Why being miserable is actually the secret to happiness

Is feeling constant joy overrated, or even possible? 

Kashmira Gander
Wednesday 12 July 2017 14:01 BST

Happiness is overrated. Instead, try allowing yourself to be totally miserable. It might make you happier than you have ever been. Let us explain.

Browsing social media and being confronted with friends scoring dream jobs, creating perfect families and sunning themselves on beaches can create the impression that everyone else is in some unending state of euphoria. And there you are, laying on the sofa with one hand in a bag of crisps and the other holding your phone, an hour into a scrolling session.

But constant happiness is overrated. Not only is it overrated, but it’s totally unachievable.

In fact, says Gina Clarke, a psychotherapist at Click for Therapy, expecting to be constantly happy is harmful. “Everybody’s mood fluctuates, we all have ups and downs and a widen range of emotions,” she says, pointing towards the kids movie Inside Out as an analogy.

"If we expect to be constantly happy, then we judge that to feel any other emotion is wrong and therefore we internalise that we are bad if we feel sad, angry, frustrated, and so on, when in actual fact in order to feel happy, to process the difficult stuff that happens, we need to accept other emotions.”

And if, as studies suggest, half of workers in the UK would rather be in a different job; some 60 per cent of people report being in an unhappy relationship; and social media is making us unsatisfied, it's unlikely that everyone around you is as happy as they seem. And you might hope that we’re not all doomed to endure these feelings for the rest of our lives.

That's why experiencing sadness or discomfort can be useful. Take running: every second of pain is being invested into a healthier body and better mental health.

“Feeling sad or uncomfortable is similar to standing on a broken leg and feeling pain,” explains Clarke. “When we feel sad or uncomfortable it is our mind's way of telling us that we are out of balance, that emotionally we are in pain and we need time to heal. With a broken leg we ask for help, see a specialist. If we did this when we felt sad or uncomfortable it would help us to process and heal. The first step is acknowledgement and then assessment - do I need to leave the situation, ask for help, talk with a friend, seek professional support?”

When feelings of sadness and worthlessness are all-consuming, it is vital to visit a doctor and assess your mental health, as these can be symptoms of depression or other serious conditions. But dreading going into work but feeling happy in other aspects of life, or the odd pang of sadness can be a catalyst for trying to unpick what is causing these feelings.

“From what I’ve seen, and I’ve worked with a lot of clients, a valuable key to contentment and or fulfilment is acceptance. Acceptance of ourselves, acceptance of what’s happening in our lives, acceptance of those around us,” says psychotherapist Hilda Burke. “On the other hand, wishing things were other than what they are is a sure fire way of making ourselves unhappy as it keeps us in a stuck place in our heads where we are imagining how life could be better another way, with another partner, in another job and as such we’re inevitably missing what’s just under our noses and failing to appreciate that good things that are there."

“This is where self reflection is key,” says Clarke. “If we feel unhappy in the moment we should ask ourselves why, what’s going on, and assess our emotions over time. Some people write it down, journal, some talk with others, some just note then feelings.”

"Once you get to the root causes of how you feel, it becomes much easier to change your mood," chimes Phillip Adcock, psychologist and author of Master Your Brain. "I recommend playing the why, why, why game. In it, you ask yourself why you feel unhappy, and why is that, and why is that really. Keep going until you get to the root cause of your unhappiness."

In the long term, then unhappiness might just be the key to happiness.

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