Unhappiness and destructive forces

When we act out of anxiety or obsession we often make our own happiness impossible. For some people being happy is as easy as breathing. For others, this is the hardest skill on earth. Just like we can systematically build the conditions required for our happiness, we can systematically generate conditions that prevent it. Before we can treat them, we should at least recognize them. More reading here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

The science of unhappy

There is a science of happiness. We can generate positive self-talk, get involved in meaningful activity, enjoy interesting experiences, build a comfortable environment. Even if we do right all the things that are needed to be happy, many people are still unhappy.

While the recipes for happiness are rather simple and consistent, the recipes for being unhappy are multiple and diverse. Here I will address some of these aspects, but the list is neither full nor representative.

Hint: the biggest limitation to happiness is trying to be happy no matter what. 

Obsession as the ruining force

Having a “sticky” mind is quite common. We live our regular life, but then something sticks. It becomes an obsession. We feel that we cannot ignore it even if we want to.

Different people have very strange obsessions. Some have an overwhelming and possibly irrational fear. Others want something beyond their control and do not care what they do just to get closer to their goal. I know people who simply want to escape and do not mind where. And I know people who cannot control a simple emotion like anger or envy.

I also have a “sticky” mind, only I do not stick to anything long enough. If I wait and live my life, the mind finds something else to stick to. Typically this will be not a feeling, but some weird intellectual exercise.

Personally I do not know positive obsessions: obsessions often result in destructive behavior.


Everybody has fears. Some fears are rational. We will die and this might be unpleasant. Death is not one of my personal fears. Simply getting old or very sick may be a great burden for us and for people we love. For me, this is significantly more frightening than death.

Certain fears combine rational and irrational elements. When I was small I almost drowned, so I am afraid of water. I swim and do other water activities, but I do not get relaxed in water as I need to deal with my fear. Even when I know perfectly well that nothing bad can happen to me, my heart races.

And there are irrational fears. My mother occasionally has dreams that scare her, and she is very manipulative about them. I had to cancel several vacations just because she was scared beyond reason. Funny, this always happens when I am in no danger. When I execute something dangerous she never has ominous thoughts.

Some fears definitely need to be faced. Especially those that make our mind “stick”. Other fears have a negligible effect on wellbeing, or might even be helpful.


Many religions associate fear with attachment. We tend to be attached to people, possessions, experiences and we are afraid to lose them. This anxiety sucks all the energy from our life. Letting go of attachments may revitalize and fill the life with joy.

I have seen several examples when this theory worked, but not always. Letting go of attachments is notoriously hard, and even then the effects might be different. Some people feel free, others find new attachments. Certain people feel lost.

This sounds very abstract. I will give an example. I am very attached to my personal comfort. I had terrible pains as a small child, cured by medicine. After that, for years I was afraid of pain. Then I had some painful operation and suffered for a couple of weeks. The pain was very bad, but by far not as bad as the fears or memories. So the fear of pain kind of disappeared. Yet the attachment to comfort and pain aversion is still there. I had a transformative experience, yet my behavior did not change.

Practicing detachment as a meditative technique is probably a good idea, but do not expect miracles to happen.

External reward

Placing our self-esteem in the hands of other people or random events is a bad attachment. Happiness is about enjoying the way, not the destination. If we think that we need a certain achievement to be happy, what will happen next? When we fail to achieve it we become unhappy. What about the emptiness and overstimulation we feel when we get what we want? And all the “sticky” thoughts and anxieties we get in-between?

Certain things allow us to access the positive experiences. When my son needs a guitar of a set of rollerblades to practice a certain technique I tend to provide the item. But then the item is just an entry ticket for a rich experience, not the experience itself. A good guitar player can definitely enjoy a quality instrument, but should not feel bad if he plays a cheap guitar.

Ideally, we should love the thing that we do, not the reward we get upon completion or status associated with the activity. 

Accept the things you cannot change

Some sort of attachment, pain, and emptiness are expected. If you can avoid those, you won a lottery. Real lives are not ideal. Accepting this is an important part of maturity and happiness associated with the second half of our lives. Failing to accept the human condition and personal limitations might be a source of suffering.

For example, Hedy Lamarr was a very intelligent and beautiful actress, and she also earned a lot of money by her 40s. As she was aging, she was not capable to accept the loss of her beauty and with some failed plastic surgery she lost the joy of life. When in her old age she was recognized as an incredible inventor, she was too ashamed to show her face and claim the price.

When we cannot accept things we cannot change we tend to suffer. Compassion for people who have serious issues often makes it easier to accept certain issues in our own lives. 

Loose boundaries

We tend to do things we later regret. Clear boundaries help to reduce such events and their outcomes. I think most of us were drunk on some evening and do not really want to recall the things we performed in that state.

Clear boundaries should be wide enough to provide personal freedom. When the boundaries are too tight or unreasonable they kind of ask for a healthy rebellion.

Confusing boundaries are very common. Did we always understand how to deal with COVID 19 and the relevant rules? Do we like the way scientists and politicians provide conflicting pieces of advice?

Personal integrity and feeling of control depend on clear and consistent boundaries. Loose boundaries or conflicting values is a recipe for inner struggles or worse.

Negative thoughts and emotions

If we need to check our boundaries too often, we may become miserable. Being driven by a negative thought or emotion can cause this state.

For example, a person may be angry and constantly fight the urge to do something destructive. Or the person may be consumed by envy and fight the urge to take something that does not belong or overreact protecting something that happens to belong.

Alternatively, there might be some stupid formula like “I am not worthy because…” Everyone has different formulas, only some formulas are not helpful. For example, I am uncomfortable with my weight, but every time I lost weight, I ended up gaining all of it with a small extra. So I simply try not to think about it.

It is normal to have negative thoughts and emotions. Happy people tend to have positive thoughts and feelings more often and in higher intensity than negative thoughts.

Chasing happiness

This sounds a bit funny, but the easiest way to ensure you are unhappy is to chase happiness. Egotistic focus often makes people oversensitive. Chasing experiences results in overindulgence and emptiness. Looking for bigger challenges and status symbols often results in incompetence and stress.

Anything we select as a cornerstone of our happiness immediately becomes an attachment. We are afraid to lose it. Its presence distorts our boundaries. When someone tries to take it we get angry, and if someone has more of it than we do we get envious.

There is one thing that is universally used as such attachment, and it is money. Saying that money is the root of all evil is oversimplified, but our unhappiness can often be formulated in financial terms.

To diagnose a possible source of your own unhappiness, try to analyze how you feel about money in all of its forms.

Root out evil

Get 4 Free Sample Chapters of the Key To Study Book

Get access to advanced training, and a selection of free apps to train your reading speed and visual memory

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.