Poor Sibling Relations (Published 2007). The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/12/health/psychology/12sibl.html

Hu, E. (2013) Facebook Makes Us Sadder And Less Satisfied, Study Finds. NPR.Org. Retrieved October 17, 2020, from https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2013/08/19/213568763/researchers-facebook-makes-us-sadder-and-less-satisfied?t=1602942489269

Muise, A., Christofides, E., & Desmarais, S. (2009). More information than you ever wanted: does Facebook bring out the green-eyed monster of jealousy?. Cyberpsychology & behavior : the impact of the Internet, multimedia and virtual reality on behavior and society, 12(4), 441–444.

Nauert, R. (2018) R. N. P. A. N. E. L. updated: 8 A. 2018 ~ 2 min. (2011, December 16). Questioning Decisions Can Lead to Unhappiness. Psychcentral.Com. https://psychcentral.com/news/2011/12/16/questioning-decisions-can-lead-to-unhappiness/32654.html

Sjøgren, K. (2013, October 27). The boss, not the workload, causes workplace depression. Sciencenordic.Com. https://sciencenordic.com/denmark-depression-diseases/the-boss-not-the-workload-causes-workplace-depression/1392177

Taylor, S. (2012) The Madness of Materialism. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/out-the-darkness/201203/the-madness-materialism

‌Team, S. (2014, May 5). 10 things that are scientifically proven to make you unhappy. Stylist. https://www.stylist.co.uk/life/10-things-that-are-scientifically-proven-to-make-you-unhappy/56273

Wilkins (2010) Letting your mind wander is a major cause of unhappiness. Io9. Retrieved October 17, 2020, from https://io9.gizmodo.com/letting-your-mind-wander-is-a-major-cause-of-unhappines-5687282

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