Ask Wendy

Does Being Unhappy Backfire?

Friday, October 7, 2016
Series continuation: What causes a relationship to go into a downward spiral? #3: Being Unhappy.

I’ll be happy when…

  • I meet him
  • My finances aren’t so out of whack
  • My kids are happy
  • My health is better
  • He marries me
  • I finish (fill in the blank here)

This list? It’s a trap. And it’s not true. You’ll be happy for about five seconds until you see another thing that needs to be accomplished, then another and another, and soon you’ll be right back to feeling down on yourself.

Happiness is something that we all look for, hope for, or are envious of in others. A lucky few of us understand that happiness is a constant choice, not a circumstance or static state of being. Happiness is a place to come from within ourselves, and even knowing that, we sometimes fail at being happy.

This isn’t meant to shame you or to motivate you. It’s meant to shine light on a key ingredient to avoiding the downward spiral so many of us encounter in our relationship(s). A “happy” relationship requires two people being happy on purpose.

Here are a few hacks to help get you there if you’re unsure of where to begin:

If you can’t see how to get to happy when your circumstances are, well, fucked, your first step is to ask yourself, “What do I need next?” and sort that out. Second step? Ask, “What do I need next?” and sort that out. Rinse and repeat until you get yourself to “decent working order”—no, not perfection!—and that’s your first steady step towards happy.

Even at fucked, you can decide to be happy. This is where outside influences help. Pause to watch the butterfly gliding by. Pet a cat. Eat a chocolate-covered apricot (that would make me happy). Go out into the world and see something beautiful simply because you’re looking for it.

In this life you get what you focus on, so if you want to kick-start some happiness (even when your credit card’s maxed out or your boss is eyeing you like they might call you in for a “we need to talk” meeting) take a moment each morning to write down three things you’re grateful for, and instead of just writing each thing down, start by writing the words “I am grateful for” first. Gratitude is one of the central pathways to happiness, and intention and clarity will pave that pathway, making it an easy trail for you to walk on a regular basis instead of a bumpy road.

You can be happy right now even with those aching feet if you’re willing to be the owner of your own feelings and to take this on as you would a spiritual practice. The first challenge—the responsibility of being happy—falls squarely on you.

Here’s the next challenge: Be happy in your relationship.

I’ve heard that it takes five positive experiences to override one crappy one in relationships. This may be why parents feel doomed no matter what they do when their kids remember the time you wouldn’t get them an ice cream cone directly after a Slurpee but forget about all the wonderful presents they got for Christmas over the past three years.

If this is the default narrative, flip it. Decide it takes five negative things to override one positive one, or better yet, let’s not override the good stuff at all. Don’t you think that’s a better choice than wishing for five pleasant things to come along before you can feel good again?

Some of us exist in a constant state of unhappy because we believe that we can change someone if they just try hard enough to change our unhappiness. To date, I have never, not even once, seen that strategy work out.

You might focus on joy and gratitude instead of on what’s lacking.

Happiness is the biggest gift you can give to the people who love you. If you’re not there, all you need to do is decide to be.




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