Happiness is easy when something wonderful happens—the birth of a child, finding love, getting married, landing your dream job, a financial windfall. But those are infrequent events. As tragedies and disappointments accumulate, happiness becomes a choice.
I found over 400 books on Amazon about how to be happy. If happiness were so easy, I suspect there wouldn’t be so many books on how to achieve it.
Martin Seligman, a well-known psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, became the strongest voice for the new field of positive psychology. His prior research in learned helplessness, a condition where animals and people learn that they have no possibility of success and give up, might have inspired him.
Most happiness texts focus on having goals, working toward achieving them, and maintaining good social relationships. I have nothing to add to that equation.
But then I began thinking; what if attaining happiness was merely stopping the behaviors that cause unhappiness. On this, I may be an expert. So here are my keys to unhappiness.
- Keep Score. In your relationships with people, keep score about the help that you provide vs. the assistance that you receive. We always overvalue our own contributions and undervalue others. Keep these tallies and you are assured of unhappiness.
- Envy. Looking at what others have in relation to what you lack is sure to make you feel resentful, and, yes unhappy.
- Harbor Resentments. Why forget a past hurt? After all, keeping our memory in our older years is difficult. Your parents, your friends, your former lovers; all of the slights over the years increase in value; so keep track of them.
- Self-Loathing. Keep reminding yourself that you are not good enough and that you provide no value; it is a sure way to undermine your contribution in the world.
- Self-Absorption and Selfishness. Make sure that people recognize that your needs are more important than theirs.
- Grumpiness. Being grumpy offers a double bonus; you see the world as irritating and you also irritate others. An added bonus: this can keep loved ones from wanting to be a part of your life.
- Devalue what you have. You deserve more. So what if you have children who love you, loyal siblings, and friends? They aren’t anything compared to what you really need.
- Don’t Keep up Your Appearance. What do you care if people are offended by your dress or scent?
- Avoid love. Avoid pets and anyone who gives you unconditional love.
- Watch the news every day. This allows you to realize that the world is “on fire;” and there is nothing that you can do to fix it. Another double bonus; feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness.
I fear that I could go on; but, this looks like a pretty good list. I hope that you have other suggestions.
Hmmm, maybe I should write a book.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.