Seven ways to be miserable, and how to avoid them

You know the thing about wishing to suddenly be rich, without working for it? That’s #6 on the list. The only one who gets that is Donald Trump, and how happy does he look?

Also, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” That’s Abraham Lincoln, who was probably clinically depressed almost his entire life. Maybe there’s hope for you yet. But #6 is a bitch.

My point isn’t that I suddenly wish to be rich without working for it. I mean, that’d be nice, but it’s not going to happen. I’m just using finances as a metaphor. I can adapt a set of simple behaviors that will improve my finances… just, not by very much. I can only get an extra a few hundred dollars a month if I act as frugally as possible. Which is nice, but it’s hardly a major change. Happiness is similar.

Happiness, like finances, is complicated. In contrast to Mr. Lincoln’s statement, the current estimate is about 50% of a person’s happiness level is basically set by genetic and possibly environmental factors. The other factors are situational, but that’s not to say that they’re all under our direct control either. For example, parents who suffer the loss of a child tend to show a lasting decrease in happiness level. Lottery winners actually do show a minor increase in happiness. Not much, but a couple points. More stable income levels correlate positively with happiness, indicating that it’s less to do with the amount of money itself, but rather job satisfaction. People with good marriages, and a focus on family tend to be happier as well, though that might also be a result of personality factors that aren’t under direct control. And all of this is under the assumption that you don’t have any major mental health issues, like depression.

The things on this list are, ultimately, minor provinces of happiness. If you want to make serious improvements to your happiness level, you need to make serious improvements to your life. Which I believe most miserable people already understand very well.


I think I’ll stick with one of the classics:

Paul Watzlawick: The Situation Is Hopeless, But Not Serious: The Pursuit of Unhappiness, 1983

Doomsday preppers aren’t preparing for the worst - that’s just what they tell other people (and probably themselves). They’re preparing for the moment when the current world hegemony collapses, so that they can leap directly into the positions of relative power they deserve, and do all the nasty things they dream about doing to other people (and that they expect those other people dream about doing to them).


I really love this, curious as to how you did the animation.

It’s true though. There isn’t any substitute for face to face interactions.

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I believe left out is being unhappy that things are only mostly good. I often do this, and see it with many people, We’re not talking glass half full, but 3/4 or 7/8. But we obsess over that last bit.

My wife, who is the sanest person I’ve ever met, says the big difference between us is I drag out of my memory things that were bad, or mistakes I made, and let them hurt me agqain. She pulls from the memory closet the good things, and polished them up and cherishes them. My brain says: “why think about good things, there’s nothing to resolve” and that’s the problem. There’s no balance. If I could only learn how to obsess about how great my wife and kids are and how lucky I am to be financially stable.

Exactamundo (God, I still love using Fonzie words). We’re not stupid or misinformed or deprived of fresh air. We know what’s wrong, intellectually. Shelve your platitudes, which strike me only as eloquent and elaborate versions of “get outside more” – the one and only thing that’s ever helped me is cognitive behavior therapy, which is really, really hard and not accomplished through reading a list that makes me feel guilty.


One thing I miss in the list is that, often, people are miserable because their surroundings are designed to make them feel that way. Think about it: plenty of influential people believe that social settings are zero sum games: for them to become richer, to have higher social status, etc… other people then need to become poorer, to have lower social status, etc…

For example: in a setting that revolves around social hierarchy, the majority of people will feel miserable. It is a direct consequence of the setting being designed so that people are higher up when more people are under them. It is designed to make everybody but one person feel miserable.

On the Internet, so called “social networks” are especially bad, because they compound that effect with the fact that they are financed by making their members poorer. There are countless studies correlating social networks usage with depression.

So advice #8: look around you who is making you miserable and find out why. It is a surprisingly frequent.


Sure it’s easy to say, here’s why you’re miserable and here’s how to do something about it. The problem is when you’re miserable it’s really damn hard to get into the kind of mindset where you’re able to do something. There’s plenty of things I know I can do to make my life better but goddamn if it isn’t a huge ordeal to actually get there. It’s far easier to just stay miserable and maintain the status quo.


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