What do we mean when we say “I’m unhappy”? or “I’m not happy”?

And, what do we mean when we ask “How can I find happiness”?  or “How can I be happier”?

Happiness, as we know, is not necessarily jumping up and down with glee.  And, it may not even be when we’re smiling.  Most importantly, even if happiness were easy to define, it’s certainly not always present.  It’s not a consistent state of mind.  The best research about happiness recognizes that it’s not a single concept, but a group of ideas or dimensions that work together.

Some of the concepts or dimensions of happiness include: (1) experiencing positive feeling-states or emotions  (2) engaging in challenging activities (3) having meaningful activities and pursuits that are satisfying to self and other (4) maintaining healthy relationships and social connectedness  (5) having accomplishments or achievements and the recognition that comes them

It goes without saying that some of these items are more important and others less important to each of us.  But it also goes without saying that the absence of one or more of these items can lead to a sense of unhappiness and the loss of well-being.

If there’s a deficit in your life—if you’re not engaged in meaningful work; if you’re not connected to other people in satisfying relationships; if you don’t feel good or feel well, or if you don’t have a sense of accomplishment, then happiness is likely to be elusive, infrequent, and hard to sustain.

How to find happiness is a challenge connected to finding and incorporating some of the above items into your life.  But for some, that only begs the question—How do I adopt more dimensions of happiness into my life?  How do I fill in what’s missing? 

We all know the person who has great promise and who starts off with a bang, only to deflate, and eventually drop the ball entirely.  We’ve watched this person as he or she has tried over and over to make some progress, only to be defeated by an invisible hand.

Similarly, we all know the person with the dark cloud hanging over them.  They’re almost always feeling down and negative.  You can sense their unhappiness.  They try to shake it off, but it seems to return.  And we also know the person who shrinks from relationships and social connections, who lives life alone and turns down opportunities for relating, connecting and loving.  They may try to break the pattern by reaching out and trying to forge connections, but they are easily derailed by disappointment and we eventually find them retreating to their isolation.

We see people struggle and more often than not, we don’t see progress.  That’s because finding happiness is a lot harder and more complex than it first appears.  Simply following a recipe for improving your happiness-quotient won’t do it!  The injured areas of the self that pull you toward unhappiness first need attending.  They need healing.  Indeed, they exert themselves by becoming roadblocks to happiness.  It’s as if they’re being told “You want happiness?  Deal with what hurts first.  Otherwise, it will get in the way, no matter how hard you try.”

So, perhaps when we hear the phrase “I’m unhappy,” what’s really being said is “I’m hurting and it’s getting in the way of being happy.”

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