It’s Okay to be Unhappy

One of the most destructive myths is believing you need to be happy all of the time.  Abraham Lincoln fought depression for most of his life.  Mark Twain suffered from bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression.  Happiness is important.  But it’s not a prerequisite for success.

I think this is especially important to remember around the holiday season.  With so many commercials filled with smiling faces of flawless people living perfect lives, it’s no wonder so many people get depressed.  When unhappiness is culturally viewed as a source of failure, it causes a negative cycle where people are unhappy because of their depression.

Other People Have More Fun Than You

In most college surveys, most students grossly overestimate the amount that their peers drink alcohol and have sex.  Happiness is a form of social status in Western culture.  Many people put on smiling faces to cover up mild discontent.  If you’re basing your expectations for life on the faces of other people, then you’re going to come up short.

Stop basing your expectations off the people sitting around you.  Because chances are, they’re basing their expectations off of you.

Don’t Drive in Circles

Your emotions are the dashboard gauges in life.  They let you know if you’re running out of gas or if you’re driving too fast or slow.  But, you got in the car with a purpose to drive somewhere.  The gauges can give you corrective feedback, but they can’t be your reason to start the car.

Negative feedback is just an internal warning that you need to make an adjustment.  It’s not a grander sign of failure, it’s just a speedometer that’s running a bit high, or a fuel gauge showing you’re almost empty.  Unhappiness is a push for you to recognize a truth about your situation and make a change to fix it.  The only people who never experience unhappiness are the people who’ve decided not to drive.

Respect Your State

I’m having a happy December this year.  I also know people that aren’t, and in the past, I’ve definitely been one of them.  Whatever case you might be, respect your state.  Don’t ignore it or avoid it, but realize it’s also not uncommon.

  • ggw_bach

    agreed. Chasing after happiness is a false goal. Much better is going for peace of mind. Knowing that what you are doing is purposeful, valued, important, and significant. Peace of mind knowing that you are where you need to be, even if that is a difficult and trying spot.

  • Gary

    This really put a smile on my face.
    Cheers 😉

  • Sofi

    Hey Scot,

    I’m a little bit confused about “Respect you state”. My question is, what is the connection between “Being Unhappy” and “Respecting State”? I don’t get it.

    Anyway, keep blogging, and good luck…


  • Ambika

    when we are unhappy, we crib & call that a shit moment. Instead if we can respect without getting entangled in those negative emotions & if possible correct that particular hindrance or keep patience to let it pass, then we won’t lose sight of the goals/passions we truly will want to pursue in life.

    getting caught in the emotions will delusion us to lose sight of our true interests.

  • Margaret

    Great article! Especially since moods tend to change like the weather.

    I have this tendency to assume that everybody else does better than me – gets better grades while studying less, parties more, is better looking. I even remember making an A- in one of the hardest economics courses in the school and feeling bad because “surely somebody else got an A.. oh and I bet they are happier than me.. oh and I bet they studied less. Well, just another proof that my life sucks. “

    It’s so sad how one bad thing can spiral down into full blown unhappiness if we start thinking this way.

  • Scott Young


    Respect Your State was an article I wrote a few years ago (see the hyperlink in the article) that had a similar message to this article. Namely, that you should respect how you feel at a given moment (whether it’s unhappy, frustrated, bored or content). By respecting that state, you can get the feedback you need to make corrections. I think it ties in nicely to this article.


  • Thomas

    As ggw_bach said in the first comment chasing after happiness is not a goal. It makes me remember a quote from M.L. Runbeck: “Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of traveling.”

    That’s true in western culture we HAVE TO be happy…but it’s a no-end race.
    I learned how to accept time when I’m not happy and use it to make me stronger. I sometimes look for depressing mood (I mean, not “look for” in fact but don’t fighting against). It helps me to boost my energy afterward and come back in the race with a great smile.

  • J.D. Meier

    Have you seen Learned Optimism or Feeling Good?

    They’re prescriptive guidance for thought patterns. Think of them as patterns and practices for feeling good.

    If you’re a particuarly harsh critic, even on yourself, you can swtich hats to switch your focus. For example, if you always ask what’s wrong, you switch hats and ask what’s right. Usually people fall into the habit of just one hat — the optimist, the Devil’s advocate, the facts/figures. If you know this, you can switch your focus by switching your question. The next time something sucks, just ask – what are 3 things that don’t suck? 😉

  • Bruce

    its easy to be happy when one has everything.
    The challenge is to remain happy when one has less or nothing.

  • Valentino

    “Happiness is important. But it’s not a prerequisite for success.”

    sure, but what’s you goal? having success or being happy?

    as Tony Robbins said, if we take our goals and we ask ourself why we want to achieve that particular goal, the final answer is happiness (or the lack of pain)

    I think that’s true

    if our goal is to gain some money, to lose weight, or a more noble causes like making the difference in this world, we actually are pursuing them for the special feeling that we think we’ll get from this achievement

    I think success without happiness is not a good thing

    the problem is: happiness is a complex goal to achieve

    Brian Tracy, for example, says that happiness follow the “law of indirect effort”, meaning that you can’t pursue it by himself, but you may get happiness indirectly from other goals.

  • karim

    Good post on positive thinking.

    karim – Positive thinking