My Life Is Great, So Why Can’t I Be Happy?
By: Toni Hoy
Updated July 29, 2020
There's a popular song by Bobby McFerrin called "Don't Worry, Be Happy." It's a great sentiment. If we could all stop worrying and choose to be happy, that would be wonderful, but for some people, it's not that simple. We all have the desire to obtain happiness, yet at times it appears to be unattainable. Obstacles are standing in your way. It might be a matter of slowing down your pace and analyzing what's stopping you from being content in life. It's natural to become frustrated when you can't seem to find joy in anything and think, "Why can't I just be happy?" The reality is you can't force yourself to be happy if you're not. What you can do is recognize negative thought patterns keep cycling and make a concerted effort to change them. You may need the help of a licensed therapist or mental health professional to accomplish these goals.
What Makes You Happy?
Stop for a moment and think about what sort of things you enjoy. Let's abandon the phrase "happy" for the moment. What do you like to do? What are some hobbies you participate in that you like? You can appreciate these things. Remember that everyone's circumstances are different, but if you keep finding yourself thinking, "I can't be happy," consider the following basics of life that you could be thankful for right now:
- Plentiful food
- Good education
- Good job
- Good parents
- The ability to be a parent
- Good transportation
- Good friends
Perhaps you found things on the list and thought, "I found some things to make me happy."
What Are My Barriers to Happiness?
Too many choices
Many times our lives seem complex. We have so many choices in things that it can be overwhelming. One way to find contentment is to simplify your life in whatever way is possible. Life is inherently complicated, but we can make choices that simplify our lives. One way to make things simpler is to hold ourselves to our standards. You don't have to answer to anyone but yourself. Of course, you care about your loved ones, but trying to please everyone all the time isn't realistic. Remember to do what's best for you first, and then take care of others. We can all find ways to simplify our lives, and when we do, it gives us more time in the day and reduces our stress.
Doing too much at once
Another barrier to achieving happiness is trying to achieve too much too fast. It's great to have goals and be motivated to succeed, however, it's important to remember to take one step at a time. You can't do everything at once. We live in a fast-paced world that inherently puts pressure on us to achieve goals. We expect to do everything and have everything in a nanosecond. It's not realistic to accomplish things instantly. Remember that achieving success takes time, and you can work on your goals step by step. That way, you don't have to worry about rushing to get to the finish line today.
Holding on to negativity
Holding on to negativity can be a huge barrier to happiness. Harboring anger or resentment holds you as a prisoner unto yourself. It's understandable that you may have a hard time with negative or intrusive thoughts if you struggle with depression. If that's the case, therapy can help. Chronic toxic thoughts can weigh you down. If you're having trouble with persistent negative thought patterns, a therapist can help you address these. You can learn to re-frame them using techniques such as thought records.
Letting Go and Letting Yourself Have Happiness
Happiness isn't easy to achieve, but it is possible. Ironically, the first step to achieving happiness is to recognize that you're unhappy. The key is to face reality and start looking at what's bringing you down. Know your enemy so you can combat it. To put things into perspective, an excellent read is Bronnie Ware's best-selling book, "The Top Five Regrets of the Dying." Ware is a nurse who took mental notes about the regrets people had as they lay on their deathbeds. She found many commonalities among their thoughts.
Most people wished they'd let themselves be happier throughout their lives. They wished they'd listened better to their inner voices. They wanted they'd worried less about what others thought.
Our inner voices are strong forces. Sometimes, we convince ourselves to stay in our comfort zones. If feeling negative feels familiar and safe, it becomes a hard place to leave. Stepping out of our comfort zones makes us feel anxious and scared. Our inner voices build on the old attitudes that we've learned throughout our lives. They play like old tapes, but they're not helping any longer. It's time to start talking to yourself with more compassion and empathy. Give yourself a break, and remember that you are doing the best that you can.
Let Your Emotional Guard Down
One thing you need to address if you want to be truly happy are those people who have hurt you. You don't have to continue to engage in toxic relationships, but it's essential to make peace with these connections. If your parents or other close relatives hurt you, it's hard to open up and learn to trust others. That makes it hard to have intimacy in relationships. These are concerns that you can address with a mental health professional. This is a barrier to happiness that can be overcome and needs to be if you're going to have meaningful relationships.
On those days when it's hard to break down those emotional walls, we may hear those negative voices from childhood. It's easy to get in your head and take comfort in familiar feelings. Happiness requires dropping your defenses and allowing yourself to be loved the way you deserve. That's not to say that it's easy to change these patterns, but it's certainly possible. You might become anxious as you change your behavior, and that's natural. Remember that not every kind of anxiety is terrible. Some of it leads to positive change. Anxiety will become a normal part of your new routine as you find a new level of comfort.
Guilt and Happiness
Guilt is not a productive emotion, yet it's one that we feel a lot. You may feel it when you start to change your behavior and focus on yourself. People that devote their energy to helping others may feel guilty when they work on their happiness. If you're someone who continually helps people, you might have difficulty letting go and working on your journey to happiness. You don't have to feel bad because you are taking care of yourself, that's a good thing.
Pursuing happiness can be difficult when it stirs up unexpected feelings of guilt. You might feel guilty about being the newer, happier person you've always wanted to become. Being happy sometimes means breaking away from others who held you back, and it's normal to feel guilty that they weren't able to find what you did. Remember this - you don't have an obligation to make others happy. You can be a good friend, relative, or partner, and be there for your loved ones; however, you cannot make someone happy. You are only responsible for yourself.
Working toward being happy forces us to face emotional pain. We want happiness so badly, and for so long, that it hurts. It forces us to visit the things that were so painful to us in the past. Unfortunately, we can't selectively numb out the pain. If we allow ourselves to feel such beautiful feelings of love, gratitude, and pleasure, we may also grieve the feelings of the loss of time and past feelings of sadness and unfruitfulness.
Why Can't I Be Happy? Some Final Food for Thought
After reading this article, If you're still thinking, "Will I ever be happy?" it's time to discover what makes you the happiest and fight for it. Share your thoughts with someone who cares so that you can be accountable to yourself. Contact BetterHelp and ask to be matched with a counselor that can help you to break the patterns of the past and guide you in finding your path to happiness.
With the help of an excellent online therapist, you can start to realize when your inner voice is leading you around a self-destructive cycle. A good therapist will help you to shake off the negative influences of your past and help you learn to emulate the qualities that you want to express. In counseling, you'll learn to tap your inner strength and not allow setbacks to undo your progress. Finding happiness will ultimately make you more valuable to your friends, family, and the rest of your world.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Why is it hard for me to be happy?
Whether it’s a mental health or mental illness issue, or a bout with the blues, having a difficult time being happy isn’t no fun. Here are some common reasons why being happy is difficult for some:
- Your happiness is dependent upon external things.True happiness comes from within. Happiness can never be constant if it always relies on something else. If your happiness relies on the number of miles you run, the number of friends you have, or the amount of promotions you make, you will never be truly happy. Instead, work to find your inner joy by practicing mindfulness and self-love.
- You fear being alone.Solitude is a beautiful thing, but for some reason, many people fear it. But happiness can only be constant if it is found from within, whether you are in the presence of others or without them. You will never be truly happy if you fear being by yourself. If you find yourself feeling the need to be around people all the time or find yourself feeling massive pangs of loneliness anytime you spend time by yourself, you may have some work to do. Try adding a solitary activity you enjoy into your weekly schedule or mindful activities such as yoga.
- You allow your happiness to depend on others.Happiness should only depend on one person and one person only: yourself. If you find that you are relying on the approval of other people in order to feel happy about yourself, you have a problem. Try exercising positive affirmations such as “I am more than enough.”
- You don’t know the difference between self-awareness and self-loathing.Self-awareness is nonjudgmental acknowledgment of feelings and thoughts as they pass through you; self-loathing is self-judgment of actions, characteristics, thoughts, and feelings. If you find yourself getting confused between the two, you will find it difficult to be happy. The key is to silence the ego and to observe your feelings and thoughts as if you were a third party. This is self-awareness: non-judgmental observation. Try yoga, meditation, or other mindfulness activities to increase your self-awareness.
- You compare your life with others.One definitive downside to living in the age of technology is the increasing access we have to compare our lives with others. With Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets, it is ever so easy to get snippets of other people’s lives and compare our own lives with theirs.
- You hang around negative thinkers.Our environment shape us into the person we are. Who you hang around makes a large difference: if you hang around people who support you, encourage you, and lift you up, your life will move in positive directions. If, however, you hang around a large number of negative thinkers who suck the life out of you, their negativity will begin rubbing off onto you and your life.If you find that the majority of your friends bring you down, consider exploring new social circles.
- You’re in a career you hate.We spend over 40 hours a week investing in our careers (and, more often than not, it’s closer to 50+ hours). That is a huge amount of our daily lives. If these hours are spent investing in careers that we despise, we will more than likely become unhappy.If you find that you are in this situation – you spend your 40+ hours at the office despising every minute and counting down the seconds until you get to leave – it may be time to consider other options. Try researching new career options, building a project on the side, or getting career counseling.
- You might have substance abuse,mental health, or mental illness issues. If you have suicidal thoughts, you may have a substance abuse,mental health, or mental illness issues. Please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Suicide prevention and expertise in mental health and mental illness issues is their specialty, and a way toward a hopeful and brighter future for you. They also have press room release information on different topics.
Is it possible to never be happy?
Some people, although a very small percentage of humanity, will never be happy, regardless of the decisions they make or the achievements they attain because a significant component of how you feel, and thus your personal happiness, is determined by brain chemistry. This can be an underlying mental health or a mental illness issue.
If you’re feeling more depressed than simply not happy and have suicidal thoughts or have attempted suicide,you could have a substance abuse,mental health, or mental illness issue. If so. contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Suicide prevention and expertise in substance abuse,mental health, and mental illness issues is their specialty, and a way toward a hopeful and brighter future for you. Your local mental health advisory board can also provide resource information for you.
Why can't I be happy in relationships?
Here some possible reasons for not being happy in relationships:
- You have a fear of being unneeded. You want to feel wanted, needed, appreciated, and valued. Be sure to love yourself first. Everything that you think you need or want in a partner, you must first be providing yourself. Our partners cannot make us feel secure, confident, happy, etc. – we must first give this to ourselves, and only after we have can others supplement.
- You have a fear of not being fully understood. You want to feel special, validated, understood, and loved for the full, “authentic” you. Remember that they are not your identity, and they are not a consistent guiding light.Be productive. Self-esteem comes from action, so stop procrastinating until you feel “motivated.”Relinquish your need for life to “live up to” a fantasy you’ve created. Expecting it to do so will always end in disappointment.
- You’re afraid of being alone. What you really want are happier relationships. Relax your need for everything to go your way, participate more in the moment that’s in front of you. No matter what the specific problem is, however, it all comes back to us – especially if we see similar issues over and over – and very likely, it falls under something above.People like to say that unhappiness is due to our partners dropping the ball, or trust, or communication, but 99% percent of our happiness in our relationships comes back to the one thing we control, which is: us.And 99% percent of the time we’re unhappy, it’s one of these things we need to change.
- Mental health or mental illness. Sometimes we are unhappy in relationships because of underlying mental health or mental illness issues. If you’re feeling more depressed than simply not happy in your relationship and have suicidal thoughts or have attempted suicide,you could have a substance abuse, mental health,or mental illness issue. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to get help.
Is life worth the struggle?
Yes! And here are some ways to make life worth living:
- Creating: Writing, drawing, painting, playing music. For others, it might be inventing something, building a business, coming up with a clever marketing campaign, forming a non-profit.
- Relating: It’s not “family” that makes life worth living, I think, but the relationships we create with members of our family, and the way we maintain and build those relationships. Same goes for friends, lovers, business partners, students, and everyone else.
- Helping: Being able to lend a hand to people in need – however drastic or trivial that need may be – strikes me as an important part of life.
- Realizing: Making, working towards, and achieving goals, no matter what those goals are.
- Playing: Maybe this is a kind of “relating”, but then, play can be a solo affair as well. Letting go of restraints, imagining new possibilities, testing yourself against others or against yourself, finding humor and joy.
If you are feeling that life isn’t worth the struggle, you could have a substance abuse,mental health, or mental illness issues. Please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately at 1-800-273-8255. Suicide prevention and expertise in mental health and mental illness issues is their specialty.The lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention, and crisis resources for you or your loved ones. They also have press room release information on different topics. Depending on the source of the unhappiness, support groups can also help with those suffering with eating disorders, mental illness, and substance abuse issues.
What to do if you can't be happy?
If you can't be happy, then be productive. There's a saying that if you're going to be depressed, be depressed standing up. If you can't muster up the energy to do anything more than keep breathing, go sit outside and do it in the sunlight. The same logic goes for a lot of things, but the most important one is happiness.
Not being able to be happy for a prolonged period of time can be a concern. Sometimes we are unhappy because of underlying substance abuse,mental health, or mental illness issues. If you are feeling this way, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately at 1-800-273-8255. Suicide prevention and expertise in mental health and mental illness issues is their specialty. Your local mental health advisory board can also provide resource information for you.
How do you get happiness in hard times?
- Be happy in your work and you won't need work to make you feel happy.
- Be happy in your family and you won't need to go looking elsewhere for love.
- Be happy on a cloudy day and when the sun comes out you'll be shining.
- Be happy with yourself and you won't ever need someone else to verify your worth.
Everyone experiences hard times at one point or another in their life, and sometimes it feels like it’s too much to take. If you are feeling like you can’t take it anymore, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately at 1-800-273-8255. Suicide prevention and expertise in substance abuse,mental health, and mental illness issues is their specialty, and a way toward a hopeful and brighter future for you.The lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention, and crisis resources for you or your loved ones
How do I allow myself to be loved?
- Let go of pain. You can't let go of pain by resisting it
- Let go of trespasses. When you break up, you feel like you want to blame everyone for causing your heartache
- Let go of bitterness
- Let go of resentments
- Let go comparing yourself to others
- Let go of expectations
- Let go of resistance
- Let go of being tough
- Let go of telling the same story over and over
- Let go of fear
How can I be happier?
Anxiety and depression can eliminate happiness in a heartbeat. It's not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from both anxiety and depression. Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.Anxiety disorders, like anxiety and depression, are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults age 18 and older every year. Continue reading below for tips on how to be happier.
Smile. You tend to smile when you’re happy. But it’s actually a two-way street. We smile because we’re happy, and smiling causes the brain to release dopamine, which makes us happier. That doesn’t mean you have to go around with a fake smile plastered on your face all the time. But the next time you find yourself feeling low, crack a smile and see what happens. Or try starting each morning by smiling at yourself in the mirror.
Exercise. Exercise isn’t just for your body. Regular exercise can help to reduce stress, feelings of anxiety, and symptoms of depression while boosting self-esteem and happiness. Even a small amount of physical activity can make a difference. You don’t have to train for a triathlon or scale a cliff — unless that’s what makes you happy, of course. The trick is not to overexert. Consider these exercise starters:
- Take a walk around the block every night after dinner.
- Sign up for a beginner’s class in yoga or tai chi.
- Start your day with 5 minutes of stretching. Here’s a set of stretches to get you started.
- Remind yourself of any fun activities you once enjoyed, but that have fallen by the wayside. Or activities you always wanted to try, such as golf, bowling, or dancing.
Get plenty of sleep. Most adults need about 7 or 8 hours of sleep every night. Continue reading below for tips to help you build a better sleep routine:
- Write down how many hours of sleep you get each night and how rested you feel. After a week, you should have a better idea how you’re doing.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends.
- Reserve the hour before bed as quiet time. Take a bath, read, or do something relaxing. Avoid heavy eating and drinking.
- Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet.
- Invest in some good bedding.
- If you have to take a nap, try to limit it to 20 minutes.
- If you consistently have problems sleeping, talk to your doctor. You may have a sleep disorder requiring treatment.
Eat with mood in mind. You already know that food choices have an impact on your overall physical health. But some foods can also affect your state of mind. For example:
- Carbohydrates release serotonin, a “feel good” hormone. Just keep simple carbs – foods high in sugar and starch –
- to a minimum, because that energy surge is short and you’ll crash. Complex carbs, such as vegetables, beans, and whole grains, are better.
- Lean meat, poultry, legumes, and dairy are high in protein. These foods release dopamine and norepinephrine, which boost energy and concentration.
- Highly processed or deep-fried foods tend to leave you feeling down. So will skipping meals.
Start by making one better food choice each day. For example, swap a big, sweet breakfast pastry for some Greek yogurt with fruit. You’ll still satisfy your sweet tooth, and the protein will help you avoid a mid-morning energy crash. Try adding in a new food swap each week.
Be grateful. Simply being grateful can give your mood a big boost, and can actually move you toward living the best life! For example, a recent two-part study found that practicing gratitude can have a significant impact on feelings of hope and happiness. Start each day by acknowledging one thing you’re grateful for is a great start for health solutions. You can do this while you’re brushing your teeth or just waiting for that snoozed alarm to go off. As you go about your day, try to keep an eye out for pleasant things in your life. They can be big things, such as knowing that someone loves you or getting a well-deserved promotion. But they can also be little things, such as a co-worker who offered you a cup of coffee or the neighbor who waved to you. Maybe even just the warmth of the sun on your skin. With a little practice, you may even become more aware of all the positive things around you.
Give a compliment. Research shows that performing acts of kindness can help you feel more satisfied. Giving a sincere compliment is a quick, easy way to brighten someone’s day while giving your own happiness a boost. Catch the person’s eye and say it with a smile so they know you mean it. You might be surprised by how good it makes you feel. If you want to offer someone a compliment on their physical appearance, make sure to do it in a respectful way. Here are some tips to get you started.
Breathe deeply. The next time you feel stressed or at your wit’s end, work through these steps:
- Close your eyes. Try to envision a happy memory or beautiful place.
- Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose.
- Slowly breathe out through your mouth or nose.
- Repeat this process several times, until you start to feel yourself calm down.
- If you’re having a hard time taking slow, deliberate breaths, try counting to 5 in your head with each inhale and exhale.
Keep a journal. A journal is a good way to organize your thoughts, analyze your feelings, and make plans. And you don’t have to be a literary genius or write volumes to benefit. It can be as simple as jotting down a few thoughts before you go to bed. If putting certain things in writing makes you nervous, you can always shred it when you’ve finished. It’s the process that counts. Not sure what to do with all the feelings that end up on the page? Our guide to organizing your feelings can help.
Face stress head-on. Social media might think differently, buy life is full of stressors, and it’s impossible to avoid all of them. There’s no need to. Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal says that stress isn’t always harmful, and we can even change our attitudes about stress day to day. Learn more about the upside of stress. For those stressors you can’t avoid, remind yourself that everyone has stress — there’s no reason to think it’s all on you. And chances are, you’re stronger than you think you are. Instead of letting yourself get overwhelmed, try to tackle the stressor head-on. This might mean initiating an uncomfortable conversation or putting in some extra work, but the sooner you tackle it, the sooner the pit in your stomach will start to shrink.
Declutter. Decluttering sounds like a big project, but setting aside just 20 minutes a week can have a big impact. What can you do in 20 minutes? Lots. Set a timer on your phone and take 15 minutes to tidy up a specific area of one room — say, your closet or that out-of-control junk drawer. Put everything in its place and toss or give away any extra clutter that’s not serving you anymore. Keep a designated box for giveaways to make things a little easier (and avoid creating more clutter). Use the remaining 5 minutes to do a quick walk through your living space, putting away whatever stray items end up in your path. You can do this trick once a week, once a day, or anytime you feel like your space is getting out of control.
See friends. Humans are social beings, and having close friends can make us happier, and can bring happiness to one another. Who do you miss? Reach out to them. Make a date to get together or simply have a long phone chat. In adulthood, it can feel next to impossible to make new friends. But it’s not about how many friends you have. It’s about having meaningful relationships – even if it’s just with one or two people. Try getting involved in a local volunteer group or taking a class. Both can help to connect you with like-minded people in your area. And chances are, they’re looking for friends, too.Companionship doesn’t have to be limited to other humans. Pets can offer similar benefits, according to multiple studies.Love animals but can’t have a pet? Consider volunteering at a local animal shelter to make some new friends – both human and animal. Practice gratitude.
Plan your week. Feel like you’re flailing about? Try sitting down at the end of every week and making a basic list for the following week.Even if you don’t stick to the plan, blocking out time where you can do laundry, go grocery shopping, or tackle projects at work can help to quiet your mind.You can get a fancy planner, but even a sticky note on your computer or piece of scrap paper in your pocket can do the job.
Get into nature. Spending 30 minutes or more a week in green spaces will help you feel alive and can help lower blood pressure and depression, moving toward the best life for you.Your green space could be anything from your neighborhood park, your own backyard, or a rooftop garden — anywhere you can appreciate some nature and fresh air.Better yet, add some outdoor exercise into the mix for extra benefit.
Explore meditation. Social media might not endorse this, but pay attention to research shows that there are many methods of meditation to explore which evokes positive psychology. They can involve movement, focus, spirituality, or a combination of all three.Meditation doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as sitting quietly with your own thoughts for 5 minutes. Even the deep breathing exercises mentioned earlier can serve as a form of meditation.
Find a self-care ritual. It’s easy to neglect self-care in a fast-paced world. But your body carries your thoughts, passions, and spirit through this world, doesn’t it deserve a little TLC?Maybe it’s unwinding your workweek with a long, hot bath or simply setting aside a night to put on your softest PJs and watch a movie from start to finish.Whatever it is, make time for it. Put it in your planner if you must, but do it.
Let go of grudges. This is often easier said than done. To feel sad doesn’t feel good, but you don’t have to do it for the other person.Sometimes, spending time and offering forgiveness or dropping a grudge is more about self-care than compassion for others.Take stock of your relationships with others. Are you harboring any resentment or ill will toward someone? If you want the path to the best life for yourself, consider reaching out to them in an effort to bury the hatchet.This doesn’t have to be a reconciliation. You may just need to end the relationship and move on.If reaching out isn’t an option, try getting your feelings out in a letter. You don’t even have to send it to them. Just getting your feelings out of your mind and into the world can be freeing.
Support groups. Support groupscan help people suffering from eating disorders, mental illness, and substance abuseissues. It provides you with an opportunity to be with people who are likely to have a common purpose and likely to understand one another.Benefits of participating support groups may include:
- Feeling less lonely, isolated or judged
- Reducing distress, depression, anxiety or fatigue
- Talking openly and honestly about your feelings
- Improving skills to cope with challenges
- Staying motivated to manage chronic conditions or stick to treatment plans
- Gaining a sense of empowerment, control or hope
- Improving understanding of a disease and your own experience with it
- Getting practical feedback about treatment options and health services
- Learning about health services and economic or social resources
Sometimes we are unhappy because of underlying substance abuse, mental health, or mental illness issues. If you are feeling this way, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Suicide prevention and expertise in mental health and mental illness issues is their specialty.