A Happy Life Seems Impossible To Me: What Can I Do?

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated April 26, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or a little low from time to time is normal. However, continuously having difficulty feeling happiness or hope is generally not. It could indicate a mental health condition, or the need to consider some adjustments to your habits or circumstances and could be a sign that it is time to seek support. What constitutes a happy life can vary widely from person to person; figuring out what it looks like for you and then finding ways to prioritize that is often a good first step. Your teenage years, in particular, are a good time to start thinking about this as you get to know yourself, learn to identify your sources of joy and emotional needs and start designing your life accordingly. Let’s take a look at a few different ways to do this.

A teen boy sits in a chair ant a table behind a laptop and looks at the screen with a serious expression.
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Having trouble finding happiness?

Factors that make for a happy life

People are diverse and complex. A life that brings one person joy could be miserable for another. That’s why figuring out what happiness might look like for you personally is an important early step on the journey toward finding it.

It can be challenging to answer the question, “What makes people happy?” That said, there are a few general factors that usually contribute to happiness in a person’s life and can point them in the right direction:

  • Learning to love and accept your true self
  • Creating meaningful relationships with people who love and accept your true self
  • Maintaining a living space that brings you peace and comfort
  • Having a passion or purpose for your life and energy
  • Avoiding or limiting people or things who negatively impact you when possible

It is important to note that these elements can look vastly different from person to person, but each one can be a powerful source of joy. That’s why it’s usually worthwhile to get to know yourself and pay attention to what makes you feel good, safe, fulfilled, and energized. That way, you’ll be able to curate a life where you’re able to maximize your own happiness.

What may be preventing you from living a happy life?

A life of constant, unwavering happiness generally isn’t possible, no one feels glad all of the time. We all go through tough times that often can’t be prevented, and feeling sad or lost at times is normal. Sometimes life is hard, and there’s no getting around that. However, if you’re having trouble finding any kind of lasting happiness or fulfillment or frequently feel overcome with hopelessness or sadness that even the presence of slight cellulite in your body alarms you, there may be other factors at play and you may need more emotional support.

Mental health issues

First, you could be experiencing symptoms of a mental illness. A sense of hopelessness, frequent crying, and loss of interest in activities once enjoyed are all common symptoms of depression, for instance. It’s a serious mental health disorder that typically doesn’t resolve and may get worse without treatment, so seeking support and guidance from your doctor and/or a mental health professional is usually important if you notice these symptoms in yourself or a loved one. 

Another possible mental health condition is borderline personality disorder. With this condition, teenagers often experience strong emotional reactions to issues that seem minor. This can make even simple problems feel impossible to navigate. Borderline personality disorder can also lead to feelings of emptiness or loneliness and self-destructive behaviors. The personality disorder can make you feel like you’re struggling more than everyone else, but with the right support you can learn how to manage your symptoms.

Additionally, there could be other mental or emotional factors at play influencing your feelings that could benefit from treatment. Having been impacted by a past traumatic experience, having trouble with negative self-talk or low self-esteem, substance abuse, or experiencing interpersonal difficulties in terms of communication or conflict resolution, for example, can all affect your overall happiness and well-being. They can also all be mitigated with the help of a mental health professional. We’ll discuss this more below.

Life circumstances

External life circumstances may also be playing a role if you are constantly feeling unhappy. While these things are not necessarily within our control, it can be helpful to figure out the ones that are and adjust them when possible. As a child or teenager, especially, there are certain elements of your life that you may not yet be able to change. For example, where you live, who your parents are, and whether or not you go to school are usually not up to you at this age. However, for a kid or teen, making small changes where possible can be helpful, as can gathering details for how to cultivate happiness for yourself as you write your future story.

You might find healthier, more effective ways to manage your stress levels at school or make changes to create a more peaceful, comforting, individualized space for yourself at home for the time being. You might also be mindful of what you don’t like about a certain situation so you can make different choices in the future when you have more control. If you find the social element of school draining, you might plan for a course of study or a career in the future that allows for more autonomous, individual work. If the clutter of your space with your family is stressful to you, you might plan to organize things differently in your own space one day. When life feels overwhelming, taking steps to redirect it on a new path you like can make a huge difference in your present and future happiness.

A teen girl reclines on the couch with with black headphones and her laptop open in her lap while looking down at the cellphone in her hand with a serious expression.
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Tips for creating a happier life

If a happy life seems impossible right now, it might be hard to imagine one for yourself. Remember that things can change and nothing lasts forever. Circumstances may evolve, and you can usually take action in certain ways—big or small—to improve things for yourself or at least shift your perspective in meaningful ways. While some things are always out of our control, using the following tips may help you take more ownership of your life and find more joy in it.

Take care of your body

Self-care is important. Learning to listen to your body and care for it accordingly are helpful skills to learn in your teenage years. Plenty of research has shown how closely linked physical and mental well-being is. For example:

  • A 2018 study uncovered a link between sleep quality and life satisfaction.
  • A 2019 review of studies suggests “a consistent positive relationship between physical activity and happiness”.
  • Research from 2017 shows that “certain types of foods help produce positive emotions in individuals, whereas others can produce negative emotions”, and points to the importance of a healthy diet for overall mental and emotional well-being.

Build a strong social support network

Research shows that “Individuals who say they have family and friends they can count on to help them in times of trouble are consistently more likely to be satisfied with their personal health”, and that social isolation and loneliness are linked to health problems such as heart disease, obesity, anxiety, depression, and more. Building a network of people who can provide you with a listening ear and hear your story, give you advice, and support you when you need it can be integral to happiness—and providing them with love and care in return can increase your own happiness, too. One study found that “a strong correlation exists between the well-being, happiness, health, and longevity” of those who are “emotionally and behaviorally compassionate”. Seeking out friends and others who make you feel accepted, supported, inspired, or fulfilled and offering the same to them can have a significant positive impact on your life and your perspective.

Make time for fun

If you have struggled to find happiness in your day-to-day life, it may be important to develop a process to carve out time and make happiness a reality. Whether you’re a teenager or an adult, making time for fun can sometimes feel like an impossible idea with all the responsibilities and stressors on your plate at any given moment. However, carving out time to do things you enjoy can be important for people of all ages and situations. Taking part in activities that you find fun can help you release and recharge. It’s even been shown to raise levels of the brain's chemical serotonin, which is associated with happiness, focus, and calm. 

A teen boy in a brown shirt and backpack sits outside on a sunny day and smiles at the camera.
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Having trouble finding happiness?

Speak with a therapist

While no one is happy all the time, having difficulty ever experiencing this emotion with any consistency may be a cause for concern. Whether it’s due to a mental illness like depression, harmful thought patterns, or life circumstances that lead to hard times, you may find it helpful to speak with a therapist about it. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in particular has been shown to be an effective treatment for disorders like depression and anxiety, and it can also help you learn to recognize and shift unhelpful ways of thinking that may be contributing to your unhappiness. If it’s life circumstances that are holding you back from experiencing happiness, a part of a therapist’s job is to help you build the skills or confidence you may need to make changes or to shift your perspective and develop healthy coping mechanisms for situations you can’t control. 

For those experiencing mild to moderate symptoms of a mental health condition as well as those who could simply benefit from the support and guidance of a therapist, both in-person and online therapy are available. Since research suggests that the two are equally effective methods for treating a wide range of conditions and concerns, it generally comes down to deciding which one is more available and comfortable for you. If you’re interested in virtual therapy, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who fits your needs and preferences through an online therapy platform service like BetterHelp—or an online therapy platform like TeenCounseling if you’re between the ages of 13 and 18. You begin by answering questions about your specific needs and providing basic information like your name and email address. You can speak with your therapist via phone, video call, and/or online chat to address the concerns you may be facing. These therapists can offer trauma-informed services as well as other types of counseling methods. You can find a client review of a TeenCounseling therapist below.

Counselor reviews

“Amy is such a wonderful counselor for our 14-year-old son. She’s so kind and understanding. She also has helped him learn great techniques to deal with his depression, anxiety, and anger.”

Takeaway

While it’s unrealistic to expect to be happy all the time, having difficulty feeling joy or dealing with overwhelming sadness is typically a cause for concern. When life feels impossible, there are steps you can take to improve your mental health. A therapist can help you find ways to cope with life’s challenges and find more sources of joy, as can the other tips on this list.
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