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This is the one thing that keeps us going every day, especially when times are tough.
Hope for a better future, hope that whatever efforts you’re making today will pay off tomorrow, and hope that one day you will live the life of your dreams (assuming you aren’t already).
However, so many people get stuck in this frame of mind that the cards they’ve been dealt are so unfortunately wrong that they’re destined for eternal unhappiness.
Now, while this is not at all true, it really is up to you to change your life’s course.
In this article, we are going to talk about 5 things that you can do to ameliorate this persistent sense of misery and start feeling better. And I’m sure some of the factors we will mention are some that you’ve never considered to be a possible detriment to your well being.
But first, let’s talk a little about the difference between being unhappy with your life and being truly depressed.
Am I Clinically Depressed or Am I Going Through a Bout of Unhappiness?
If you feel severely depressed or hopeless to the point that you are having suicidal ideations, it’s critical to talk to a doctor, a mental health professional, or even just start by reaching out to a friend. The worse you feel about your life, the more important it is to talk to and interact with other people.
Depression is by far the most prevalent mental health disorder, representing 99% of all diagnosed mind/brain illnesses. This goes to show that if you feel like you may be suffering from depression, you’re certainly not alone.
It’s critical for people to recognize that depression is an illness, not a personal weakness that can be easily overcome (as it’s often stigmatized to be). Clinical depression is like any other medical ailment that can’t simply be willed away. But, despite its severity in nature, it can be treated and even prevented.
So why do people with depression abstain from getting the help they need–often making the situation worse, resulting in long-term effects? One reason for this is that depression manifests itself in a variety of ways, so it isn’t always easily recognized. Some ways that depression can present itself include:
If you’re depressed, you need to get help, whether this comes in the form of short- or long-term psychotherapy, medication, or both. With suicide now being the second leading cause of death among young people, it’s important to realize that trying to “get over” depression on your own is nearly impossible, as it’s hard to have clear insight when you’re living in a depressed emotional state. Therefore, it’s best to seek help to treat your depression.
With that said, there is also a chance that you’re simply unhappy with your current circumstances in life. Dr. Salvatore Maddi of The Hardiness Institute has spent 35 years studying the factors that predict how happy people will be with their lives. What may be surprising to some is that the answer doesn’t have to do with the amount of money you have or the number of struggles you endure.
Rather, your happiness with life depends on your ability to implement tools to improve how you perceive the world. You can build a life for yourself that has personal meaning and reflects your unique individual goals. Let’s take a look at some things that you can do to get back on track to enjoying your life again.
5 Things to Do if You're Really Unhappy
1. Regain Control
First thing’s first. I want you to believe me when I say that no matter what negative things are going on in your life, something has to change–and while you may feel helpless when it comes to creating that change–you’re not.
Yes, there are some illnesses and situations that you have no control over, but it’s always within your control to determine your reaction to these things and whatever actions you take to combat the threat of these factors taking over your entire existence. You have the ability to create room in your life for happiness.
You have to refocus. Instead of dwelling on things that are out of your control, concentrate on any actions that you can take to bring joy into your life. Read some books, go work out, or find whatever hobby makes you happy. While you might feel stuck with your pessimistic thoughts, you’re not. It’s well within your power to replace your negative inner monologue with confident and more uplifting self-talk.
2. Reduce or Eliminate Negative Triggers
What do you think of when you consider things that could trigger an episode of depression? Maybe the loss of a job, a breakup, being the caretaker of someone with a chronic illness, losing a loved one, divorce, infidelity…
But does social media come to mind?
The use of social media has a negative impact on mental health. In fact, several studies have found that people who spend the most time on social media have a significantly (up to 66%) higher rate of depression than those who don’t spend much time engaging in such activities.
Now, it’s true that using social media has its benefits. Some of these include:
However, there is endless research showing how the negative impacts of engaging with social media far outweigh the positives. Social media is a breeding ground for cyberbullying, social comparisons, sleep deprivation, reduced face-to-face interactions, etc.
Spending a lot of time on social media can easily result in symptoms of depression because users often:
It’s difficult to build compassion for other people–and for yourself–if your social interactions occur primarily online rather than in person. However, reducing your exposure to the negative trigger of social media allows you to see and relate to fellow human struggles.
3. Reduce Your Responsibilities
If you really hate your life, part of the reason may be because you’re tired, stressed, and possibly even overwhelmed from doing too much. Cut the things out that aren’t meaningful to you. This may be easier said than done, but find some childcare, release some of your volunteer shifts, and cut down on the hours you spend at work.
You don’t need to come up with a complicated method of determining which of your commitments have become detrimental to your mental health. You can probably tell if you find yourself avoiding certain emails, procrastinating on tasks, or dreading upcoming events. For example, you may find that you’re volunteering your time to an organization because you feel obligated to, rather than choosing to volunteer to obtain the sense of fulfillment that you once derived from helping other people.
So why volunteer to serve others in a way that adds stress to your life, rather than helping people in a way that plays to your strengths, nourishes you, and allows you to offer your best contributions in areas where you’re most effective?
While you may initially feel like you’re letting others down (or being selfish) by reclaiming some of your personal time, it will truly go unwasted if you’re intentional about how you spend it. This will ultimately benefit you and other people more in the end.
By weeding out any activities that bring you down and replacing them with pursuits that you find to be fulfilling, you will be living the life that you’re entitled to have, which will help increase your happiness.
4. What’s Worked in the Past?
If you want to change your life, you need to be strategic about it by basing your efforts on objective evidence, depending on what has worked for you in the past. You may feel that your current approach to life is “wrong” because you feel that you’re not as happy as other people, you’re less financially secure, and your relationships lack the solidity that you perceive others to have.
Your life doesn’t feel like it’s measuring up to what it should be. And, because your perception is your reality, you feel like you must make a change. So, what do you do? You look at what other people have done to improve their lives. The problem with this though is you may end up focusing your efforts doing something that doesn’t result in a significant impact, while disregarding some strategies that actually deserve your unique time and consideration.
In order to recognize what those bigger strategies are, you need to reflect on a few areas of your life:
Let me give you a personal example to make this more clear–and keep in mind that everyone is different, so something that may not work for me could be an effective tool for you.
Journaling is something that is very popular. People journal as a way to get their feelings down on paper, organize their thoughts, and create a record that can later be used to potentially learn from past mistakes. This is a wonderfully effective practice for some people–although I am not one of them. My handwriting is awful, I never end up going back and reading old journal entries, and while there are endless things you can write about in your journal, I just haven’t connected with the exercise.
However, I have benefitted from making running a priority and giving myself that “me” time to put all of my work aside, give myself space for some mental reflection, and listen to some podcasts that I find interesting. Because this has worked for me in the past, whenever I’m going through a period where I’m feeling unhappy, I make a conscious effort to not miss an opportunity to go for a run. Doing so allows me to have an escape from whatever is causing me stress and it directly improves my interactions and relationships with other people because I’ve been able to recharge my mind and therefore be a better mom/friend/employee.
If you take the time to think about how you have handled tough times in the past, you will likely start to notice some patterns of what has and hasn’t worked to improve your mental wellbeing. You may even recognize the amount of time that you’ve wasted engaging in practices that others swear by to improve their state of mind while you could have spent that time doing the things that actually work for you.
5. Change One Thing at a Time
Don’t try to do a giant upheaval to your life thinking that it will go from awful to great. Start small– and once you begin to gain positive momentum, start stacking more positive habits onto what you’re doing. While I’m sure you’re in a rush to eliminate your unhappiness, you want to be strategic enough about what you’re doing so you don’t end up in a worse position than where you started.
Part of making this slow transition is learning to enjoy the process of everything that you’re doing. You should derive happiness from working toward a goal rather than only feeling happy the moment at which you achieve something. When all is said and done, achieving your goals will certainly impact your life, but reaching these milestones won’t change any fundamental dissatisfaction that you have with your life. You will likely feel good for a moment, but once the excitement wears off and your goal-achieving adrenaline starts to go down, you will find yourself facing your normal struggles.
You need to find fulfillment in your chosen career, meaning in your relationships, and joy in your leisure activities. Taking the steps to create a life in which you enjoy the small processes of your everyday routine is how you will ultimately learn to love your life. This simply goes to show that your happiness and satisfaction truly depend on your attitude and self-beliefs.
Final Thoughts on Things to Do if You’re Really Unhappy
The most important thing you can do is to choose to fight for happiness. Passively allowing life to slide by will always leave you wondering why you can’t be the one to live that “ideal” life, why you can’t be a success story, and why you can’t be the one to make a big impact on the world.
Remember that whatever challenges you’re facing right now are just your current circumstances and they can be changed. But it’s you who has to take the corrective action to change things.
Circling back to the idea of hope, it’s critical for you to maintain hope for your future and believe that things can get better. Stay optimistic, tell yourself that your future is bright, and ignore evidence that speaks to the contrary.
Finally, if you want to take your goal-setting efforts to the next level, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.
Connie Mathers is a professional editor and freelance writer. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her daughter and two dogs, running, or working at her full-time job as a social worker in Richmond, VA.