Unhappiness 101

Something was wrong. Deep inside I knew I wasn’t happy. Of course, I did everything in my power to numb that feeling and convince myself that I was alright.

Does that sound like the description of a happiness blogger? Because it is. It describes my situation, the one I’ve been in for most of this year.

I know how easy it is to fall into the trap of thinking that your favorite bloggers, your superheroes are always happy. They’re living their dreams after all, right? I want to share this part of my story with you today to debunk this happiness myth and show you that I, we, are all human. We suffer just as much. And we make newbie mistakes. All the time.

Here’s my story:

Big ambitions, hard work and hating your life

Our story begins in the first week of January. I mapped out my goals for the year, feeling excited and ambitious

I was excited about what was to come and convinced that this would be the best year of my life. I was ready to work hard and determined to reach my goals.

So I went to work. And I worked. And worked. And worked.

Until I looked up from my laptop one day and realized I wasn’t happy. I was feeling overwhelmed, burned out even. This wasn’t what I wanted my life to look like, working all day, unable to relax in the evenings.

My life started feeling like a giant to-do list. Something was off. Being the serious life coach that I am, I decided to do something about it. I knew stuff about happiness after all. I’m writing a blog about it. I could figure this out.

So I did my research. I talked to coaches, friends, mentors, my mom and random internet people. I experimented with new habits, affirmations, time management, journaling exercises, you name it. I did so much.

As time went on things got better, but deep down, I still didn’t feel alright. At this point, I had been bugging people with “my overwhelm issue” for months, and I started feeling embarrassed when my friends asked me how I was and all I could say was “Stress. Lots of stress. But I’m not feeling too overwhelmed anymore. So it’s good. Yeah, I’m good.”

I didn’t get it.

Why was I still unhappy?

Why oh why? I had searched for advice, implemented it, reflected on it. Done so many things. And still the feeling remained. I tried telling myself that it was not that big of a deal, that I just needed to push through it and get on with my life.

But every morning when I woke up there was this nagging voice inside of me:

  • Your life feels like a giant to-do list. For god’s sake, we need some time off!
  • This can’t be right. Unhappiness is not the reason you’ve started this journey. You wanted to be happier and now look at yourself, all you do is push yourself, work hard and feel guilty about not doing enough.
  • IF YOU DON’T START LISTENING TO ME RIGHT NOW I WILL MAKE YOU CRY DURING DINNER TONIGHT! Stop running away from your feelings!

You might expect that I got to my senses and took my inner voice seriously. Na. I went on for weeks, numbing the voice with more and more work and sophisticated talks about my feelings so I could pretend I was listening to them while I wasn’t. I resisted. It persisted. 

The surest way to unhappiness: Don’t trust your feelings

But after a while, I slowly started to let my guards down. I allowed myself little spaces where I did listen to my feelings.

I’d cry in front of the mirror for an hour and feel so relieved. I went straight back to beating myself up the next morning, but these small moments of feeling my feelings and listening to what I really wanted to be added up.

Over the course of a few weeks, I started to understand where the voice was coming from and what it wanted to tell me.

You see, I had been doing things for months to make the overwhelm and unhappiness go away. The only thing I hadn’t done was to listen to my intuition.

I couldn’t allow myself to simply sit and be with my feelings. I was too scared of what they might tell me.

What if my intuition was so fed up with this lifestyle that it wanted me to quit and throw away everything I had worked so hard for?

What if -gasp- this idea of living a life you love was a big hoax and not achievable for me? It took me 4 months to muster up the courage to face my feelings and listen to what they had been trying to tell me all along.

Here’s what I learned from listening to my intuition. It showed me that I had basically been following an “Unhappiness 101” script all these months.

Today I want to share my unhappiness expert knowledge with you so you can check in and see if any of this sounds a bit too familiar to your own life.

Unhappiness 101

Attaching your self-worth to your to-do list. This is a big one. I only allowed myself to be happy (or more accurately, not unhappy) when I got things done. If I had an unproductive day I felt like a loser.

Reality check: You’re awesome because you’re you, not because you’ve been able to cross 12 items off your list today. Sure, what we do with our life is important, but if your self-worth is attached to it you lose no matter how much you get done.

Searching for happiness in achievements. “If I only push through this and work hard now until I have my first client/get the degree/earn x amount of money then I will be able to relax/be present/take care of my health, but right now, I just can’t. If I only work a little harder and things will be alright.”

Translation: Now’s not the time to be happy. I will be happy once I achieve x.

Guess what: If we don’t focus on our happiness now and live in the future, it’s gonna be really hard to focus on the now once the big day has arrived. Science shows that achievements have a rather low influence on our happiness levels. We’ll get a short high when we make the big sale, marry our boyfriend or hold that bachelor’s degree in our hands, but only a few days after our happiness levels are back to normal. So if we search for happiness in achievements, we’re pretty much screwed.

Valuing other people’s opinions more than your intuition. I made the mistake of handing over my mind to all kinds of experts, coaches, and friends. I started valuing other people’s ideas on how things should be done and how my life should be lived more than my own ideas. No wonder that little voice in my head went insane! I stopped trusting my intuition and generally believed other people more than I did my own, beautiful belly intelligence. The surest way to unhappiness. 

Never enough mindset. There’s not enough time. I don’t have enough money. If we live in a constant scarcity mindset, it’s no wonder that we’re having a hard time being present and letting happiness take over. After all, who has time for that? Right. For more on this subject read Too Much to Do Too Little Time: How to Get Off The Hamster Wheel.

Beating yourself up Mohammed Ali style. I didn’t get everything done today, I’m a failure. SLAP. I need to work harder to prove to people that I’m serious about this. SLAP SLAP. I’m a total jerk. Everyone else is doing so much better than me. BAAM.

Beating ourselves up when we fail to live up to our expectations comes naturally for most of us, yet it’s one of the most destructive things we can do to our self-worth and trust. And no, it doesn’t make us a better person or more productive.

Punishing ourselves is never the right choice. I was a black belt ninja master at beating myself up for just about everything.

Didn’t reply to every email in my inbox? Lazy buns. Behind on the project because I took some time to rest and read today? Selfish bitch. Ouch.

How about we get more used to the C word in these situations? Yup. C.O.M.P.A.S.S.I.O.N. She’s a gentle life saver when you feel less than fabulous. Once I got into the habit of forgiving myself for not crossing item 34 off my to-do list. I did not only feel better about myself, I also stopped resisting work so much. Hence my inspiration and creativity stop over at my place more often. Which is why I’m able to write this blog post today.

Are you excited when you wake up in the morning?

This has proven to be the litmus test for me when it comes to figuring out my happiness level. If I wake up excited more often than not, I know I’m on the right track. But when I find myself dreading to wake up and get to work in the morning, that’s a clear sign that something is off.

So why don’t you take this quick litmus test and have a look at your happiness level: Are you waking up excited most of the time? If not, are you following any of the Unhappiness 101 rules above? Let us know in the comments below.

Iris

Author: Iris

Iris' coaching helps women simplify their daily lives so feel focused and at ease. Her work is inspired by minimalism, habit work, and the psychological knowledge she gained during her BA in Psychology. Her laser-sharp listening skills coupled with her warmth make sure you feel seen as you decipher overwhelm and turn it into clarity. Clients report her sessions leave them feeling inspired, appreciated and "realistically invincible".

  • Wow. Well done. Epic.

    Well done on getting that out there :-) There’s so much in that post, and I love how you’ve written it. I was going to pick out bits I love but that would have taken years. I love this post :-)

    • Thanks Jo. Talking to you and Kate in Oslo was one of the catalysts for me to realize why I was so unhappy. Thank you!

  • Thanks for this post, it’s so refreshingly honest :)And wonderful advice!

    I just saw this and it made me think of your post: http://realbeautysketches.dove.com/ It’s about beauty but I think it applies to feelings as well. If we could only see ourselves from others perspective, we’d be much happier, I’m sure!

    • I love how dove is helping women with their body image, it’s such a huge issue for most of us.

      It might be easier if we could see ourselves from the perspective of someone who really loves us. What I’m doing right now is trying to see myself through my own lens, trying to strip away all the extra ideas I have about who I should be. Great experience!

  • Wow. You’re amazing. You hit the point like always. I think it’s hard to resist all these habits. How do you find out all that about yourself? It’s soo hard to see, where you lie to yourself and where you do mistakes. Well, I think it is…
    xxx

    • Thanks, Vera! I find out most of these things through a combination of listening to myself (could be journaling or just having the question of “how do I feel” in mind) and deep conversations with friends. For some reason, talking about ideas and thoughts that started growing in my head helps me get really clear on my ideas and feelings.

      Let me know if you need somebody for these kinds of conversations.:)

  • Wonderful that you found this out now as many of us go through these symptoms for years and still do not realize it. Thanks for posting this and helping us get a head start from your experiences. Always love your posts , you are an inspiration to your readers – Thanks for sharing your feelings and honesty.

  • Hi Iris,
    Thanks for the post. What really stuck out for me was the “Valuing other people’s opinions more than your intuition.” I had a business coach and I wasn’t happy with where they were taking the business. I was following their advice and becoming more and more unhappy and frustrated. It wasn’t until I stopped, listened to myself and started doing it my way that I became happier. Months later I had a ‘lightbulb’ moment and the funny things was that the Coach hadn’t been listening to what my business was about and where I wanted it to go. They were on their own agenda. So neither of us was listening to what I wanted. I try as much as possible to write in my journal. When I write about what I’ve done I make a conscious effort to talk about how I FELT. That way I’m always checking in with myself.

    • Angela,

      I love your story. It showcases something that I too had to learn the hard way. I got so stuck in what other people told me to do with my blog that I couldn’t even remember why I was doing what I was doing. Once I started reconnecting to my feelings it got really clear what I needed to focus my energy on and I’m feeling inspired and motivated to write and share my ideas and stories with all of you again.

      Thanks for sharing!

  • Wow epic post Iris. Loved it, love your honesty and the way you are actually able to look upon yourself and auto-analyze yourself. Yes it took time, but this was so much worth it, right?
    So, how are you feeling right now? Are you better? Did you remove some of the items on your goals list?

    And yes, I did recognize some symptoms (especially evaluating myself using the numbers of items I’ve crossed off my todolist)… but so many times I just give up on my todolist and go have a break… I think I’m fine, at least I still take time for the most important things (friends, girlfriend, laughing, …). My “business” doesn’t go as fast as I’d like, but I mostly feel fine with my life.
    Oh and I’m definitely excited most mornings, so I guess i’m on the right track.

    • Thanks for asking, Nicolas! I’m going to write a whole post on how I went from unhappy to happy Iris, the main thing was that I started to make how good things/activities made me feel the new measurement of success in my life.

      Do you just feel fine about your life, or do you feel excited about it? Just a thought you could play with. :)

  • Awesome post Iris! I think you underestimate how well you’ve built and shaped your blog and the wonderful, clear voice that you have.
    Thank you for being vulnerable. I went thru that curve last year – took myself back to severe adrenal fatigue trying to tick that “to do” list of and (slowly) I’m truely absorbing and appreciating how little things add up to breathing on a bigger level.

  • Yeah, Iris! I know what you mean: I often have an equal problem these days. Thank you for this post… I think I’ll just sit down right now and try to find out what I’d really like to do today. Its a bit hard to forget the to-do-list for a while…but necessary. SUN SUN AND FRESH AIR :D
    <3

  • Thanks Iris. Breaking it down into the rules of “Unhappiness 101” is a helpful way of dealing with a subject that often feels too nebulous and vague (emotionally) to tackle.

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