Tips for how NOT to be happy.

One big revelation I’ve had about the nature of happiness is that some people simply don’t want to be happy.

There are many reasons: you want to control other people, you want the satisfaction of being pitied or self-pity or both; you want special attention; you want to take the pressure off yourself, because you can’t be expected to achieve much when you’re so unhappy.

Oddly, too, you might associate unhappiness with depth of soul or intellect, and so pride yourself on unhappiness as a sign of inner worth.

Plus, for many people, it’s less work to be unhappy than to be happy.

If you don’t want to be happy, what qualities might you cultivate? Consider these:

— Hone your powers of discernment so that practically nothing can meet your standards, and be sure to tell everyone else how the food, performance, or service fell short.

— Stay alone as much as you can. Avoid seeing other people. Cancel plans frequently, don’t answer your phone, tell people things like, “I hate parties,” “I detest crowds,” etc.

— When someone bugs you — whether it’s a stranger talking loudly on a cell phone or a relative repeating the same maddeningly stupid jokes year after year — tell as many people about it as possible. You may even need to see a therapist twice a week to talk about your grievances sufficiently.

— Avoid any physical effort. Drive everywhere, and when at home, get off the sofa as little as possible.

— Cultivate habits that keep you feeling stretched and overwhelmed. If you’re short on cash, overcharge on your credit card. If you’re busy at work, stay up late cruising the Internet or flipping among cable channels. If you don’t have enough time to yourself, make complex plans that will take lots of time and errands to manage — say, plan an elaborate birthday party for a two-year-old.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Gretchen,
    The problem with happiness is it is so elusive to define. Everyone believes the concept is intuitive, but different people have different definitions of happiness.
    Maybe the person who acts unhappy to get the attention of others feels happy from the pity s/he gets?
    Everybody defines happiness differently and it means different things to different people. Even your breakdown into feeling good, not feeling bad and feeling right is still incredibly subjective. I really enjoy your blog, but it’s hard to put your finger on what exactly constitutes happiness.

  • — Avoid any physical effort. Drive everywhere, and when at home, get off the sofa as little as possible.
    I my practice I find this to certainly be the case. People who come to me with a short or long term history of inactivity are not only wrecked physically but mentally and emotionally.
    Medical experts are quick to prescribe a number of medicines or counseling alternatives and often overlook the most simplest of treatments- Movement!

  • Barclay

    I would add, “Be stubborn.” This one is my personal bugbear lately. I get an idea into my head about how I will be happy and I can’t shift gears or open my mind to alternative pathways. I struggled all day today with my project manager over taking some time off in April, because I was insistent that the days be consecutive, and she can’t spare me for many days in a row. I need the time to do things like paint rooms in my new house, and pack to move, so it’s not like I am going on a trip and the days must be all together. But I couldn’t let go of my internal demand, and as a result I’ve been relatively unhappy over this. Fortunately you can start the day over any time, as soon as you wake up to self-defeating behavior, and it’s not too late for me to rescue the rest of my day.

  • Gretchen,
    You have a good start at writing a manifesto for the unhappy. Lots of grumpy old tips for the frown clowns. Maybe you should publish this at so more people know how not to make their days.
    Well done.

  • One reason I read your website is that I genuinely wonder whether happiness is possible for certain people. I know a number of unhappy people and I think saying they don’t want to be happy is far too simple. Your list also doesn’t reflect how difficult it is for certain people to do these things you recommend–or for those things to make certain people happy. I used to know an extraordinarily unhappy woman who was literally always at the gym. In fact, yoga classes or other life-affirming activities seem to attract the unhappy. Unhappy people often gravitate to such things since they are the ones who are trying desperately to be happier, who are in need.
    I’ve met a number of happy people who spend a significant amount of time on the couch.
    I wish it were so simple. I’ve come to doubt that it is. I wonder why we need to believe that happiness would result from some sort of lifestyle change. Maybe it is too frightening to think about the alternative.

  • T

    Perhaps these behaviors are symptoms of unhappiness, and not merely the habits of unhappy people. People with mental illness certainly could exhibit these qualities. Is it really as simple as having enough self discipline and resolve to choose happiness?

  • T

    Perhaps these behaviors are symptoms of unhappiness, and not merely the habits of unhappy people. People with mental illness certainly could exhibit these qualities. Is it really as simple as having enough self discipline and resolve to choose happiness?

  • B

    You are probably too much of a narcissist to care, but I think that this this kind of a self-rightous, judgemental, know-it-all attitude is destructive and hurtful. When I read this I see a rant that basically boils down to the sentiment, I’m happy, and it’s not so hard, why can’t YOU be happy, too? THEN you go a step beyond that and basically imply that people who are NOT happy have committed some kind of moral failure related to their laziness, self-indulgence, and introversion. This is just ignorant. You don’t know what causes people to behave and feel the way that they do.
    If you want to understand what makes people happy, why don’t you spend less time thinking of good uses for Ziploc bags and start reading a little more of the peer-reviewed scientific literature on the subject of happiness? A lot of work has been done by people who actually have some authority on this subject and much of it is grounded in a long history of scientific investigation into the way people think, feel, and behave that is known as the discipline of psychology.

  • Kimberly

    I agree with you, B. Gretchen, as hard as you work to be happier, I sincerely hope that you and your family members never become among the 17 million Americans diagnosed with depression each year (according to the FDA). God forbid that you or your children join the ranks of such lazy and thoughtless people as Lincoln, Twain, Van Gogh, Beethoven, Plath, Dickenson, Churchill, Hemingway, Woolf, Dickens, Goethe, Keats, Wittgenstein, Tolstoy. May you and your loved ones never gain that kind of insight into the human condition.
    Choose empathy over judgment.

  • Wow – that’s a mixture of comments from the positive to the venomous. I think its a great commentary and see a lot of all sides regulalry.
    Worth remembering that there are no hard and fast rules for any of this and every person is different.

  • In 15 years as a professional counselling every kind of chronic unhappiness imaginable, I came to the conclusion that nobody *wants* to suffer. People do, however, develop very inaccurate and self-defeating beliefs about the sorts of behaviours that will keep them safe and protect them from worse suffering. Going out risks humiliation and rejection = more suffering. Admitting to periods of happiness risks having your fragile support systems believe they are off the hook and then when you really need them they might not be there = more suffering. Safer to maintain the baseline misery and keep the supports engaged, especially if you have low self-esteem and don’t believe you have any leverage but pity. Frustrating as hell to be the caregiver / “helper” because those beliefs generate manipulative behaviours and are very difficult to dislodge – but they are kept solidly in place by fear – even terror, and it is a truly awful place to be. Techniques like cognitive behavioural therapy specifically target the behaviours you mention, and the beliefs behind them. I think your observations are accurate in that sense, but the path to “just getting on with it” can be long and arduous and deserves compassion.

  • bronxelf

    I will make note of this “Secret of Adulthood”:
    What’s fun for other people may not be fun for you–and vice versa.
    And contrast it with this statement:
    Stay alone as much as you can. Avoid seeing other people. Cancel plans frequently, don’t answer your phone, tell people things like, “I hate parties,” “I detest crowds,” etc.
    Wow, extroverts are arrogant know-it-alls. It never ceases to amaze me how often they will abandon this “Secret of Adulthood” when it it flies in the face of their own personal extroverted preferences. Because of course- they really believe that everyone really *SHOULD* be just like them.
    And then they wonder why introverts want nothing to do with them.
    The mind reels.
    Beyond that, I think both B and Kimberly hit it right on the money.

  • I re-read the entry, but I still can’t see the ‘judgement’ B and others are talking about here.
    I thought it was a humorous inversion of the usual list of tips. And although this is probably not the breakthrough cure to depression, I have to agree that the habits listed are unproductive, if happiness is your goal.
    There seems to be one you missed though, Gretchen: Be offended at everything you don’t agree with, and take it all really really seriously.

  • phquaryn

    How I wish half of those didn’t fit me. I’m guilty! I sentence myself to a day off from work and running a 10K with happy, motivated people.

  • I would add the question — “Do you want to be right or happy?” We often get into big tiffs trying to be right because we want to hold onto our righteous positions. This is always a true path to being unhappy because we wreck relationships along the way and somehow stay stuck convinced we “know” something. Besides having more possibilities in the “beginner’s mind” there is also a great deal more peace & happiness as well.

  • Jennifer

    As an introvert who has fought depression for most of my life, I have to say, sheesh, people, calm down!
    First of all, only two of Gretchen’s points correspond to depression at all. And her point about avoiding people–even introverts are unhappy if they avoid people at all costs. Even introverts need one or two close friends or relatives. I think her point there was more about not focusing on the negative–not telling people you hate parties, if the point is that you prefer solitude or smaller gatherings.
    Also, nowhere in her post does she say that not doing these things is easy, that you should just stop doing them without getting therapeutic guidance to lead you through it, that she doesn’t do them and she’s better than the rest of us, or anything else.
    I can only think that maybe some of us, like I did, read the list and felt a bit chastened after recognizing some of our own bad habits there, and some of us decided to lash out at Gretchen instead of examining whether there was any truth in her words.

  • bronxelf

    See, here’s the problem:
    If one agrees with the premise of the author, then everything is okay.
    If one disagrees and says nothing, then the author can assume that everyone agrees, and everything is okay.
    If one disagrees and says something, then one gets held up as the example to prove the statement to begin with.
    So there’s no way to say “no, this isn’t correct”(and frankly, it’s pretty offensive to boot) without being told “see? you must be exactly what she means otherwise you wouldn’t disagree or be offended!”
    Well, I suppose that’s one way to ensure no one ever disagrees with your position. It’s worked for religions for over 2000 years.
    Just remember folks, just because it’s a joke, doesn’t make it funny. And just because someone disagrees doesn’t mean they prove your point.

  • B

    Excuse me, Jennifer, but the entire blog entry was about unhappiness, which is pretty unquestionably related to depression. And there is most certainly the implication in this post that unhappy people are lazy, whiny, shy, self-indulgent, attention-seeking losers whose problems are the result of nothing more than their own bad decisions. If you don’t see what I mean, let me illustrate:
    Gretchen describes the problems of unhappy people with trite examples like receiving bad service, having to listen to people talking on cell phones (?!), and being busy at work. If you don’t want to be unhappy, stop complaining, manage your time better, and get off your ass. How can it possibly be that simple? There is a depression EPIDEMIC taking place throughout the developed world right now. Expressing the idea that unhappiness is merely the result of these kinds of behaviors is a step backward and only adds to the stigma and hostility that depressed people already face. Doing it in a public forum like a blog is destructive enough, but this is going to be made into a book? God have mercy.
    And basically mocking people who see a therapist (because, you know, lots of people are in therapy twice a week to complain about having to listen to bad jokes) in the 3rd point seems somehow incompatible with your assertion that she never said (in reference to bad habits) “you should just stop doing them without getting therapeutic guidance”. Come on.
    Gretchen needs to sort out what she means when she says happiness. I think a lot of the disagreement that has gone on here is the result of people not knowing what is she is actually talking about in the first place. Does she mean happiness in terms of freedom from pain and suffering? Or are we talking about self-actualization? Or does she mean the kind of feeling you get when you find that pair of sunglasses you thought you had lost or finally finish sending out all those Valentines Day cards or lose that last 10 pounds? I have the feeling it is the latter. I have other words to describe this: shallow self-satisfaction. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with feeling this way, but it is not the same as happiness.

  • Ted

    B, I’m confused about your attack on Gretchen’s post, and on Jennifer’s comments. Who was mocking anyone for seeing a therapist? Seriously, please include quotes. I never saw that anywhere. You’re right, of course, that people go to therapists for serious problems, not because they don’t like someone’s jokes. If you are going to a therapist just to complain about someone telling the same joke over and over, then you really don’t have a serious problem, and you are trivializing the very real, debilitating condition of depression. I think that was Gretchen’s point.
    And let me point out here, in case anyone needs it pointed out, that I began that statement with “if.” If the hypethetical doesn’t apply to you, about going to a therapist just to complain about little things that bother you — then the rest of the sentence doesn’t apply to you either.
    My wife has battled serious depression most of her life, and has been seeing a therapist regularly. I recently concluded nearly a year of weekly therapy myself. And while the serious effects of depression can’t be understated, neither can the importance of self-responsibility — especially among those of us who’d rather complain about everything around them (and here I’m referring to the people Gretchen referred to in her original article, not necessarily anyone else) than address their underlying unhappiness, whether that requires mere changes in habit, professional help or a combination of the two.

  • Zoikes, it will take some serious thinking and re-reading to digest all the perspectives here.
    Here’s my response.
    My tip list (which, yes, was meant to be humorous) is in fact based on scientific research on happiness, which I do study.
    Acting extroverted, for example, is extremely highly correlated with happiness –this is true even, surprisingly, for introverts.
    In some studies, exercise has been shown to be as effective in treating depression as drugs and psychotherapy. And it has been shown repeatedly to give people more energy, an immediate mood boost, greater concentration, better sleep, etc.
    Exressing or dwelling on annoyance and anger doesn’t alleviate bad feelings, it amplfies them. The notion of healthy “catharsis” is a myth. Interestingly, women are more prone to “overthinking” (i.e., ruminating on slights, grudges, etc.) than men, which some speculate is why women are more prone to depression.
    I have UTTER SYMPATHY for people who are depressed, and I know all too much about it. To me, however, depression seems different from what I call “ordinary unhappiness” which is what I was talking about. I think of depression as being in a completely different category, and while some of what I talk about might be applicable to someone with depression, I don’t mean to suggest that someone who is “unhappy” is equivalent to someone who is clinically “depressed.” That issue is probably worth a post, itself.
    On the question of “What is happiness?” That question reminds me of law school, where we spent a semester talking about “what is a contract?” Aaaaack. I decided to take anotherly lawyer’s approach to the question and say, “I know it when I see it.” (Which is what one of the Justices [I think Justice White] wrote about porn.) But although we might not agree on what it is to “be happy” I think most people could agree that htey could BE HAPPIER. And that’s the subject that interests me — what we can do to be happier.
    I would go on and on about these very important issues, and also supply citation for the studies, but can’t because I’m away from my desk for the week.
    Thanks so much for so much to think about — so many provocative, fascinating insights here.

  • So, so true. My Mother-In-Law is a firmly rooted, unhappy person. She has been unhappy almost her entire life. She does not recognize her blessings or good things in others. She has lost her family (still living) due to this.
    We don’t see her becuase we have chosen to *sit on the happy side of life* as we like to say at our house.
    It’s such a shame, as people forget they only get one go-round this time.
    Happiness can be a choice.

  • So, so true. My Mother-In-Law is a firmly rooted, unhappy person. She has been unhappy almost her entire life. She does not recognize her blessings or good things in others. She has lost her family (still living) due to this.
    We don’t see her becuase we have chosen to *sit on the happy side of life* as we like to say at our house.
    It’s such a shame, as people forget they only get one go-round this time.
    Happiness can be a choice.

  • B

    Gretchen, your response clears up a lot for me and I appreciate it. Also, I re-read my comments and I apologize that they were so scathing and unduely harsh. I really enjoy your blog and I was very upset to read what I interpreted as very un-empathetic advice to depressed people to just suck it up and stop complaining and get on with their lives, which I understand now is far from what you meant. I could and should have been much more contstructive with my comments. I understand (or think I do) now that your aim is to evaluate advice for improving ones daily life–not to find a magic bullet for achieving lifelong, authentic happiness and not to find a cure for clinical depression. Re-reading some of your other writing on your blog, I realize now that this should have been more clear to me.
    Finally, I am well aware that the last person you are looking for advice on writing your book is some random person like me, and I’m sure you’ve put a lot of thought into this already, BUT, as a reader and consumer of books, I must say that I think it is critical that you include a thorough and thoughtful discussion of this issue in your book. I fear that you may turn a lot of people off otherwise, especially those whose lives have been affected by depression in some way. The differences between depression and the frustrations of ordinary life, between ordinary day-to-day satisfaction and authentic happiness, between a major existential crisis and a bad hair day are complicated and important and I think quite prone to being confused. As you have said before, happiness is a huge, complex issue. The word “happiness” has a broad definition and means different things to different people. Without some kind of discussion of this, I think people who are recovering from depression or who are feeling chronically dissatisfied with their life (a significant proportion of the population and, it follows, of literary journalists) and are desperately searching out a way to find happiness again will be disappointed and even offended by your well-meaning tips. Regular people who are just trying to find ways to make their days happier, simpler, and more meaningful will probably love them.
    Anyway, thanks for your blog, like I said I enjoy reading it, I think there is a lot of wisdom in here, and I’m looking forward to your book. Best of luck.

  • hmmm…I think depression is not akin to being unhappy…and not unhappy on ‘purpose.’
    I suffer from depression, but I think I am mostly happy!
    My mil does not suffer from depression but is chronically unhappy and works hard to be so.
    Unhappy for her is safe. Saves you from disappointments.
    Again being happy has NOTHING to do with being clinically depressed. Most people who suffer WANT to be happier and feel better.

  • Okay, I’m absolutely convinced that I must deal with this “what does it mean to be happy?” and “what does it mean to be unhappy?” question at greater length. I’ll do that when I get back home.
    I certainly wouldn’t want people to think that I’m dismissive or scornful of depression, because nothing could be further from the truth. I really regret the remark about the therapist! I was just trying to make the piont that some people would spend lots of $$$$$ and time to keep complaining repeatedly about some trivial incident. But after reading the comments, I see that that line put the wrong spin on my post.
    Some people seem to think that the opposite of happiness is depression and, again, I think that depression is in its own category. I also believe that people who are not depressed can nevertheless benefit tremendously from thinking more mindfully about their happiness.
    B–I was so relieved to read your last post. It really distressed me to think that I was coming off in such an obnoxious and shallow way. Your gracious remarks made me very happy.
    You raise an interesting distinction between “ordinary day-to-day satisfaction” and “authentic happiness.” I suppose I believe that I think the way to achieve authentic happiness is through ordinary day-to-day satisfactions.
    Happiness, of course, doesn’t always make you feel happy. My happiness is formula is that you need to “think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.” Sometimes “feeling right” requires “feeling bad”; such trade-offs are sometimes inevitable for happiness.
    In that way a day-to-day satisfaction might not bring happiness. But I think it would be difficult to construct an authentically happy life that didn’t include a fairly large number of day-to-day satisfactions.
    But I need to think about this some more…happiness is a very complicated subject.
    Thanks for such fascinating comments.

  • I don’t get drawn into blog debates, but this is one of my favorite blogs, so I’ll respond.
    First, I don’t think it’s fair to personally attack Gretchen by calling her a “narcissist” or “arrogant know-it-all”.
    I don’t think this blog is meant to be a compilation of unbendable rules. It’s just a few tips that might help a person who doesn’t have serious problems.
    I don’t think that Gretchen is trying to demean people who have real problems. The people who are likely to be benefitted by this blog are normally happy people who tend to brood unnecessarily. And yes, it is extremely subjective.
    I don’t think the post was meant to be offensive. I can understand that some people might find it so. (And yes, I do personally know people with serious problems in their life, who need to be a lot more happy, and who would not be benefitted at all by this blog.)
    And I hate most parties.
    Also, Gretchen: I guess you might be a bit upset since some people disliked your post (and I read somewhere that people tend to place more importance on negative reviews). But controversy is good for a blog. And I think most people really like your blog, it’s always a great read 🙂

  • Wow, somehow all the comments didn’t appear before I replied — I read uptil the reply by phquaryn and then posted my reply. B, your follow-up comments were very thoughtful. I think most people who bother to comment on a blog usually like the blog a lot, even if they dislike one particular post.

  • Obviously these are general observations, not meant to apply to all people in all situation.
    In that spirit I have to say, as an introvert who suffers from depression, I agree with that list. I do practice some of the things on that list, and putting it just that way is an eye opener.
    But as Mark Twain said, “Bad habits can’t be thrown out the window, they must be led step by step out the door.
    Thanks Gretchen. Hope your feeling weren’t hurt by some of the more vitriolic comments.

  • Laura

    I’ve only been reading this blog for 2 weeks, so I don’t presume to deeply understand your project. (Though I’ve also read a large number of older posts as well.) But what I gathered from previous posts was that, yes this blog had applications for people who were looking for garden-variety happiness, but I understood you to be engaged in a deeper struggle for happiness. It seemed evident that you knew all too personally about depression. (And I don’t think anyone associates garden-variety unhappiness/crankiness with “depth of soul.” That association is generally with depression.) So I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I read today’s post.
    I can appreciate that you might have meant to point out that if you’re not depressed and wish to be happier you would be well served to get more exercise, create more friendships, etc. But the tone was negative and judgmental to my ear — perhaps, I’ll admit, colored by my own depression.
    If you argue that avoiding human interaction or exercise will help ensure that you are unhappy, it is not unexpected that people will suspect that you believe that anyone who *wants* to be happy would do the opposite. This is all the more true when you are clearly using humor to argue some inverted version of your statement.
    Obviously, there are many of us who would like nothing better than to be happy (or at least to be less miserable), but yet find ourselves decribed by your “what not to do” list. It would seem that you did not mean to imply that people with depression actually “cultivate” habits to ensure that they stay depressed, but that is what it sounded like.
    And I’m rather doubtful that it’s possible to have a happiness project that isn’t intimately tied to depression (rather than just to “ordinary unhappiness”). Perhaps you can have a joy project, or a delight project, or a worthwhile moments project, or a smile project. But when you have deep quotes like those on your home page and seem to ponder questions about having a happy *life*, I think you are dealing with issues of depression — or that at the very least, many people will assume you are.

    • Katie Sullivan

      I agree. It felt mean.

  • Jessica

    It was Justice Potter Stewart, I believe.

  • Folks:
    Read the masthead of this blog…
    “I’m working on a book, THE HAPPINESS PROJECT–a memoir about the year I spent test-driving every principle, tip, theory, and scientific study I could find, whether from Aristotle or St. Therese or Martin Seligman or Oprah. THE HAPPINESS PROJECT will gather these rules for living and report on what works and what doesn’t. On this daily blog, I recount some of my adventures and insights as I grapple with the challenge of being happier.”
    It doesn’t say she will solve clinical depression or provide peer-reviewed therapeutic advice to individuals suffering from it.
    It does say that she is going to try out popularly reported self-help techniques and then let us know what does and doesn’t not work.
    If you want peer-reviewed medical research there are plenty of science and medical blogs focused exclusively on those topics. A simple Google search will lead you to them. In the meantime don’t hold this blog up to an inappropriate and inapplicable standard that is not the author’s stated intention.

  • Gretchen, defining happiness seems to be so ludicrously impossible to anyone. Please don’t take to heart what I’m about to comment here, it’s not specifically aimed at what you wrote.
    Generally speaking, people have all the good intentions to help but they come across in the wrong manner, with things such as lists of physiological ills caused by long periods of inactivity, the way employers look askance at long periods of unemployment, the danger of developing the victim’s mindset, and on and on. Then they offer the good advice, which by that time sounds just like a list of watered down common sense and stress management techniques found in self-help books.
    I believe that nobody really has any desire to be unhappy. If we can’t come to an agreement about what real happiness is, so the same principle holds true in defining unhappiness in other people. We all know our shortcomings and that society at large won’t help us if we don’t help ourselves first, but we are all different, needing different levels of social interaction and activity to keep emotionally sane and physically fit. So we cannot judge one person by another person’s experience.
    The key to true happiness, perhaps lies in the ability to be content whatever circumstances you find yourself in. People of all social spheres will have problems which can be related to external or internal circumstances, things which are beyond their control, but some are better equipped to cope with change and insecurity than others. There are those who have strong inner values which cause them to struggle more over some issues to get things right than others.
    Paraphrasing Oswald Chambers’ words in “My Utmost For His Highest [The Discipline of Difficulty]” The average view of happiness is that it means deliverance of trouble. It is deliverance in trouble, which is very different.

  • Sophia

    I´d like to add my two cents worth… and say that I don´t think depression is equal to unhappiness. To be depressed is extremely unpleasant, and it is very difficult to experience the feeling of happiness while depressed. I would describe depression as a slow down of the system, and an absence of normal positive motivating factors in one’s life and head, thus allowing the negative factors to completely overwhelm the sufferer, and weigh them down. This is not unhappiness, this is malfunction, it is like being a zombie. I think it is incorrect to mix up a happiness blog too much with issues of depression – it is a mental health issue. Depression can be helped by happiness techniques, but needs much more. Unhappiness, however can probably be SOLVED with happiness techniques! Well, that’s what Gretchen’s experiment and research is about!

  • Sophia

    Just continuing my thoughts… when I am suffering from periods of depression, not a single word of Gretchen´s blog could make me feel happy, I would only feel guilty and unable to take action. I have to overcome my state of depression before I can start learning how to be happy. When I am not in a depressed state, I am able to take action to increase my happiness.
    Happiness implies ACTIVITY. Even meditation is a conscious, active decision to be still and actively observe the moment. In my states of depression, I am slowed down, I cannot be rapid or active with my thoughts or actions, I simply have a loop going in my head, and I am in survival mode – literally, considering how constant the thoughts of suicide are in depressed people. I don’t believe that unhappiness is the same – unhappy people can still be quick and active – in responses and thoughts, even if they are choosing to sit on the couch.
    Well, just my personal thoughts, I’m no scientist!

  • Gretchen,
    I had to smile as I read through these comments and your responses. I have an addition to the list:
    *Instead of focusing on all of the people you impact in a positive way, worry about that .1 or .01 percent of people who misinterpret your good intentions.
    I am smiling, because I am so very guilty of this. I recently realized that I am up at night fretting about 2 out of over 300 (.01% – rounded UP)clients who blindsided me with negative, personal attacks. My work is helping kids and parents, and my client interactions usually include lots of hugs and gratitude. So, why am I not up at night going over all my successes???
    My grandmother always says, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. I think the hell is what we do to ourselves when our good intentions are misunderstood.
    Like many others here, I, too have clinical depression. And, I thought your list was right on. So, please don’t over-analyze the negative comments. You have never presented yourself as a mental health professional, nor does your blog purport to be a scientific exploration of depression.
    If you are letting this bother you while you are out of town on vacation, STOP IT RIGHT NOW! 🙂

  • You know, completely I agree with you. I have plenty of friends that are misery looking for company FOR EXACTLY THESE REASONS listed above. I’ve just never thought of it this way… and I hate it when they try to drag me with them, too (grr).
    Thanks for such an entertaining post.

  • Erika

    Reading through these comments has helped me come up with a happiness tip of my own. Whenever you read something that upsets you, read it as if it were meant to be humorous or ironic or sarcastic. Even in those cases where what you read was justifiably upsetting (Gretchen, I’m not saying this was at all) it will help you regain some balance so you can decide whether and how to respond.

  • I am very humbled adding my comment to this conversation. I just started reading this blog a few weeks ago.
    I wonder if happiness and peace aren’t somehow related for the average person…? For me, before I can be “authentically” happy, I have to have some sort of peacefulness about my life, an acceptance of what is, instead of trying to always change, alter, achieve something that isn’t. When peace is there, happiness is soon to follow.
    Of course, this is for the average person. I’m not clinically depressed, though I’ve had low moments in my life that could come close to what depression is, but I certainly don’t want to offend those who struggle with it daily.
    My only point is, with all this happiness talk, where is the talk about peace and acceptance of one’s life? (Forgive me if it’s been mentioned, I haven’t read the whole history of blog entries…yet.)

  • jsp

    People, people… Can you not see the irony and fun she was having. Was she happy writing this. I think so. Are some of you being a bit touchy about the subject? I think so. I have been fighting depression and anger my entire life. Going out for a walk almost always makes me feel better. Associating with others, even if it is the clerk at the grocery store often makes me feel better. AND plopping down in front of the boob tube for a while ALSO makes me feel happy. Therapy is very needed for some and others need to just get over it and get a life. Try to smile. Chill out and let her have some fun, would ya?

  • B

    For the record, I never said (and I don’t think anyone else here has, either) that unhappiness equals depression.
    However, feeling sad, anxious, unhappy, unable to enjoy life or feel pleasure, feeling worthless, loss of energy and motivation…. these are all symptoms of depression. In fact, they describe some of the diagnostic criteria for depression (most of the others are related physical symptoms). I think it is safe to say that some significant proportion of “unhappy people” are actually clinically depressed.
    To say that some people choose to be unhappy, they do it to manipulate people, to feel smarter, or because they’re too lazy to do the things that could make them feel happy, that might all be true. These statements certainly apply to SOME people, and from time to time they probably apply to most people. And everyone should be aware of those behaviors that make them feel unhappy that they can do something about. I think this was the point of Gretchen’s entry, and although I misunderstood and was inappropriately and non-constructively critical before, I apologized and I am starting to understand better now.
    But in addition to people who are happy or unhappy by choice, there are also an awful lot of people out there who feel overwhelming sadness that they can’t explain, who walk around on the verge of tears, and who can’t find the energy to do things they once enjoyed–people who are clinically depressed–and often, on top of all this, they feel an incredible sense of guilt just for feeling this way.
    Unfortunately, there are also a lot of people out there who, when they encounter or hear of someone who is unhappy and they don’t see an immediate reason for it, will by default believe that that person is unhappy by choice. Whether they are a close friend or a stranger, whether they are familiar with the person’s history and life experiences or not. And maybe they just DON’T want to be happy. But a lot of people will believe that the person’s unhappiness is a choice even when (and some times, especially when) the person is being treated for clinical depression. I think that anyone who has had an eposode of major depression will know what I’m talking about. I did, and although I was surrounded by family and close friends who are, in general, educated, open-minded, emotionally intelligent, caring, and supportive, this is the reaction that almost all of them had when they found out I was being treated for depression. In fact, the only people in my life who were immediately understanding and in any way supportive were the ones who had their own experiences with depression–either going through it or having someone close to them struggle with it. The people in my life who didn’t “get it”–I don’t hold it against them. I probably would have reacted similarly before my depression. And since that time, I’ve found that most people are like this.
    So, my point when bringing up the topic of depression was NOT to say that unhappiness is the same as depression, but that the two are linked, both fundamentally (depressed people often describe themselves as sad or unhappy) and in our society’s reaction to them. And given that right now, depression is a major public health issue, I think it is important to preface the idea that happiness is a choice with an acknowledgement that depression (which is not the opposite of happiness or a synonym for unhappiness, but is related, nonetheless, in important ways) is no more a choice than is heart disease, cancer, or the flu. Like all of these diseases, is sometimes preventable and often treatable, but it is always awful. And unlike run-of-the-mill unhappiness, it isn’t something you can snap out of or hope to get rid of by exercising more, thinking happy thoughts, or spending time with a friend.

  • kristen pearson

    Happiness is self-sacrafice. When you lose yourself you find yourself. When you give yourself as a gift to your work, your husband, your children, your friends, you are happy. Simple as that; gift of self.

  • What a great rule of non-tips. It’s so easy to fall in to destructive patterns. I’ve found by limiting television, I am considerably happier. You can actually see it happen- the tv goes on, the bodies slump on the couch, and the eyes glaze over. Interaction with the real world and actual humans is so important.

  • P

    So, Gretchen, would you consider it fair to say:
    “If you want to be happy, what qualities might you cultivate? Consider these:
    — Lower your expectations so that others (people and things) can meet more easily your standards, and be sure to tell everyone else how the food, performance, or service was excelent.
    — Interact with people. Do not avoid other people, no matter how disagreable they may be — you are likely to find that they are not that disagreable. Make an honest effort to keep your plans, answer promptly and gladly to your phone, tell people things like, “I love parties,” “I fell good even in crowds,” etc.
    — When someone makes you glad — whether it’s a stranger who holds the door for you or a relative who tries to help out year after year — tell as many people about it as possible.
    — Seek physical effort. Choose public transportation, and when at home, get on the sofa as little as possible.
    — Cultivate habits that help you feel on top of everything (or mostly everything). Keep your bank account and credit cards under control. If you’re busy at work, curb your temptation to stay up late cruising the Internet or flipping among cable channels. Go to bed early, instead. If you have enough time to yourself, give some of it to others: your children, your husband, your friends, or even strangers.”?

  • C

    I can see from all the comments that you didn’t intend to upset people suffering from depression. However, wouldn’t it be logical to think that the depressed would logically be drawn to something like the “Happiness Project?”
    Your “Stay alone” joke is especially (unintentionally) hurtful to this depressed American. I live in a foreign country where people frown or turn away when they hear my accent. I have a choice of isolating myself or being hurt by others’ reactions to something I can’t change. I’ll look elsewhere for advice/help.
    I’m unsubscribing so no response is required.

  • CClio333

    I’m going to add my support to those who are objecting to this list. I particularly object to number three. The implication is that your happiness level is proportionate to the size and activity of your social circle. The celeb stories I’ve seen on E! contradict that. Also, maybe some of this column’s defenders are right and this was intended to be tongue in cheek, but that second paragraph is just plain rude.

  • Ph

    Great blog! All food for thought. I don’t feel the need to teach you how to blog “properly” without offending anyone. I am feeling HAPPY to have found this material. Hope you are feeling happy about writing it. Thanks.

  • Sergio Orozco

    I just want to thank you Gretchen for setting happiness up front for me to value it’s importance.

  • To put it simply…
    If the things on that list were the things in my life that made me unhappy….I’d be pretty freaking happy!
    In other words, I have real problems that put minor annoyances into perspective.

  • Jo

    P.. Yes, I think that if you do the things you suggested you will be happier.
    I don’t like it when people who do not suffer from clinical depression have a hard time accepting that what they do every day and how they choose to see the world affects how happy they are. Unless it’s a medical condition, you can change your outlook.
    My guess is that many people were irked, because they recognised themselves from your list and it’s hard to realise you are indeed in charge of your own life and of how you feel.
    I think if you want to view things in a negative light, you of course can. Choosing to see the positive side can be hard, but it’s a LOT more rewarding.

  • durian

    My sister-in-law stay with me, and she would sit/lie at the sofa in front of tv all day long, eating and everyting there….
    The problem is she looks happy all the time, but I am the one who is unhappy with the situation, especially if my kids asked me to be like her….
    who is the problem, me or she?

  • Kelly

    Thank you for this. By reading this, I’ve realized I have been doing this for awhile. Avoiding human contact and physical exercise. I’ve been stubborn. I’ve made myself unhappy. And I’m really trying to figure out “why” because being happy truly is what I want to be.. or isn’t it?

  • Lazlo Toth

    I enjoy going through this blog every now and then. I agree with a lot and I disagree with some. I like being alone a lot of times. I like really, really long bike rides through the NYC boroughs and don’t enjoy biking with others. I don’t feel defensive about that so I wasn’t upset about the “i hate parties” etc suggestions, though they caused semiseconds of “is that me and am I making myself unhappy by that?” types of reflection. I thought it was interesting. I didn’t realize that there were lots of people who seem to read this site just to make odd attacks on the author or her thoughts. That really strikes me as odd. Gretchen, please don’t let them affect you negatively.

  • Jessica M.

    Got anything on how teenagers constantly make themselves unhappy? The dreaded age of 16 seems to be not only a major changing point, but a major mark to hit for feeling unhappy and sometimes even depressed, often over things that one shouldn’t stress over.
    A perfect and possible life-long relationship, for example, ruined temporarily on one end because one of them constantly worries about everything and nearly loses his/her identity in the process. A blob of emotions.
    Many fail to realize that the key to happiness in this aspect (which is all to common at such a young age) is standing up to the test of time and not caving in at a low point in the relationship. Especially if both are dedicated and loving, and the only problem -mentioned afore- is stress over everything and nothing at once.
    Or have I not self-assessed correctly?

  • P

    Give positive recipes not negative ones! Be more than a critic: be constructive. Here’s how easy it is… you could have said:
    If you want to be happy, what qualities might you cultivate? Consider these:
    — Lower your expectations so that others (people and things) can meet more easily your standards, and be sure to tell everyone else how the food, performance, or service was excelent.
    — Interact with people. Do not avoid other people, no matter how disagreable they may be: you will find out that they are not that disagreable. Make an honest effort to keep your plans, answer promptly and gladly to your phone, tell people things like, “I love parties,” “I fell good even in crowds,” etc.
    — When someone makes you glad — whether it’s a stranger who holds the door for you or a relative who tries to help out year after year — tell as many people about it as possible.
    — Seek physical effort. Choose public transportation, and when at home, get on the sofa as little as possible.
    — Cultivate habits that keep you feeling on top of everything. Keep your bank account and credit cards under strict control. If you’re busy at work, curb your temptation to cruising the Internet too much or flipping among cable channels. If you have enough time to yourself, give some of it to others: your children, your husband, your friends, or even strangers.

  • Tracey

    Wow, the comments here are interesting. I may be incorrect about this but I thought this post was intended to be a bit tongue in cheek. If it doesn’t sit well with you, perhaps offering an alternate view in a kinder fashion would be helpful. My personal experience shows that attacking someone rarely allows them to truly see my point/perspective.

  • This is just what I needed to recognize the. Problem. Very creative format!