Why Do I Feel Unhappy?

When you feel unhappy, it can seem like you are just waiting for the next thing that will jolt you into happiness. Here, we look at what it means to choose happiness despite your circumstances.

Kara Large

Do you feel unhappy? Do you try to stay positive but find yourself left with a deep sense of dissatisfaction? No matter what you try, you just can’t shake the feeling that something is missing. It never seems like you are where you want to be.

You imagined your life would be different by now. And you feel disappointed with the way things are going for you. Your job makes you feel like you’re stuck in a hamster wheel. Every day feels the same, over and over. You wake up, go to work, and come home. 

Maybe sometimes you do feel happy. But it’s always situational. You look forward to a vacation day, and you think you feel happy while you’re at the beach. But when that day is over, it’s right back to square one of feeling some kind of lack in your life.

You are not alone. According to this poll, people in the U.S. are the unhappiest they’ve been in the last 50 years. In this poll, only 14% of adults said they're very happy. This is a big decline from 2018 when 31% of adults said they’re very happy. Since this poll began collecting data in 1972, there was never a time when less than 29% of adults reported being very happy.

We can speculate as to all the reasons why there has been such a major decline in feeling happy. 2020 was a markedly difficult year for many of us. However, the important point to note here is that it’s not just you who is feeling unhappy. There is nothing wrong with you.

At MacklinConnection, we know that everyone has the potential to live a more fulfilling life. In our programs, we empower participants to discover that they can actually cultivate more happiness and meaning for themselves. And, having completed the program myself, I know that this is possible because I’ve been able to see a shift in my own life.

Here, we’ll look at reframing happiness so that you can begin to experience less feelings of dissatisfaction. It’s as simple as changing your mind and choosing to see where happiness does actually show up in your life. 

My Experience With Feeling Unhappy

For many years of my life, I experienced what I call a “destination” fixation. This looks like, “Once I get this thing, then I’ll be happy.” “Once I get promoted to a better position, I’ll be happy.” “Once I buy a house, I’ll be happy.” I focused on the destination, not the journey. All of my happiness was tied to getting the thing. And, even when I did get the thing, I still wasn’t happy.

As a teenager I thought, “I’ll be happy when I get a scholarship for college.” Once I did that, the goal post changed. The new destination for happiness was getting a good job. Once I landed a great job out of college, I moved the goal post again. Now, it was law school that would make me happy. Then it was becoming an attorney that would make me happy. 

Do you see what I was doing? I was resting all my happiness on one specific objective. So much so, that I didn’t feel satisfied on the quest to achieve that thing. I was laser focused on the idea that happiness and satisfaction would only come once I got the thing I wanted. All else was suffering. 

It took a pivotal life event for my idea of happiness to shift.

Not long after I graduated law school, I got really sick. Sick enough that my doctors didn’t see me making it longer than a year. Even if I did survive, my quality of life would be drastically different than what I had known.

I tried to fight this. But the more I fought the diagnosis, the sicker I got. I finally had to let go and surrender to the experience. 

I had to get comfortable with being in a chrysalis. When a caterpillar goes through the process of becoming a butterfly, it must create a chrysalis. In the chrysalis, the caterpillar will “melt” almost completely. And from this the butterfly will begin to be formed. 

For me, being in the chrysalis meant I had to be ok with the melting, knowing that eventually a butterfly would emerge. You can’t force the caterpillar to just become a butterfly. And if you try to crack open the chrysalis too early, you end up with caterpillar goo everywhere. The opportunity to become a butterfly will be destroyed. 

In experiencing this sickness, there was no longer a destination for me to focus on. I had no idea what my life would like each day, let alone months down the line. I didn’t even know how many days I would have. So I had to actively decide that I was going to feel happy - or else all I would experience was suffering. 

The forced stillness allowed me to realize happiness was not a destination. It was a choice. I could choose at any moment to feel happy. 

Expectation vs. Reality Contributes to Unhappiness

We live in a society that has become entrenched in an instant gratification mindset. You can order whatever you want online and have it delivered to your doorstep within 48 hours or less. You can have your favorite meal delivered to you without having to go to the restaurant yourself. 

This creates an expectation of getting what you want instantly. We don’t like waiting around anymore. We want everything now. 

But, let’s say you wanted ice cream. Would you risk having to place the order, wait for someone to pick it up, and drive it to you? Probably not. By the time the ice cream finally gets to you, there is a strong chance it would be melted.

So if you want ice cream, you’re going to have to go get it. This means you’ll have to get up and get in the car. You’ll have to start the car and drive to the ice cream shop. While you’re driving, you might get stopped at a red light. Or there might be traffic. Then you get to the ice cream shop. You might have to find parking. And when you finally get inside, there might be a line. You’ll have to choose what you want and pay for it. AND THEN you can eat the ice cream. 

You might think that the enjoyment of the ice cream only came from taking each bite. But it was every action you took towards getting the ice cream that allowed you to actually enjoy it. Each step was a part of you feeling happy. Parking the car at the ice cream shop allowed you to enjoy the ice cream as much as eating it did. 

If you apply this to your life, you can start to reframe all the seemingly meaningless moments as being a part of the big moments. And, from there, you can choose to see happiness in each of those moments. And you can choose to feel happy - even sitting in traffic on the way to the ice cream shop.

The point in this is not to demand that you must feel happy all the time. That wouldn’t necessarily be what you want either. Having contrasting feelings and experiences can be what makes the really good ones feel extra special. How good does it feel when your team wins after losing three games in a row? It’s pretty great right? But those losses were ultimately part of experiencing the joy that came from the win. 

This example is just meant to provide a new perspective to happiness. Happiness is born from each moment that leads up to it. And we can choose to feel happiness at any point on the journey - not just at the destination.      

You Can Choose Happiness 

If you notice that you feel unhappy most of the time, it can be difficult to find motivation (let alone joy!). You might feel trapped and unable to make a choice to change your situation. If this feels like what you’re experiencing, you might also want to check out our article “Do You Feel Stuck?” Unhappiness and the feeling of being stuck often go hand in hand. 

From what I learned from my own life experiences and my time at MacklinConnection, I realized we always have a choice in what we feel about our experiences. Being happy is actually as simple as deciding that you’re happy. It’s a matter of changing your perspective. It’s seeing that the journey to get the ice cream IS part of enjoying the ice cream. They aren’t separate. 

Maybe you feel like you’ll never be able to shift to feeling happy. I’ve been there. I know how lonely and scary it can feel. And this is why MacklinConnection was started. We believe you aren’t meant to go through life alone and unhappy. 

But you have to be willing to let go of your unhappiness. You have to want to change and make a new choice. And change can be scary too. Even if it’s a change you actually want. 

If you feel like you want some help in transforming your life to be more like what you want for yourself, we’re here for you. You can connect with us whenever you feel ready.

And, if you want to make changes on your own, know you have the power to tell a new story for your life. You are an incredible, capable being. And you deserve to enjoy your life.