Focusing on Happiness

There's an assumption that we go through life wanting to be happy. We are assumed to be looking for happiness or trying to create a happy life. Much of practical and classical philosophy is based on this. Our Declaration of Independence enshrines this in the sentence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

We do tend to focus on "having fun" or trying to find things to enjoy all the time, especially if we have been struggling to find any consistent sort of positive feelings in our day to day "existence." We can be generally unhappy with all kinds of things at the same time, but we often focus on work, money and our relationships.

Does our focus on "fun," keep us from seeing or noticing how we keep on creating our unhappiness? Is it just another way to stay stuck, like anger, blame or the other feeling habits we keep coming back to? Our feelings are meant to be used as a wakeup call to action. We need to pay attention to them rather than stay stuck in them or in moving in circles.

We need to start staying aware of what we're thinking and feeling instead of just being our thoughts and feelings. We need to stop being "fused" to them or identified with them and know that they are simply stuff that goes on in our minds. We really do have a choice to keep cultivating them or to start letting them go.

When we can see what's going on inside us, we can choose to enjoy it or do something to change it and to not keep suffering. Let's take a look at some of the ways we create the sorts of lasting unhappiness that keep us away from our real lasting happiness.

Some Ways We Create Lasting Unhappiness

In no particular order:

  • You're always waiting for the future. You need something to happen or need to have something more to be happy.
  • You're living in the past. You won't or don't let things go. You have trouble forgiving.
  • You're isolating yourself. You stay at home too much. You're lonely and yet you avoid others.
  • You keep seeing yourself as a victim. Others or life is "unfair" all the time.
  • You're chronically pessimistic and rarely have anything good to say.
  • You're a perfectionist. Nothing and no one are good enough for you. You constantly focus on what's missing, wrong or flawed. You're a glass half-empty kind of person.
  • You constantly complain and whine.
  • You blame and find fault whenever you can.
  • You have a tendency to ruminate and overanalyze.
  • You frequently blow things out of proportion.
  • You keep ignoring problems. You won't or don't talk about or deal with things.
  • You're not changing, growing or developing. You're ignoring yourself and your weaknesses, limitations and faults.
  • You stay focused on what you don't have but "really need" for some reason. You're determined to "keep up with the Joneses" or have all the latest (and most expensive) toys and goodies.
  • You're not taking care of yourself by not sleeping enough, eating decently or exercising and being active.
  • You're wasting too much time by watching TV all evening or getting involved in too much social media, gaming and other time-wasting entertainment.
  • You tend to hoard stuff and you home environment is cluttered, messy and chronically dirty or disorganized.
  • You procrastinate whatever you can.
  • You manage your money poorly. You have significant debt issues.
  • You have out of control, unhealthy habits. You drink too much alcohol. You use drugs, shopping, eating, sex or porn to cope with the stuff that isn't working in your life.
  • You feel stuck or overwhelmed. You're avoiding and not dealing with stuff.
  • You ignore or aggravate relationship problems.
  • You compare yourself to others, especially on social media.
  • You're worrying about the future all the time.
  • You "catastrophize." You see things in the darkest ways possible. You're jumping to conclusions a lot.
  • You keep assuming others have bad intent or you're expecting the worst from them.
  • You keep doing stuff you don't like. You're "stuck" in a job or relationship.
  • You hang around negative people including complainers, users, cynics, the sarcastic, the unhappy or depressed and the mean or angry.
  • You stay focused on changing others.
  • You're focused on pleasing others or making others happy. You can't say "no."
  • You care too much about what others might think.
  • You're trying to control everything, especially others. You're thinking everyone should play by your rules or do things your way. You're trying to micromanage life.
  • You're holding grudges, staying bitter and resentful or being judgmental.
  • You don't have a purpose. You don't know your values. You're not developing meaning. You don't know yourself.
  • You react to or wait for others. You're not initiating, self-starting or going first.
  • You're afraid to fail or make any mistakes. You aren't taking good chances. You don't or won't challenge yourself.
  • You're insecure. You lack self-confidence and self-respect. You're hung up on what you think you lack rather than recognizing who you are. You focus on your perceived flaws rather than your strengths. You keep looking for others to validate you.
  • You stay bored, complacent or apathetic.
  • You're way too busy.
  • You're impatient or impulsive.
  • You don't spend enough time with yourself (alone).
  • You have no goals. You aren't actively working toward something.
  • You stay dependent on others.
  • You don't think you deserve to be happy.
  • You ignore, downplay or otherwise fail to take advantage of opportunities (or you stay so distracted you never see any).
  • You keep chasing the wrong or unimportant things.
  • You have no spiritual life.
  • You have no worthwhile or real friends.
  • You're afraid of yourself.
  • You don't learn from your mistakes.
  • You're so focused on or worried about a future "destination" you "can't enjoy the ride."
  • You focus way too much on yourself or what's in it for you. You don't like to help others with your time, talents or resources. You often see others as not deserving stuff or you see yourself as too busy or "poor" to give meaningfully.
  • You "settle" and don't pursue what you really want.
  • You feel entitled or special, others aren't really worthy, and they constantly interfere with or bug you.
  • You set poor boundaries.
  • Your never say you're sorry.

Questions for Journaling

  • How happy are you most of the time? What gives you the most enjoyment?
  • What are the top 3 things that you think limit your happiness?
  • What do you wish you had more time and energy for? How would it increase your happiness?
  • How much do you enjoy your current relationships (significant others, kids, family, friends, coworkers, etc.)?


Brendon Burchard, How to Be Happy – Secrets to Happiness

Project Better Self, How to Waste Your Life and be Miserable


Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom (2006)

Richard Carlson, You Can Be Happy No Matter What (2006)

Gretchen Rubin, The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People's Lives Better, Too) (2017)

Quote for the Week

Mahatma Gandhi
Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.

Willie Nelson
We create our own unhappiness. The purpose of suffering is to help us understand we are the ones who cause it.

Marcus Aurelius
The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.

Mark Twain
I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened.

Prayer for the Week

Help me this week to begin to get a clearer understanding of how I create much of my own unhappiness. I want to start catching myself in the act so that I can start making better choices and create harmony between what I think, say and do. Amen.