Bill Cottringer

“Unhappiness is just the accumulation of an unwanted feeling arising from incorrect thoughts about and the anxiety of not being able to remove the source of the unhappiness and the increased unhappiness to which all this leads.” ~The Author.

My last article about happiness listed all the twenty sure things you could do to achieve more happiness in your life. It was based on true wisdom from hard life lessons, but it’s really only half the story. The previous happiness article was a bit too idealistic. Such idealistic advice may not be germane for the majority of us just trying to survive past the current life stresses and suffering. This is especially so with such seemingly irrelevant and unattainable high flying suggestions like stretching your ability to love unconditionally, searching for the absolute truth of something, and growing a sense of oneness. These things are not on your mind when you may not have a job, just got wiped out from a divorce, are suffering from chronic, excruciating back pain, lost a loved one unexpectedly or forfeited over half of your life savings to the dark hole of the financial recession.

So, what is the rest of the happiness story for us mere mortals? It begins with putting aside the primary goal of increasing your happiness sources and avoiding the unhappiness ones. That simple prescription makes perfect sense, but there are layers to deal with before this path can even be accessed by most people who are fighting to survive. Now, the personal development goal becomes doing something about the degree of unhappiness that is getting in the way and making things worse, rather needlessly. At this point we have a reality check to digest and here it is.

There will always be very negative, uncomfortable and downright lousy things that happen in life all the time—failed relationships despite our efforts and desires, financial problems no matter how hard we work, unemployment no matter how loyal we are to an employer, kids getting in trouble with the law in spite of good parenting, foul weather stripping us of everything we own despite sensible preparations, and extreme physical hurts and pains that aren’t deserved. They are very real part of life and just won’t go away no matter how hard you try or what you want or expect. But these events only bring about direct discomfort, unfamiliar changes, discontent and displeasure, which are only the very beginning of “unhappiness.” There is nothing inherently good or bad or happy or unhappy about the events themselves.

The real unhappiness that has to be understood and dealt with for any personal growth to occur, is the unhappy thoughts and feelings we unthinkingly add in our personalized mental interpretations and explanations, afterwards in reaction to the unwanted event. When we start imagining the negative event to be personally directed towards us for some kind of punishment or other mistake, and also likely to hang around for a long time and spill over into everything else, it adds other layers of real unhappiness. Then we begin being unhappy about being unhappy and being unhappy about not being able to do anything about what is making us unhappy to begin with.

This double unhappiness whammy is the so-called negative vicious circle to the no-where zone. In this trap you are like a Tasmanian Devil going round and round in a frenzy, eventually zapping all you energy and collapsing with exhaustion. Admittedly, it is very difficult to see yourself doing this and sometimes it takes a third party to help you wake up to what is going on. A set of outside eyes often see more than inside ones.

What is the solution to this predicament?

1. Realize and accept the reality that mental, emotional and physical suffering are all as much a part of life as night and day, bad weather and each breath you take every moment, just to stay alive. In the majority of cases, wanting to remove the burden or obstacle causing the discomfort or wanting to avoid it altogether is unrealistic and unattainable. The best you can do is deal with the negative event with the most positive attitude you can muster up, with more tolerance, understanding, acceptance and patience.

2. Begin to catch yourself with your hand in the cookie jar—allowing yourself to over-interpret the negative event wrongly, like over-personalizing it, making it more permanent or pervasive than it really is, or adding other incorrect explanations. You have to get proficient at catching this before the point of no return, when you start the vicious circle of becoming unhappy with your unhappiness caused by your failure to do something positive to remove the source of the unhappiness. When you think about, that is kind of funny.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA and also a business and personal success coach, sport psychologist, photographer and writer living in the mountains of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, The Prosperity Zone, Getting More By Doing Less, You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too, The Bow-Wow Secrets, Do What Matters Most, “P” Point Management, and Reality Repair Rx coming shortly. He can be contacted with comments or questions at 425 454-5011 or