Why Are So Many People Unhappy?

To say I’ve been taking things easy this last week or so would be an understatement, I’ve been talking things reaaaaally easy and walking the Life Coach walk by doing some serious chilling and adjusting that work/life balance accordingly.

Therefore, presuming I don’t get a last minute urge to share some life changing nugget of wisdom with you, the  honor of supplying the last post for the year goes to Mr Eduard Ezeanu.

I will be back next week pumped to the max for a brilliant new year and I hope you’ll make Eduard welcome by giving him feedback in the comments!

One last thing. A couple of times over the last 4 years I have run an ‘Ask The Life Coach‘ series in which people have asked me to post on issues specific to themselves. The last time I ran this was the better part of two years ago when I had far fewer readers than I do now.

If you’d like me to resurrect this, check out my Ask The Life Coach terms and conditions and shoot me an e-mail and if there is enough interest I’m happy to give it my best shot.

Why Are So Many People Unhappy?

In those rare moments of true lucidity that I have, I can’t believe that in today’s world, in any economically developed country, there are so many bitter people bitching about their lives. Think about the conditions of our lives right now:

  • We make more money than human beings have ever made historically; taking care of our basic need for food, shelter and comfort is usually not a struggle;
  • We live in a society which provides us a wide range of options to develop a career, to spend our free time or to interact with other people;
  • Survival is no longer an issue for us (remember, I’m talking about economically developed countries, not Somalia); in comparison with our ancestors we live super-lives.

At the same time, studies show that the general happiness level in most well developed countries has been slowly but surely dropping over the last decades. In fact, the peak of life satisfaction in the United States and many other countries was somewhere in the 1950’s.

I’m willing to guess that for the most part, these studies just confirm something you already suspected. It was enough to take a good look at the people around you, and maybe into your own life, to get the thought that many of us are not very happy.

What’s going On Here?

Obviously, the problem is not the quality of our lives. We now live much better lives in terms of external conditions than in the 1950’s, yet we are less happy with them. Once you rule out this possibility, there is only one remaining explanation that makes sense: It’s all in our heads.

As a coach, I often help my clients to explore their own thinking and become more aware of their internal dialog, the way they interpret objective experiences and their personal belief system. I can tell you I’ve realized that most of us have a pretty screwed up way of thinking. We constantly distort reality in our heads and we create pointless emotional drama in our lives. This is the main reason why I believe that changing our thinking is a must for personal growth.

The Core Thinking Problem

Out of all the ways we make ourselves miserable through our thinking, there is one I find to be by far the most common and to create the most misery. This thinking problem is, in my view, the fundamental answer to the question: Why so many people are unhappy?

This answer has only two words: Imperative Expectations That’s it! You can stop reading now…

What? You’d like to know the details so you can change this? Fine! Then keep reading. Imperative expectations are exaggerated rules we set for ourselves which dictate what must happen in order for us to be happy. In a way, we tell ourselves that we will not permit ourselves to be happy until certain inflated things happen.

How This Kills Your Happiness

Here’s how imperative expectations work in real life:

You tell yourself that you must not make a mistake, but in fact you do make a mistake; You tell yourself that you must be first, but in fact you come out second; You tell yourself that everybody must like you, but in fact some people don’t like you; You tell yourself that X must love you, but in fact X is only somewhat fond of you.

Thus, you create I huge gap between what is and what you think must be, and you make it seem intolerable. It’s the perfect recipe to make yourself feel miserable.

I’m not the first one to give a lot of meaning to imperative expectations, by the way. Albert Ellis, the father of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) had the same idea about four decades ago.

He used to say that people put futile pressure on themselves by thinking too much in statements with the word “must” in them. He called this “musturbation”.

How to Be Happier

To me, happiness is a process. One of the key elements of this process is eliminating imperative expectations from your thinking.

If you think about it realistically, there are only a few things that “must” happen and if they don’t it’s really a tragedy. The rest is only in your head. Try doing this kind of shifts in your thinking: From: “I must not make a mistake.” To: “I would like to not make a mistake, but if I do, it’s not the end of the world.”

As you practice identifying your imperative expectations, eliminating them and switching to a more constructive and carefree way of thinking you will notice that you’ll start to feel less stressed and to enjoy life more. You’ll reach that sweet spot where you want the best for yourself and you go for it, but you can accept anything life throws at you. You’ll reach that point where you can be happy with life as it is and as you make it. This is, I firmly believe, the best emotional spot to be in.

Eduard Ezeanu provides communication coaching and helps people put their best foot forward in communication. He also writes on his blog, People Skills Decoded, and you can follow him on Twitter at @EduardSays