I've worked with a woman who lost both of her parents within two weeks of each other from unexpected illness. I've worked with another woman who lost both of her parents to illness and then lost both of her siblings to Huntington's disease, all before her 40th birthday. Despite these tragedies, they are not chronically unhappy people.
There are so many things in life that we simply cannot control. What we can control, though, is how we respond to what we are given. The difference between happy people and chronically unhappy people is how they choose to exert that control in their lives.
Chronically unhappy people stop at the part where life is hard.
They become distraught and frozen with inaction. They bemoan what life has handed them and become a victim of circumstance. They focus their lack of control on what happened to them, rather than on what they can do in response to whatever happened.
Chronically unhappy people take unforeseen events as proof that there's no point in doing anything, that they have no real control over the situation at hand. Later, when the coast is clear, they are unable to identify any action they could take that might make things better.
Chronically unhappy people lead with fear.
They fear change. They fear vulnerability and rejection. Chronically unhappy people are afraid of things becoming worse or of what might be asked of them to make things better. They stop at that fear, rather than work through it.
They're so afraid that things might get worse that they prefer to keep things as they are, despite how dissatisfied they are with their lives.
Chronically unhappy people leave their emotional baggage unpacked.
Chronically unhappy people just shut down when life happens. Like anyone, they've been knocked down by life but they fail to get back up. This is often because when they're flat on the ground with their emotional baggage scattered around them, they fail to ask for or accept help in picking up the broken pieces.
They don't talk about it, process it, or deal with it. They don't go to therapy. They don't work it out at the gym or talk it over with a friend. Chronically unhappy people try to just skip it and pretend that life never happened.
They don't allow themselves to heal completely and therefore, they never really live completely.
Chronically unhappy people look for ways that life sucks.
They tell themselves that they are just preparing themselves for the worst. What they're really doing is implementing a wall of defense mechanisms intended to keep themselves from experiencing more pain.
In doing so, they screen life events and their interactions with others. They're scanning for examples of when they've been screwed or when their needs haven't been met. Chronically unhappy people collect these examples as validation of their misery. They tune their lenses to find misery as proof positive for why, of course, they're unhappy.
Chronically unhappy people embrace the word "but."
Two words keep people from living the life they really want -- Yeah... but...
When family and friends offer something they can do about the situation, chronically unhappy people immediately respond with a list of reasons why those things can't happen or aren't possible.
Chronically unhappy people find it impossible to say "Yes!"
When new opportunities find them or cross their paths, chronically unhappy people will emphasize the obstacles involved with the new opportunity rather than saying yes.
Chronically unhappy people don't allow themselves fun.
They may cite the needs of a busy family. They may explain that money is tight or that work sucks up all of their time. Regardless of their reasons, chronically unhappy people fail to have fun.
They don't do things they enjoy, they forget about their hobbies, and they don't see their friends on a regular basis. Chronically unhappy people surround themselves in their misery without making new memories to balance the stressors.
Chronically unhappy people refuse to have "The Talk."
You know -- "The Talk" -- the "I'm not happy in this relationship talk."
Chronically unhappy people will tell you that they've already tried but their partners aren't going to change. Talking about things will only make everything worse. They sit back and recount the times they've tried to no avail, rather than recognizing that they still have choices open to them.
Chronically unhappy people stay in miserable job situations.
Aside from dissatisfying relationships, dissatisfying jobs and careers are the leading reasons why people are chronically unhappy. Miserable professional situations don't just make people miserable at work. They make people unhappy every time they think about work.
Chronically unhappy people buy into the idea that they are financially trapped in a miserable work situation. They cite all of the obstacles involved in finding a new job as reasons why they are forced to stay miserable.
Chronically unhappy people numb out to electronics.
Chronically unhappy people use screen time as a barrier between themselves and the life they want. They may say they just prefer online communication because they're more introverted than others.
What they are really doing, though, is disconnecting and exiting from important relationships and aspects in their lives. They are widening the distance between themselves and others.
As a result, they end up isolated, which only further intensifies their unhappiness.
Chronically unhappy people allow toxic people to take up space.
We all know toxic people in our lives. They suck the air out of the rooms they are in.
Chronically unhappy people let toxic people take up more space in their lives than they deserve. If you ask why, chronically unhappy people will tell you it's not worth confronting a toxic person, that it's a conflict that won't lead anywhere good. As a result, toxic people take up space in the lives of those chronically unhappy and only feed the dysfunctional cycle that unhappy people find themselves in.
Chronically unhappy people ignore their health.
Chronically unhappy people fail to value and insure their good health. They avoid exercise and pay little attention to their diet, how well they are sleeping, or how they've been feeling emotionally.
Chronically unhappy people will collect an assortment of pains or ailments but will fail to follow up with medical professionals. Their bodies become sluggish and it's harder for them to get through the day but they just add these to the list of things they have to manage or put up with, rather than solve.
Chronically unhappy people fail to acknowledge the opportunities they have to create change.
We all have the power of choice.
We can speak up or we can stay silent. We can move toward change or we can stay the same.
Chronically unhappy people fail to accept and take ownership of the control they have in their own lives.
Chronically unhappy people fail to recognize that once they've acknowledged that they could speak up, make a change, or chart a new direction, that they are no longer trapped. They have look at the options, considered them, and have chosen not to move.
Once they've examined the choices in their lives, they are no longer victims of other people or circumstance. They have chosen the hard that comes with staying miserable, rather than the hard that comes with speaking out or making a change. They go back to telling themselves stories that there is nothing they could do and believing themselves to be victims of their own lives.
Change is hard. It is gut-wrenching. It challenges us not only to go outside of our comfort zone but to live outside of it. People who have discovered happiness know and accept this. They choose to have the hard talks. They make the necessary changes to live the lives they want. They face vulnerability head on.
It's not that happy people don't care about taking risks or about getting hurt. It's that they understand that experiencing fear or rejection is sometimes a necessary cost of being happy for the longer term.
They choose to be happy and are willing to do whatever is necessary to be happy.