Misery, as painful as it is, can be comfortable in its familiarity. It’s easy to sink into despair. Picking yourself up and forging onward is a bit more daunting. The problem is, a lot of us play a passive role in our own lives. We let circumstances and situations dictate who we are and how we feel, and then find solace in the fact that it’s not our fault. In life, we can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to things, and that is oftentimes the difference between feeling free and happy or trapped and miserable.
Happiness doesn’t just happen. It’s not something that shows up at your door one day as a consolation prize for years of pain and suffering. It takes some work, both on the inside and out. Misery is easy because frankly, life is hard. Stress is inevitable, and so is heartbreak, rejection, disappointment, criticism, and feelings of defeat.
Being miserable is a combination of how you live your life and how you process the inevitable things that happen. A lot of us don’t even realize all the ways we’re creating our own misery. And with that, here are six guaranteed ways to be absolutely miserable:
1. Play the Victim
As I said, we can’t always control the things that happen to us. The only thing within our control is how we respond. You are the one who gets to decide if you will be the triumphant leading lady or the tragic heroine in the story of your life. Things are going to happen to you. Bad things probably already have happened to you. When you blame everyone else for your struggles, all you’re really doing is feeding into your own feelings of misery and helplessness. Your emotional well-being is your responsibility, and you get to decide what has the power to destroy you.
Feeling like a victim occurs when you live in a state of reflexive reaction; that is, instantly reacting to things that happen rather than thoughtfully responding. If you reflexively react, then anytime someone speaks harshly or looks at you disapprovingly or criticizes you (even if it’s constructively), or doesn’t interact with you by giving you the level of approval and affection you think they should, you will feel hurt and upset, like they have wronged you, like everyone is out to get you. When you take a step back and separate yourself from your initial emotional response, you will see things more clearly. You’ll realize that not everything is about you, and most of the time when someone is being distant or harsh it has to do with something going on in their own life and is not a reflection on you or their feelings toward you in any way.
MORE: How to Handle Criticism Like a Champ
2. Worry About Everything
Worrying is a tricky animal. It seems like a productive pursuit, yet it doesn’t actually result in anything other than putting you in a negative headspace. A lot of us get caught up in solving problems that haven’t yet happened. I definitely struggle with this one, and anytime I find myself worrying about some terrible future outcome I tell myself: “Don’t solve a problem until there is a problem to solve.”
Yes, there is a chance that you will lose your job, that you will face financial difficulty, that your boyfriend will leave, that your husband will cheat, that you’ll get the flu–there are a million bad things that could potentially happen, but what’s the point of worrying about them unless they are happening? Instead, focus on living in the present and have faith that should problems arise down the line, you will be able to handle them.
MORE: How to Stop Stressing Over Your Relationship
3. Compare Yourself to Others
Despite what you see on Facebook and Instagram, no one lives a perfect, problem-free life. If you constantly compare yourself to others, you will always feel less than. A lot of us experience real feelings of negativity because of someone else’s success- an engagement, a raise, a dream job, an amazing (and worse yet, affordable!) apartment in NYC, a new designer handbag. The funny thing about that is their success had absolutely no direct impact on your life–nothing was taken away from you (unless it was actually taken away, like someone stealing your job or your man or your handbag), and your life is no different now than it was before their success.
Comparing ourselves to others is a breeding ground for feelings of envy and jealousy, which are the ugliest of vices. Some people will have more than you, some will have less. Everyone’s life is made up of a unique combination of abundance and need, and everyone is just trying to bridge the gap and attain a happy balance. Instead of looking at what other people have that you want and comparing yourself to someone else, compare yourself only to yourself. Reflect on how you have grown and changed and how you are better than you were.
4. Listen to Your Inner Critic
All of us are forced to coexist with an inner critic who tries to undermine us. It can come in the form of a quiet whisper or overpowering shout depending on what you’ve been through in life. The inner critic is the one who tells you you’re not worthy, that this guy will leave, that you’ll never be successful, that you will never be good enough. But this voice only has as much power as you give it. This inner critic is not reality, it is a product born from a painful or traumatic past. When you treat it as the ultimate authority of who you are, you will block yourself from ever being fully happy and at ease.
Thoughts are real forces; they create a pulse that permeates your being and they can create real chemical changes. When you feed into your inner critic and let her call the shots, you are opening the floodgates for negativity to come pouring in, and this impacts everything- your mood, your energy, your vibe, the way you interact with others, the way you interact with yourself. Practice noticing your thoughts and identifying when your inner critic is speaking. Then, simply pluck her out like a weed or tell her that her opinions are not valid or needed.
5. Stay Stuck in the Past
When you ruminate over events from the past, you are taking yourself out of the present and engaging with a reality that is no longer relevant. We are all works in progress, we all make mistakes and have lessons to learn (and sometimes relearn as many times as necessary). Staying stuck in the past won’t change or fix anything. All it will do is produce feelings of pain and remorse. You may also block yourself from finding true happiness and satisfaction (this is especially true when it comes to holding onto thoughts and memories of a guy who broke your heart).
Instead of living life looking through the rearview mirror, focus on what you learned from the experience and try to really internalize it so you can move on, feeling confident that history won’t repeat itself.
MORE: 30 Lessons Learned on Life & Love in 30 Years
6. Never See the Good
Something good happens and you write it off as a fluke. Something bad happens and it’s because you’re incompetent, stupid, lazy, bad, wrong. Throughout the day, some things will go right and others will go wrong. And there won’t always be an equal balance, sometimes it’ll skew more towards wrong (and the best days are when it all skews right!).
The point is, you get to choose what to focus on. You can dwell on the bad and complain about it to anyone who will listen, or you can reflect on the good. Learning to express gratitude is one of the most fundamental skills when it comes to your happiness and well-being. It’s also important to note that when you focus on the bad, you tend to attract more bad things. When you shift your focus–and see the proverbial glass as half full–everything shifts toward the better.
Got any other surefire ways to be miserable? Or straight up tips to be happy? Tell us in comments!