Happiness Question: What’s an obstacle to your happiness?

Every Wednesday is Tip Day, or Quiz Day, or – today – Question Day.
This Wednesday: Question — What’s an obstacle to your happiness?

If you’re doing a happiness project, it’s worth spending a fair amount of time thinking about…unhappiness.

Although it’s helpful to focus on the positive, to count your blessings, and to remind yourself of what makes you happy, it’s also very important to pay attention to what’s undermining your happiness.

Unhappiness, although less pleasant than happiness, is a worthy emotion. Of course, sometimes unhappiness is caused by something we can’t affect – like illness or a job loss – but often it points to places where something isn’t working, but is within our power to change. Maybe your daily life doesn’t reflect your values. Maybe you need to put some distance between you and a happiness leech. Maybe you’re not living up to your expectations for yourself. Maybe you’re not getting enough sleep. (Note: ordinary “unhappiness” isn’t the same thing as “depression,” which is a serious, urgent condition that requires expert intervention.)

When I was making the decision to switch from law to writing, I was prompted to act by unhappiness – unhappiness inspired not by working in law, which I enjoyed, but rather by the pain of not pursuing writing. I remember that around that time, I read a line from Juvenal: “An inveterate and incurable itch for writing besets many, and grows old in their sick hearts.” A sick heart! This resonated with me so deeply that I knew I had to give writing a shot as a career.

So ask yourself – right now, what’s an obstacle to your happiness? Or to think about it another way, if you could wake up tomorrow with an issue magically resolved, what would you choose? (A factor in your own life, not global warming!) It might be big, it might be small.

When you think about unhappiness, push yourself to be specific. If your answer is, “I hate my job,” try to pinpoint the problem. Are you bored? Do you dread your commute? Think the work is of no social value? Have conflicts with your boss or a co-worker? Find it constantly encroaching on your private life? Frantic with the fear of losing your job? Feel unappreciated? Etc.

If you think, “My kids drive me crazy” or “I don’t feel good about myself” or “I feel overwhelmed,” ask why and how. When you identify a problem very specifically, it’s easier to spot possible solutions.

For example, as part of my happiness project, I realized that I hated nagging, and I hated being a nag, and yet I was doing a lot of nagging. When I zeroed in on this issue, I came up with a long list of strategies to try to quit nagging; okay, I have to admit that I haven’t quit nagging altogether, but I nag a lot less. And that makes me happier.

So ask yourself: Right now, what’s an obstacle to your happiness? If you feel comfortable, please post your answer here. I’d be fascinated to see what people have to say, and I’m sure others would be, as well.

* Knowing my love for children’s literature, a thoughtful reader emailed me this link to a print by Jane Mount, “Ideal Bookshelf 42,” which shows a wonderful collection of children’s books. The whole site, 20×200, is very interesting — works of art starting at $20.

* It’s Word-of-Mouth Day, when I gently encourage (or, you might think, pester) you to spread the word about the Happiness Project. You might:
— Forward the link to someone you think would be interested
— Link to a post on Twitter (follow me @gretchenrubin)
— Sign up for my free monthly newsletter (about 43,000 people get it)
Buy the book
— Join the 2010 Happiness Challenge to make 2010 a happier year
— Put a link to the blog in your Facebook status update
— Watch the one-minute book video
Thanks! I really appreciate any help. Word of mouth is the BEST.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • I found your website today and your question intrigues me – what IS an obstacle to my happiness?. I think my answer is having unrealistic expectations. My vision has been rapidly deteriorating. I found that once I let go of my assumptions and expectations of how I was going to live my life, I could embrace my new life and find new joys and pleasures, even though I have low vision.

    Thanks for your website. I will link to it from my blog. Belinda

  • I really appreciate this post. Lately I have really been thinking about the obstacles that are standing in the way of my happiness. There is a lot of change that is happening in my life, and a lot of it is scary. There are a lot of things that were on my “list of things to have accomplished” by this time in my life, but of course, things have not turned out exactly as I had planned. Don’t get me wrong, I have an amazing life!! I am so blessed!! But I think my obstacle is saying, “I’ll be happy when [blank] happens”. Instead I need to learn how to count my blessing and be happy today!
    I am incredibly blessed, and if I keep waiting for something to happen before I am happy, I will never be happy and I will miss out on so many miracles!
    Thank you for this post……..and if you have any advice on how to move past this obstacle, I would be thrilled to hear it!!!

    • gretchenrubin

      The tendency to think “I’ll be happy when XXX happens” is the “arrival
      fallacy” — the idea that once you arrive some place, THEN you’ll be happy.
      You’re right, it’s something to recognize and to resist!

  • Rob

    The biggest obstacle to my happiness is my current job, which is not what I want to be doing. Like you Gretchen, I want to pursue my passion for writing about golf full-time. Traveling to golf events, interviewing players, working with the golf companies, is what I love doing and makes me happy.

    I’ve been doing this part-time for two and half years now and I’m ready to make the switch. What’s holding me back is my wife’s concern over money and where my next check will come from. She work’s full-time as well and not a big risk taker.

    I’m ready to take the plunge and know that will be ok, because there are plenty of opportunities available if I can pursue my passion full-time.

    Love the site.

  • menopausalentrepreneur

    My obstacle to happiness is the same as yours!! When I turn my attention to writing, things just snap and pop all over. Synchronicities abound, my heart sings and I feel good. Fear of not enough money enters in and tries to steal my happiness, but I keep remembering that faith in this journey will win out.

  • I bought two copies, one for myself and one for a friend! (I had to return my library copy.)


  • sarah

    Lately I’ve been looking at my ideas and conceptions of Love and fear. I recently broke up with someone, who although we weren’t together for very long, I had come to fall for. In the end he wasn’t ready to be in a relationship and I got to look at how his reaction is an exagerated mirror into my behavior=fear. Why am I so unwilling to put everything out on the line and live a life based in Love? I do so with most but am afraid to surrender to an intimate relationship. I am quit certain this fear is getting in the way of my happiness and creating a block for Life to flow through me more easily.

  • LivewithFlair

    Here’s my very specific and personal response to your question (because I think you can handle it!). Unhappiness is refusing to see where God is at work in my circumstances. Here’s the extended version and my daily prayer for happiness. It’s called “One Good Prayer.” Enjoy! http://www.livewithflair.blogspot.com/

  • RachelGrey

    By far the biggest obstacle for me is my own fears about my job and my career. I did a little “fear meditation” last weekend where I wrote, on paper, all the things I’m really afraid of, and career fears dominated the list even more than I thought they would.

    The sad thing is, I’m DOING what I want to do (if maybe a few more hours a week than would be strictly optimal). I “just” have impostor syndrome, and a giant fear that things won’t work out.

  • Robin

    I live in south Louisiana. Since 9/11, Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan and now the disastrous BP oil spill…my greatest obstacle to happiness is my heartfelt sadness at what is happening to our people, environment and world. I am personally blessed to have everything my heart could desire in my life and have a very happy life. And I have volunteered my time and money to help in as many ways as possible to help with disasters and to help in my community. And yet…my heart is filled with sadness and helplessness every single day. And (by the way) I try not to watch the news 24/7, but I try to stay informed.

    • I am with you on this. I live in the Pacific Northwest, but pretty much all I can think of right now is the ocean. The end of world dystopia of big box movies is coming true. I hear the interviews with the bayou fishermen on the radio,the endless obfuscations from BP, the announcements of NEW wells being permitted in the Gulf and it all just breaks my heart. This past month has me questioning the whole idea of “my” happiness. So, my personal synapses perk up a bit with pleasure at seeing something beautiful, or a good conversation, or doing my work, so….what? The bigger picture of what we as humans are doing to our planet is still here, full on, it’s all very real. Staying calm, keeping on keeping on, I can try to do that right now, but “happy”, I’m wondering what that looks like in the face of major global tragedy. So often we talk of “my” happiness but rarely of “our” happiness, as in the world’s happiness. Right now I think I’m less interested in happy than in figuring out how to be responsible, how to face what’s going on without pretending, or hiding, or believing media fairytales. As far as the future of life on our planet, it may just not all work out. So my “zone” has to include that.

      • gretchenrubin

        Yes, I think this is a huge issue for a lot of people: personal happiness,
        and thinking about the day-to-day things within our personal sphere, and
        larger happiness, that takes into account issues that relate to issues of
        policy, government, industry, etc — society-wide things.

        One thing worth thinking about is that people who are personally happy tend
        to be MORE engaged in social problems than people who are less happy. They
        volunteer more. They are also more effective; because people are drawn to
        happier people, they’re more persuasive.

        So trying to be happy on a personal level doesn’t obviate the decision to
        deal with “unhappiness” at a societal level. Rather, it might give arm you
        to be all the more effective.

        • Being personally more “happy” might make me a better volunteer, this is true. But I am willing to guess that many people who become active in causes like the environment or social justice do so because their personal happiness has expanded in such a way that the larger world has to be part of it.
          America as a nation has dedicated itself to the pursuit of happiness as part of its mission statement. We have pursued it at all cost, to the point where, as the rest of the world has followed us into consumer excess, the very fate of the world’s ocean’s air and species life hangs in the balance. If we continue to preserve our moods and our personal comfort by not-looking, by avoiding the news because it is such a downer, we won’t notice that if we all turned the heat down or didn’t drive one day a week or had perhaps one child instead three or four that we wouldn’t be in such desperate need of the oil that is spilling into the Gulf.

          Indulging in UNhappiness about the big picture, and letting it take front row in our minds could be a strategic move in favor of saving the planet and our very own species along with rest. And I say this as someone who likes my central heating and car as much as the next person. In the winter my personal happiness has never been able to coexist with being cold. But hey, guess what, I just don’t know that I am going to have the luxury of putting my comfort first for much longer.

  • Diana

    After a month of the beginning of my Happiness Project, I can’t quite put my finger on the biggest obstacle for me. It’s either laziness, lack of energy, or unrealistic expectations. I can’t figure out which it is. Inevitably, I don’t get around to doing all my goals for the day, usually because I just don’t feel up to it. Is it mind over matter? I think I’m getting enough sleep…

    Maybe next month’s goal will be figuring that one out… LOL.

  • I find that the biggest obstacle to my happiness is being in limbo. This has to do with my career. I am currently a teacher (a first year teacher) and I have recently launched a website, divorcecandy.com. Right now, I do both jobs full time but can’t fully commit 100% of myself to one because of the other. There is a chance I will be doing DivorceCandy full time once this school year is over, but I’m not sure yet so I feel like I’m in limbo. I think I need to get to the point where I am doing one and not the other, not both at the same time. I like to be able to give 100% to the job I have .

    • Wow. This is a great site! It looks like a great resource for people who are going through the challenges of divorce. Do you need help supporting the site? We have an outsourced team of writers that could help you the link building, content writing, and social media for the site. We provide stellar content for 1/6th the cost of domestic rates.

  • Rebecca

    Anxiety and procrastination.
    I hate filling out forms and mailing things in, and so I put it off and do other things. Then it builds up until I have a truly horrible amount, and it reaches crises proportions (i.e. nearly past the due date, having to file extensions, etc.) By the time I get it done, I feel guilty and exhausted, not accomplished.
    The only real cure for procrastination is to just get things done. I try to remind myself to take big chores in smaller tasks, or give myself deadlines, forgive my faults and cheer for successes. Yet especially when I am under pressure, I tend to fall apart a little and I get less and less done.

  • pamwalter

    I have come to believe that the difference between happiness and unhappiness is largely a matter of adjusting one’s expectations. If I constantly want or expect things that I can never have, I will never be happy. Learning to be content with what is possible and identifying needs vs. wants has made a big difference in my level of happiness. http://www.satisfiedsole.com

  • Rose Sell

    My hindrance to happiness is simply not living the life that I want. Since I have started reading this blog, things have moved in a positive direction and I have made changes. I find myself obsessing over ways that could solve some of our serious problems (like debt), but I am also battling wishful thinking and trying to act more on what would help us. Money is a constant worry, and I have realized recently that I have been worrying about money for years…But I am trying to limit the worry and actually do more- it’s helped.

  • donnamae9

    Enjoy today’s question and will get my ticker going as I try to resolve what to do about my obstacle or maybe to define it a bit more. My obstacle is that I don’t ever feel I can just be. Being a single mother I feel that I have voices from every direction (ie…ex, grandma, boyfriend, school and more) and utimately would like to keep things simple.

  • A n obstacle to my own unhappiness is not allowing myself to tune into my real soul. I have all of these “shoulds” going on in my head while I leave my heart “out in the cold”. When I ignore the feelings that whelm up to do what I thing I am supposed to do, or what I must do, then unhappiness seeps in. Slowly at first, and then as a flood.
    When my thinking part and my emotional being are “in sync” then happiness prevails. I may even realize that I am humming on the inside. I get into the zone without trying. Time passes. I achieve what I set out to do holistically. And the day is good.

  • I think for me it all boils down to feeling out of control…whether my house is getting too messy, not paying my bills on time, not eating right, not hitting the gym at least 3x a week, etc…
    Thankfully, I’ve learned the hard way so many times that now I’m very conscience of maintaining that sense of order (control) — at least over myself…now if I could only get my teenage son to stop leaving a trail of chaos in his wake, I’d be ecstatic. 🙂

  • something I think about that makes it easier for me to be happy is accepting that sometimes life is hard and stinks and sometimes quiet is good. Once I accept that I have been much happier with myself and those around me. It’s easy to say but not as easy to do!

  • I feel that my unhappiness comes from my inability to grow. I feel that I can grow more, but at times fear can hold me back. And like you, it’s feeling unhappy about what I could be doing instead of what I am doing. I love my day time job don’t mistaken, but it doesn’t allow for growth. And if I’m not slightly afraid of doing something then I’m not growing at all in my life. And lack of growth is a huge dissatisfaction in my own life.

    Especially since life get so busy, it’s important to really just pause…and think about the question you ask. Sometimes we do things without thinking and realize how much unhappiness has built up in our own lives.

  • thalwa

    A big obstacle to my happiness is searching for happiness, wanting something better… So now, ending the pursuit of happiness!

  • MamaCat

    Right now my back is really hurting and that is definitely getting in the way of being happy. It’s just a temporary thing and I’m sure will be better in a day or two, but it makes me grumpy that I can’t clean the house or mow the grass or take care of a lot of things that I really feel need to get done. And I know the reason why – I’m out of shape and need to exercise, so that makes me unhappy too (i.e. that I brought this on myself).

    But this also gets into the area of obligation. I feel obligated to do so much. I’m not a real fuss-budget, but I want the house minimally clean. I want the grass not to get too long or the weeds too out of control. I want the laundry to be done and not hang around unfolded in the laundry baskets all week. I want to feed my family decent, healthy food. I want my cats to be healthy and happy and have a clean litterbox, and my long-haired cat not to be covered in mats (nearly impossible). There is just so dang much to get done in a day. When I’m well, it’s a lot of work and can be exhausting but it gets done. When I’m not feeling well everything slides and I am left feeling bitter & unhappy. My family is great, don’t get me wrong. My 12 y/o daughter did a lot to help out tonight, and even gave me a wonderful back massage and very helpful deep-breathing exercises to do (incredibly caring kid!) but they really don’t “get” why any of this matters to me. And I’m not sure why it matters to me, either. I guess I just want my life to be orderly and well-managed but not everybody in my life is on board with that.

    • Sally O’Connell

      Have you checked out http://www.flylady.net? You might find the routines and “baby steps” suggested there helpful.

      • gretchenrubin

        I looooove FlyLady! Great stuff.

    • Well, I don’t see why you are unhappy, I think you are kind a person who loves to enjoy every part, where no such ‘obligation’ or duty to be done! It’s cool… Just you need to import those works in your happiness list and do with fully enjoyment, like when you are mowing your grasses, listen some charming song in Ipod and move your body a little! Clean your room while your room theater beating and you will usually feel charmed!

      Learn a little from your kids, they are dutyful and NEVER think that those are you are delaying are ‘works’ those just what you do every in a natural order like eating, toilet and shower 🙂

      Forget the past, everyday a new for new start! Be happy always 🙂

    • Kcianci02

      What you want is for your children to value the same things that you value–an orderly life. I grew up valuing the same thing. But it is hard if you don’t have complete control of your kids. Do you? I don’t and my spouse interferes with my desire to teach my kids what I value. I value so many things that he has never experienced. I don’t ask him to learn these things; I just ask him to not be an obstacle in my quest to teach my kids what I value. He won’t listen and continues to impede my mission.

  • Carolyn

    I recently ended an unhealthy relationship and there is nothing I want more than for my ex to just disappear. Unfortunately, this is not the case. He calls my phone (I don’t answer) and leaves garbled, abusive messages, sends me private messages on facebook, and now it looks like I might have to take him to court over a ridiculous phone bill that was rung up while I was away with my parents. I will be truly happy when this situation is resolved.

  • The only real thing standing between me and unabashed happiness is the gnawing worry about how I’m going to pay my mortgage if I can’t get a steady income going before the unemployment payments dry up.

  • Lately, I’ve been whining to my friends about how much I hate my job. So, I really smiled when that was the first thing you mentioned because that’s the first thing that came to my mind when I read your title post. And one of my friend actually asked me what do I hate about it. When I think about it, the job itself is not really that bad. I just don’t want to be doing it. I’d rather be doing something else.

  • The unending pile of change-of-address forms in the corner of my desk was beginning to slowly eat away at my soul. Seizing your advice to “identify the problem” I just dropped everything -including my blog!-and spent about 4 hours doing the last final ones, even those requiring overseas phone calls. I feel INFINITELY better.

    Now, on to sorting out the rest of my life.
    Thanks Gretch.

    Delia Lloyd

    • gretchenrubin

      It’s funny how these seemingly trivial thing can stand in the way to making
      more important changes. Taking care of small tasks can free us to do bigger

  • Jen Miller

    What makes me unhappy on a regular basis is financial worries. But I don’t necessarily think that money in the bank would solve that problem, although, it would help.

  • My obstacle to happiness is the attempt to manufacture happiness. I try to remind myself that happiness “happens.” It is not a hyper-intentional creation.

    • gretchenrubin

      Well, for me, it is, but different people have different approaches!

      • Perhaps there is a middle ground? The pursuit of happiness, or to use a common metaphor, the journey or path is what produces happiness.

        The pursuit is the game, the play thing, that the mind enjoys. Once happiness is found, the game is over and a new game begins.

        “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.” ~ Carl Jung

        The happiest people, in my humble opinion, are not trying to “win or lose” — they are not trying to find happiness — they are happy by virtue of simply “playing the game.”

  • AT

    What’s getting in the way of my happiness? My past. It’s not about bad things that may have happened to me – I can deal with that. It’s all of the mistakes I made, things and situations I mismanaged, the relationships I undervalued, the lack of effort and focus I put into some work. I know the past doesn’t affect the present, I know I am not unique in letting the past take away from my present, I know I need to quiet my mind…But I haven’t yet reconciled what I know to be true with how I think and feel. (Some of these situations come up in my dreams and I end up feeling haunted all day.)

  • Stephanie

    One obstacle is my ex husbands girlfriend of 6 years overstepping boundaries with mothering my daughter. Bad mouthing me to the community and saying I don’t respect her. She is nice to my face, when she has to acknowledge me, and nice in emails but on every other aspect runs me and my mothering skills to the ground. it is frustrating and I have tried to stop her and she has said she would stop but hasn’t. I have tried to get the school to stop giving her the parental role power when she isn’t a parent, her father is the parent and I am the parent. I believe in karma and the high road and i am trying to not let the anger control me cause that would mean she is in control. If she would just step back and let me be the mom, I would be happier. I feel I deserve that.

    • Cheryl Y

      Stephanie…I so get what you are saying here. My ex has the nerve to have his girlfriend around my ten year old daughter. If he had had the balls to find a real woman then I would not be so upset but he fell for a married woman at work while we were still married and the two of them together now makes me want to barf on both of them. What the HELL are they showing my kid?? That marriage is a temporary sham until the next best thing comes along. There is a special place in hell for the likes of my ex, his lady, Tiger Woods, Jesse James and all of the people who cannot take their marriage vows seriously. I hate my ex and his lady and wish they had no contact with my girl.

  • rebecca

    When I think about this I have to say the biggest source of unhappiness in my life is social disconnection. I have a great job, great nuclear family, but no current, local, close friends. These friendships just used to flow naturally, but at this stage in life (40ish, small kids) they just aren’t anymore. Part of this is my own lack of outreach. I realize this but lack the will to do much about it!

  • Leslie

    I like the term “happiness leech.” I’ve known a great many, including close family members, and I’m a firm believer in setting boundaries with such people. It only takes one to make your life totally miserable.

  • Jess

    My biggest obstacle right now is that I don’t make my own life a priority. In my work, I am always keeping the lives of others running smoothly…keeping them organized, coming in early, staying later. But when it comes to my own life, I don’t seem to put in half of that effort. Once I leave work and fight the commute home, I have no energy or desire to do anything for myself. Most people think that I because I am single and have no children, I am available to do whatever, whenever…which is true most of the time but unfortunately, they think that what I should be doing is working all the time. I am working on learning how to set boundaries and make more time for myself and my life.

  • I believe an obstacle to my happiness begins with my procrastination. I think I could be more successful in quite a few areas if I would just get the most important things accomplished first. The problem is my limited time and trying to get everything done at once.

    I would normally say the lack of money is the obstacle, but in some instances I would have more money if I would get the more important things accomplished.

  • ess

    I’ve thought about this a lot and I think expecting others to be who I want them to be, feel how I want them to feel and say what I want them to say has just given me a lot of disappointment. I am not sure why I expect this and sometimes I catch myself in these thoughts and try to talk it through. But often it just makes me feel sad and upset when others are not who I want them to be, which frankly is a bit ridiculous. I am certainly not going to be who someone else wants me to be, so why should anyone else? And I really want people to be themselves, except for when it hurts me. So, I know I need to let go of this, stop taking things so personally, and just accept people for who they are, enjoy them when possible and blow off the few times they say something mean, usually unintentionally, or do something I deem stupid, etc. Thanks for the blog, it truly has and is changing my life.

  • Hi Gretchen — great post: Obstacles to my happiness? For me it’s about not having the time to pursue the things that make me happy because I’m too busy with the must-do’s instead of the want-to-do’s! Figuring out a way to squeeze in a few wants in the midst of my overwhelming have-tos and, oh yes, steering clear of people who suck the joy out of life with their negative attitude would be a huge happiness booster A ND a great way to avoid a bit of unhappiness.

    The crux of the problem is probably that I don’t feel like I’m the me on the outside that I am on the inside. On the outside I think I am an overweight, nagging Mom and housewife but on the inside I’m a physically-active and healthy, dynamic go-getter of a woman. Getting the outside to match the inside (who I was, am and want to be) would decrease my unhappiness. Being an imposter (a better self trapped inside a lesser body) to myself makes me unhappier than I would like to be!

  • nursemarji

    Right now my obstacle is fear. I love the career I’m in, however, my current workplace is an extremely toxic environment. It has made quite a negative impact on my health. The solution is clear: I must quit and find a new job. While I would like to stay until I’ve secured another position, the urge is strong to cut the cord as soon as possible before things get worse for me. I’m lucky to be in a high-demand field, so I know that I can find something pretty quickly. I am in the process with a few places and have enough money saved to be off for three to four weeks. Now I just have to find the guts to put in my notice.

  • CB

    My weight. It embarrasses me, but I just can’t seem to get it under control, even though I eat healthfully AND exercise 6 days a week. Sigh.

  • Hello, I really like the post, my main obstacle for my happiness is the Social Phobia along with heavy depression I am currently suffering, I am taking pills those are working for limited time 🙁

    I think so wrong about my life and people around me,it’s like a headache to me and whenever I smile and start a new life I again go along with the same feeling! I hate to be phobic! I also lost 6 years of my life for the same decease, but thank god I am now know it, despite I read in many articles these kind of decease is almost incurable, but I gotta fight it out….

    Everyday is new day, every start is a whole new start 🙂

    But worse part is I am just 16 🙁

  • Cheryl Y

    My ONLY obstacle to happiness now is the fact that my ex is openly in a relationship with the woman he met at work while we were still married. He told me in 2009 and at our subsequent marriage counseling that he never loved me (have known him for almost 20 years and we have a 10 year old girl) and that he was in love with this woman at work (who was also married to someone else at the time). I DO not want this man back in my life but I cannot accept his relationship with this woman since the two of them only show and role model for my girl that marriage and wedding vows are a farce and that wives are easily replaced at the drop of a hat and as soon as the next best thing comes along. I hate him and I hate her for what they have done to both of their families. I want my girl to NOT be around either of them ever…

  • TAD

    My unhappiness comes from being around an uphappy person who happens to be my husband. The only time he is remotely happy is when he is in a drug induced state. And I cannot afford to leave him. I do however, have three children that I adore.

    • Sheila

      My unhappiness is also from my husband. He is very negative and drags me down. I, too, cannot afford to leave him, as I lost my job. My two children keep me going. I look at them every day and thank God I have them.

  • rosanna

    I am the obstacle to my happiness. My quest for perfection(in everything) is the biggest source of unhappiness for me and my family. It is a big problem that feels too overwhelming to conquer. I am a working mom. My husband is embarking on opeining up his law practice which I can’t get excited about at all. I work from 7:30 to 5 PM and have no time for anything. I have twin 7 year old boys and a 2 year old a huge mortgage and utility bills. I am reading your book and I discovered a few years ago that growth or lack of growth is a huge factor toward unhappiness. I realized that my happiest time in my career was trying to work my way up to the top(whatever that is). Like keeping a marriage together my saying had always been the beauty is in the struggle. Today I feel lost, not growing, unmotivated and just plain angry most of the time. I am finding it impossible to support my husband as he is growing (and he is a very good man) as I find myself struggling in what I am supposed to be doing now. I am slowly going for a masters in education thinking that a possible carrer change may be the answer but what do I do with that now. I can’t afford to change anything. I feel trapped in a life I thought I had figured out. I can’t get happy and I am destroying my marriage and hurting my kids in the process. What a mess. I think I know what I should do but lack the ability change.

  • BurdenedDaughter

    My greatest obstacle is caring for my elderly mother. She is slowly fading away from Alzheimer’s and she never made any provisions (no money saved, no living will) for her old age, or any infirmities that may happen. Now I’m stuck as her only caregiver. My brothers and their wives and children don’t help out. They seem to think that since I’m single and childless I’m the one to sacrifice my life until Mom is gone.

    I’d love to put her in a nursing home but the ones Medicaid will pay for are horrible! I wouldn’t put an animal in one and I can’t do that to my mother. I’m 47, don’t have a job, have no more savings, and I’m afraid. I see the days pass and all I can feel is sadness. Everyday is taken over by Mom’s needs and I have so little time for myself. I’m so exhausted that when I do get time for myself I usually sleep. This is such a drain physically and emotionally.

    • Jul

      What you have said rings so true for me as well. My happiness has been on hold for over eight years now as I have taken care of one parent then the other. I am not married, don’t have any kids and don’t date. My best friend is fed u with my having to take care of my mom and is moving on with her life. I feel so stuck, and can identify so closly with yoour post. I have no answer for you, but can let you know that you are not alone in your sadness for you situation.

  • My obstacle is definitely feeling overwhelmed. I am job hunting. I am running nearly every aspect of my home by myself. I am trying to find classes either at a community college or online high school to replace the classes that my daughter’s high school cut next year due to budget constraints. My son is struggling in middle school, so I am working with a learning center to get him caught up. I am looking for classes, camps and activities for both my chidlren to keep them occupied this summer. I need a vacation–and a drink.

    Thank you so much for this helpful website. I’m going to try to put a link to this on my blog.

  • kim

    What’s my biggest obstacle to My happiness?? ME!!! i’m my biggest obstacle these days, for numerous reasons. but the biggest one right now is not taking care of myself in a way that nurtures and strengthens me. i know what to do, i just dont DO IT!

    and i dont know why i keep myself in this rut, even when it’s MORE of a struggle to keep myself in the rut—or to QUICKLY send myself tumbling back into it if i do happen to get our for a few moments.

    i’m living my life through fear right now, and i know fear is part of what keeps me in my rut, but it’s more than just that.

    low self-worth maybe? i know INTELLECTUALLY that i am a smart woman with lots of skills and talents, but it stays stuck up in my head. i cant figure out how to bring it down to my heart and soul. and even with that, i DO know some of what i can do to feel better about myself, i just dont take the time to do it. and it becomes a vicious circle!

    one of my favorite quotes is from Carlos Castaneda:

    “We either make ourselves miserable,
    or we make ourselves strong.
    The amount of work is the same.”

  • roseycheeks

    The obstacle of my happiness is not feeling as if I am my ‘authentic self ‘. I want to be totally honest and can not do it, for fear of losing my family(kids/grandkids).
    I live my life in limbo……hoping I can accept the way things are and be happy.
    I am afraid to say that I am not in love with my husband… he knows this but is afraid to open up the can of worms. He wants us to be together and enjoy our g’kids(and retirement) as a happy couple. It is a facade.
    I am a good actress and I fear taking a risk. I love someone else.
    It is a shame and I pray a lot.
    How do we truly know which way we are supposed to turn?
    It’s a shame…..I pray alot.
    How do we truly know which way things are supposed to be?

  • Simple but super effective advice.

    If you don’t know what the problem is, how can you find the solution?Thanks, and Be Happy,Gregory S. Barsh, Esq.Chief Happiness OfficerruHap, The Happiness CompanyFollow our blog, How to be Happier, at http://ruhap.com/content/category/blog/http://ruhap.com/

  • My Dear sir thank you for this wonderful content.I really enjoyed reading this.I will be very pleased if you read mine

  • I like the term “happiness leech.” I’ve known a great many, including close family members, and I’m a firm believer in setting boundaries with such people. It only takes one to make your life totally miserable.

  • Sarah

    Ooh, I’m catching up from vacation (which, by the way, was a great insight into this exact question), so I’m late, but better late etc etc 🙂

    Right now, I actually feel pretty happy! I think the thing that is keeping me from being happier is knowing that I’m not yet spending my days in the way I want to spend my life. Many of the things that would make me happier day-to-day require a change of some kind to give me more flexibility and control over my schedule. I’m working on making this happen in small ways while figuring out how I ultimately want it to happen, though, which feels pretty good.

  • Niel0254

    My obstacle to happiness: tendencies for depression and anxiety, but deeper than this is a nagging, subconscious feeling of fundamental unworthiness. This feeling comes from childhood abuse and neglect, where time and time again I was given the message, both explicitly and subtly, that my needs were unimportant. I realize that my lack of accomplishment in school, high school and jr. high, were not for lack of ambition, it was that feeling that nothing I did mattered. Which led to plenty of negative attention from my parents, teachers, guidance counselors, which only reinforced my underlying belief that i was no good, not worthy or meant to be happy, loved and appreciated. When I was about 2o years old, I moved all by myself, from my home state in the Midwest out to northern CA. It was there, that I got a fresh start. I made real friends for the first time in my life, that were supportive, boosted my self-confidence, and increased my sense of self worth. I fell in love with a wonderful man, who constantly saw the beauty and good in me. He was somehow able to look past the walls I had built up over the years, and reached that cute, sweet, loving girl hiding inside. I went to a terrific college up North (in the redwood country) full of progressive, accepting, encouraging professors and peers. For the first time in my life, I felt special, talented, accomplished. The positive reinforcement was fuel for my soul. I had always had dreams of becoming a doctor, or working at a profession where doing daily good for others was a large component. Problem was: my track record of poor academic performance, despite above average intelligence, feelings of inadequacy, and chronic underacheivement. At HSU, with the help and support of a terrific boyfriend, great friends, and wonderful professors in a setting of breathtaking natural beauty, I found it impossible to be miserable. I started exercising, eating right, quit smoking and drinking, and dove in full-bore to soaking up knowledge and exploring my intellectual gifts and passions in a way I never had before. I transformed into a physically fit, straight-A student, with a mile-long list of professors and advisors who were willing to bend over backwards to help me get into whatever post-grad program I chose. For the first time in my life, I felt like a winner. I was top of my class, winning awards, scholarships. Unfortunately, I chose to pursue a graduate degree in Chemistry and moved to a completely different academic/social environment. NO more encouragement, no more natural beauty, no more emphasis on physical and spiritual health. Slowly, all the great things and self esteem I had built up were eroded by trying to acheive in an environment were nothing was ever good enough, overt sexism and harassment (unfortunately the physical sciences are extremely male dominated and terrible sexist behavior is tolerated and accepted). My new peers were constantly negative, drank excessively and competed with eachother using unkind if not despicable tactics. I fell into the trap, started going to the bar for comraderie, quit cooking healthy meals, quit exercising as much and those old feelings of self doubt and inadequacy began taking strong hold. In order to cope with the sexism, disrespect, mistrust of my coworkers, I found myself becoming an overtly negative, even aggressive person that was not in line with my true heart. I sunk into a deep depression, because I felt hopeless and helpless to change my situation. Not to mention, my relationship began to fall apart big time. Somehow, after months of laying awake at night and with the help of a therapist, I decided to go back to my original dream of becoming a doctor. I began volunteering at the hospital, which despite the fact that it took up 4 hrs of my week, brought me tremendous sense of renewed hope and a glimmer of light in a world that had become so dark to me. Now in my 4th year of medical school, I still struggle with some of the issues that arose in grad school. It”s a big school where it is difficult to get much personal recognition and support. I still grieve over a lost love. I have dealt with some frightening health issues of my own and in my family. I often feel overwhelmed and that my hardwork isn’t good enough. On the positive, that although I still struggle, the joy I get from using my God-given gifts to touch other peoples’ lives makes it all worth it. I truly believe my personal pain and struggles have helped me become a deeply compassionate, talented physician. I am kinda quiet and not good at “pimping” (oral on the fly quizing by attendings and residents), so my clinical grades have not always reflected my true abilities, which has been hugely disappointing to me. Yet still, the satisfaction I get from giving my all to my patients, makes me grateful for the opportunity I have and allows me to give myself some credit for how far I have come. Deep inside I know I will be a terrific physician. They say recognising the problem is at least 80% of the battle, in short I realize that my obstacles to happiness right now are: I need to take care of myself and my environment ( I am a strong person, but negative, discouraging, emotionally abusive surroundings drag me down BIG TIME), I flourish with encouragement and whither with disappointment, hostility, indifference. When I get positive support and encouragemnt from my superiors, I work harder and feel a million times better. When I am overly criticized, misunderstood, or mistreated I disengage, withdraw, become depressed. For better or worse, this is how I work. I can try to sustain myself with inner encouragement, but that only lasts so long before the external environment zaps the energy out of me. I spent years beating myself up for this: I should be able to believe in myself enough to handle lack of external positive reinforcement and if I can’t do this, something is wrong with me. Now I have had this epiphany where I say “the hell with that” this is how I work, and if I need a supportive environment to do my best work and feel my happiest that is OK, it is just who I am, I need to carefully choose my work/home environment to maximize my happiness. I do not need to take on “tough jobs” where long work hours with little to no appreciation, encouragemt or support. I do not need to prove myself by toughing out and surviving such situations. I want to live, I want to thrive and be happy. Mere survival in a chaotic negative home or work environment is not good enough for me. So when it comes time to choose a residency, if some of the “top programs” don’t want me because of my past or my need for a positive environment, then screw them, I don’t want them either! I am beginning to accept myself, flaws and all, and that is quite comforting. Liberating even. I believe that I do deserve to be happy and any person or situation that would make me feel otherwise is toxic! and I need to avoid them at all costs. With my new self-knowledge and more importantly self-acceptance percolating inside me, I feel my self confidence and hope for the future and feelings of happiness building up inside me too.

  • Kcianci02

    An obstacle to my happiness:

    I had two beautiful children who I planned on raising to be courageous, compassionate, empathetic, and happy. They seem happy but they do not posess the other qualities. My husband does not allow me to focus on finding a surefire way to instill those qualities in my children. He would rather do it the Flaubert Way: “to be stupid selfish and to have good health”. I reject this wholeheartedly.

  • dode

    Right now, I’d say anger/resentment is an obstacle to my happiness and is something I have been unable to let go of. I have read quite a bit from Martin Seligman and taken much of what he has had to teach to heart as well. I have passions in many things, am newly married with a wonderful husband, and just got a big raise which would make us a big more comfortable than we had been previously. So I have a lot to be thankful for.

    However, in the past year or so a good friend and former business partner of my husband’s ran up a large debt in his name, defaulted on it and left us to pay it (so far…it’s been 6 months). Another result was a severe blow to his originally stellar credit. Steps have been taken to remedy the situation, only steps on our end. Because we share many mutual friends with this person, we see him and his wife on too regular of a basis, making things very uncomfortable. In addition, it has sort of been my husband’s policy to avoid the conflict. In the beginning, I nagged my husband to try to get his friend to at least help us (which he has tried to do) but nowI see that doesn’t help me or him, so I have left it alone for the time being.

    While we have been slowly paying off this debt, they (the couple), have been buying new cars, getting a puppy and starting a family. We will eventually be okay financially, but the resentment has clouded my happiness. I have taken everything Martin Seligman has written to heart (and am halfway through your book)….except for that forgiveness bit. I just can’t seem to put myself in this guy’s shoes. How do I get past this one obstacle??

    • gretchenrubin

      Wow, this is really a tough situation — sounds very serious and
      complicated. I wish I had some easy advice! Perhaps you would do well to get
      a trusted, distinterested third party involved to help work it out.

      • dode

        Thank you for the advice Gretchen. Any bit helps. I have consulted a couple neutral people, but what ends up happening is that once I have told them all the details they tend to be at the very least, disgusted, which ends up fueling my fire. They offer ideas, but usually along the lines of “I know this great lawyer!”. We have explored that route already and have found that although they are buying like mad…there is really no blood to squeeze from that turnip. So as this point, I am just trying to find a way to keep myself as happy as I can…considering the current circumstances. So I am reading, reading, reading! 🙂 Thanks again.

  • rachel

    I just skimmed all the comments, and they were fascinating. I was surprised to find that while many people mentioned challenging or unhappy relationships with parents, children, spouses, or ex-spouses as obstacles, not a single person named being single as the central obstacle. This is far and away the most fundamental and recalcitrant obstacle to my happiness. I have plenty of other life challenges– a demanding job (and a recent promotion that will make it even more stressful), some minor health problems, a complicated and batty family, living far away from my closest friends, etc.– but none of these problems daunts me in the same way. I read, I research, I make lists, I consult friends or professionals as appropriate, and slowly but surely I come up with an action plan for each dilemma. Even the crisis of faith I recently passed through seems to be resolving itself through focused writing, prayer, conversation, and creative compromise. But my love life goes nowhere, despite great clarity of purpose and fairly systematic attempts to expand my social circle and meet men. And while some people can live happily as singletons, I am emphatically not one of them– being single is entirely contrary to my temperament and life goals. I used to think there were many 30 and 40-somethings in my position, but after reading all of the comments on this post, I now wonder if my experience of remaining single despite a deep and well-considered yearning for marriage and family life is, in fact, relatively unusual.

    • erinlynch

      I read your post and felt like I was reading a paragraph about myself. I feel the EXACT same way – being single is by far the greatest obstacle in my life. I have no great advice or thoughts – I wish I did, but at least I can tell you that you are not alone and that someone out there understands how hard, frustrating and lonely it can be when you are still searching for “the one”.
      best of luck

  • Shelby

    I suffer from environmental allergies which can be quite bad and I’m having to take antihistamines for it which really can make me feel tired.

    One day I hope to stop taking the tablets but I know they are helping me control my allergies so in the meantime I am making the most of things by as you suggested, trying to get an extra hours sleep.

    I am also going to watch my dietary intake and see if it helps in some way.

    The book and this site is giving me ideas as well as the motivation to not let my allergies take over!

    Thank you.


    • gretchenrubin

      Good luck! That’s a real challenge, but you are doing what you can. Hang in

      • Mi-art

        Thanks Gretchen. It is very challenging as it causes other problems too as the allergies have been so bad in the past. If I could stop taking the antihistamines it would be a huge step for me. I know they help but it’s the side effects that I don’t like.

        I’m grateful for this blog and for your wonderful book. They are different from others because you are providing first hand experience written clearly and concisely. I don’t think I’ve got the energy to read anything too long winded and drawn out 😉

  • ruby

    The obstacle to my happiness is my pessimistic nature and my need to cling to the past