There is a lot of advice given in blogs, popular psychology books, and even religious teachings about how to be happy. I figured we could really use some balance in this regard, and so will devote this column to teaching you how to be unhappy. Though many of you feel like you are already good at this skill, we all have room to improve (or in this case dis-improve?). Unhappiness is really not that difficult, you just need to follow these three easy steps.
1. Live in the Future or the Past
The first step to unhappiness and misery is to live in the either future or the past. Avoid experiencing the present moment and its enjoyments and pains. Live instead dreaming of an amazing future or bemoaning an unchangeable past.
Living in the future is an easy task for most of us in developed, industrialized countries. We have been taught that joy will come when we graduate, get a better job, get married, have children, make more money, or fall in love. The reason this creates misery so assuredly is that happiness can only happen in the present. As long as we imagine that happiness will come when some future state takes place, we never experience the joys of what is happening now. Take, for example, a student waiting to graduate. They imagine that the misery in their life comes from not achieving some future goal. They live in what you might refer to as an “if-then” time frame—If I achieve X, then I will be happy. What is brilliant is that when they achieve that X, then decide that they will only be happy when they achieve Y. This is a true road to misery. If you already do this as a habit, keep it up! You are well on your way to a long life of endless unhappiness!
Living in the past is nearly as easy and equally as effective as living in anticipation. The past is, as we see it, set in stone and cannot be changed. Therefore, living in regret or sorrow for some past event is a sure way to live in uninterrupted unhappiness. Since past events cannot be undone or taken back, our present misery cannot fix them. This is the beauty of past-living, or the “if-only” state. Here, we believe that if only we hadn’t done X (or someone hadn’t done Y), we would be happy. Since, of course, we have not yet invented the time machine, dwelling on these past events cannot change them one bit. And this is why they are key to our mastering the skill of unhappiness.
The main thing to put all your effort into is avoiding noticing what is happening around you right now. Don’t dwell on the beauties of nature around you. Don’t be aware of the love of people who are with you now. Don’t focus on what you can do today to make your life better or improve the lives of others. Instead, imagine a day when you are filthy rich, married to a goddess, and living on the beach. That day will surely come (trust me—that is normal life), then you will be happy—but only if you’ve also figured out a way to fix your past mistakes.
2. Be Sedentary
Tired of hearing people talking about moving your body around? Tired of feeling guilty about your inaction? Well, I am here to tell you that you are on the right track. Inactivity is a wonderful way to cultivate your misery!
The sedentary life is the source of a multitude of physical diseases and emotional problems. All kinds of research is coming out supporting me on this one. Inactivity is related to depression, anxiety, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and so many more misery-inducing conditions. Think of all the unhappiness you can foster in yourself and others when you can endlessly drone on about how lousy your life is! Yes, just keep sitting still and tell those active people to stick it!
Did you know what the best antidepressant is—for real? Exercise. A study done at Duke University Medical School found that 30 minutes of brisk exercise, three days a week, was as effective as taking an antidepressant. And the relapse rate for the exercisers was just 7%, while the relapse rate for the drug-takers was over 30% (see the study here).
What is the lesson to learn in this? If you want to feel miserable and to cultivate your experience of unhappiness, the last thing you want to do is move your body around. Don’t walk any more than you have to. And whatever you do, don’t dance! What can you do instead of walk? Watch TV, play video games, play games on your phone, and spend a lot of time on Facebook (which, according to this study, has the added advantage of also causing misery—a double whammy!).
3. Think About Yourself
One of the primary keys to long-lasting unhappiness is to think about yourself—a lot! You need to spend a good portion of your day contemplating your own unhappiness and evaluating whether or not your life is enjoyable. Don’t all of those happy do-gooders just drive you crazy? Well, don’t be like them. Remember that you are the only important person in your life.
The 1980s were a great time in America for this unhappiness-creating tool. There was even a popular song that taught us that the “greatest love of all” is “learning to love yourself.” That decade also showed a huge increase in literature on self-esteem and self-actualization as well as a major blossoming of the diagnosis of depression. Cultures where people are less self-oriented are clearly less effective at being unhappy. Just think about this: living in the USA puts you at twice the risk for major depression than does living in Mexico, and three times the risk than does living in China (see the study by clicking here). These countries clearly have not learned the unhappiness lesson to think more of the self and less of others.
Many religious teachers—from Buddha to Jesus—have taught you to forget yourself. The key to unhappiness is to pretend that they simply didn’t mean any of it. You must reinterpret Buddhist teachings to mean that you must seek only for your own enlightenment. Then do the wonderful word-dance to reinterpret the Christian teaching of “love thy neighbor as thyself” to actually mean “love yourself before you can love your neighbor.” This will help immensely in your search for unhappiness.
Now go forward and cultivate misery! Enjoy your unhappiness. Spread it around like a wonderfully contagious disease. Follow these simple, easy steps and you will be well on your way to woe and misery.
Won’t it feel great to stick it to the happy people?