Sometimes, you think everything is going well in your life, and yet you are miserable, angry, frustrated, and sad. You have nightmares, don’t eat well, no longer hear the birds chirping, or see the beauty that surrounds you every day. You hate everything and everyone, or almost. But you can’t quite put your finger on what exactly is bothering you.
Understanding the human heart and mind is a challenge, to say the least. We are wonderfully complex creatures, part of an even more wonderfully complex world.
I don’t pretend to have answers or anything, but after making the same mistakes over and over again for quite a long time, I’m finally learning to pay attention to (and act on) a few things.
The behaviors I talk about below can make or break my well-being in a matter of days, if not faster.
If you are feeling miserable but are not sure why, I hope this list will give you some ideas on where to start looking.
1. You are miserable because you are not listening to your heart
Sometimes you might think you are doing things because it’s what you want. But the sad truth is, you’ve been putting aside your heart’s desires for so long, you probably don’t even realize that every step you take is a step further away from what your heart wants. And you’ve been doing this for years.
The problem is, you may not see it. But your heart does, and it tells you. All the time.
But I have a feeling most people don’t understand the language their heart uses. They are miserable but they probably don’t even realize it, or they don’t know why.
And that’s because they ignore their deepest wants and needs, they ignore their feelings, and they’ve learned to focus on the wrong values. By “wrong values” I mean values that are not truly your own.
But quitting when you are so far in makes you feel like all you did up to now was a waste. So, you start telling yourself things like: “I got to this point, I might as well continue, no?”.
Listening to your heart is probably one of the hardest things you will ever do because it usually implies giving up on the things you’ve been doing up to that point. It’s the equivalent of killing a part of who we were up to that point.
But it’s also incredibly rewarding because it’s an opportunity to say yes to other things. Things you cannot yet fathom because up to this point, you had no room in your life for those things.
When you listen to your heart and take action, relief comes. And serenity. Because you are suddenly more aligned with what you truly want.
2. You are doing things for the wrong reasons
You are probably miserable right now because you do the things you do for the wrong reasons. Maybe you start a project because you expect to be respected by your peers, or because you seek appreciation, rewards, accolades, promotions?
At first, you might think: “well, what is wrong with that?”, and I get it.
I used to only do things because I thought they were the “right” things to do or the next logical best step. “Best” according to whom or based on what? Based on values I was taught growing up, perhaps? I’m not sure.
What I do know is that the more I was achieving, the more I was miserable.
At one point, I had to re-evaluate the motives behind my actions because, even though I was doing most things “right”, I was more and more miserable. To a point where I could no longer live in my own skin.
3. You do things solely for money
To continue on the previous point, money seems to be a big motivator for most of us. I’m not sure it’s a bad thing in itself; the point is, we need money to survive in today’s world.
However, I am more and more convinced that money should never be the first or only motivator behind our actions. And if that’s the case in your life, this might be the reason why you are feeling miserable. You’ve probably lost sight of more meaningful values that carry just as much weight (if not more) in your heart.
When I allow money to become the primary motivator behind my actions, it’s like trading a piece of my soul or my happiness in exchange for it. And trading even just a tiny piece of my soul or my happiness makes everything fall apart pretty quickly.
But it’s so easy to fall into this trap! Especially when you are a business owner or work for any enterprise with commercial activities.
You have to constantly be on the lookout and remind yourself of your values and consciously put them at the forefront of your decisions.
I’ve learned (I’m still learning) that the primary motivator of my actions has to be serving others, pleasure, creativity, fun, curiosity, etc. Not money. If I start doing things for money first, then I do things for money, not because they are good for my soul, others, and the planet.
And money in itself brings nothing. It’s just a means, not an end.
4. You are miserable because you never do things just for the sake of doing them
Before you do something, anything, do you find yourself wondering things like: “yeah, but what does that bring me?”, or “what’s the point of doing this/starting this/learning this? It’s not like I’m going to become x, y or z”.
I think this is particularly true for educated and trained professionals, who were taught that their actions have to always be optimal, efficient, or serve a purpose.
This type of logic kills your joy because you end up never doing things just for the sake of doing them or just enjoying yourself.
Do you want to learn Chinese? So what if you never go to China? There is great pleasure in learning a new language even if you never travel to the country that speaks it. Just do it because you want to and not because it serves an arbitrary purpose.
We constantly put constraints or ourselves every day and it slowly kills our soul and makes us miserable.
5. You only do the things you have to do and your life has become one big chore
We are always sooo busy, we have to do this or that.
When your days are only a succession of things you have to do, your life becomes one big chore.
Some cultures seem to value this sense of “sacrifice” or “work hard” mentality more than others. As if there was shame in doing things just for pleasure, but dignity in always sacrificing yourself and playing the martyr.
For example, we would call “good parents”, people who barely take care of themselves and do EVERYTHING for their children at the cost of their own well-being; whereas we might judge parents of 3-6 months old babies who call a babysitter so that they can have a night with their friends.
We go to work because we have to, we make dinner, work hard at jobs we hate, and do all sorts of things only because we have to. But we never pay any attention to the things we might want to do simply because we love them… or just want to.
Like going out with a camera and taking pictures on a Thursday afternoon after work instead of hastily jump in your train home. Or removing your socks and putting your feet in the sandbox the next time you walk by the park even though we’re in October.
Try it, it’s fun.
6. You work too hard
When you work long hours, it can be frustrating to stop for cooking, eating, or going for a walk.
That is especially when you are passionate about what you do or there is too much that needs to be done.
Even if you do it out of enjoyment, you should still take breaks. You might think you enjoy working these long hours, and maybe you do. But it still impacts your mood and overall well-being. And just because you can work 14-16 hours, does not mean you are being efficient.
- Related post: How to stop obsessing over your small business?
I know this, and yet I still have to constantly force myself to stop at decent hours, close everything (laptop, phone, emails) and focus on cooking a decent supper, meal prepping a healthy breakfast for the next day, or go for a long walk.
Every time I do this consistently, I realize how important it is for my mental, physical, emotional, and financial well-being. My eyes need rest from the glaring light of the screen; my mind needs to reset and recharge for the next day; and my body needs sleep to repair itself.
I know this. But then, I go to bed and forget all about it again the next day!
7. You have too much free time
Having too much “free” time can be just as detrimental to your mental and physical health as working too hard and never having time just to let yourself be.
The key is in finding the right balance, but also the right activity to occupy that free time.
Free time does not necessarily mean staying in bed or lying on a couch for hours watching movies/series/YouTube videos.
You might need to rest your body (because you’ve worked out too hard on this specific week, or walked too much, etc.), but it doesn’t mean you should lie down all day.
And you might need to rest your mind because you’ve put too much stuff “in” (cramming too much information in your poor brain, working long hours on demanding projects, learning, multi-tasking, etc.). But this does not mean you should mindlessly stare at a computer screen for the next twelve hours, binge-watching videos while eating junk.
Or stay completely idle.
“Your mind is like a garden. When you don’t plant something in your garden, it’s not that nothing grows, weeds grow. And you don’t stop weeds just by not paying attention to them. The same goes for the mind. But you can choose what you pay attention to”
Whether you like it or not, you are always giving your attention to something.
So free time is important, but you should try and do something positive with it: call someone you love, journal, pay attention to something happening around you or inside you (a.k.a. meditation), read, listen to music, or create something! Cook, paint, draw, write a poem, take photos, etc.
Don’t just sit and do nothing. It’s not good for the soul. Feed your mind positive things or create something, even if you think you are not creative.
8. You keep pushing yourself in the wrong direction
Life is hard and, for most people, things don’t just fall on your lap. I get that. But I find that a lot of people who “work hard”, work hard on the wrong things. They keep pushing harder and harder to do things they hate, and they are miserable.
You’ve probably worked your entire life to be where you are, and you are afraid to question your life choices. It’s normal.
But scary or not, if you are truly unhappy, you owe it to yourself to take the time to reflect on your past choices and the reasons why you made those choices.
Are these reasons still valid? Did you get what you thought you would get from these choices? Are you happy? Stressed? Healthy?
You don’t have to have a high-pressure job with a fancy title to be “successful”. Are you successful when you are miserable?
9. You are not spending enough time outside
You certainly know by now that spending time outside is necessary for your well-being and these assertions are backed by numerous scientific research.
But you probably don’t do much about it.
If you are spending most of your waking hours staring at a computer screen indoors or in your car, either sitting or lying down, you will be miserable.
According to this article by the American Psychological Association, exposure to nature has been linked to a host of benefits, including improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders, and even an uptick in empathy and cooperation.
Personally, beyond just the “benefits” of spending time in nature, I simply view it as respect.
We are part of this world. We showed up on this planet as the result of a natural evolution of life, and it happened because the environment was favorable to our emergence as a new species.
Why is it so hard for us to understand and acknowledge that we are part of all this, that we should respect that environment more, get to know it, and spend time with it?
We are part of this nature that surrounds us and yet we live as if we were two separate entities. As if we did not need it.
We lock ourselves up in houses and office towers and barely set foot outside, only to get from inside a house to inside a car, to inside an office or a store.
I don’t think this separation makes us happy or healthy.
Figure out ways you can spend more time outside and take note of how it impacts you.
10. You might have a food sensitivity
According to Harvard Health Publishing, food sensitivity refers to an individual’s adverse response to a certain food, beverage, or ingredient. The symptoms might be only digestive problems (abdominal pain, bloating, gas), but you may also experience fatigue, headache, or brain fog.
I am not a doctor and I will not pretend to be an expert on this topic. But after over a decade of physical and mental misery, I came across the Wahls protocol for auto-immune disease, and Terry Wahls’s story and guide changed my life. A few months after that, I was (finally) diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, among other “fun” things.
Switching to a very strict paleo-style diet (no gluten, dairy, egg, legumes, etc.) has made me realize how much food impacts my mood, physical pain, and inflammation. And the benefits (for me anyway) even go beyond that!
I knew diet was important; I didn’t know it was that important.
Check out Terry Wahls books:
- The Wahls Protocol: How I beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine.
- The Wahls Protocol Cooking for Life: The Revolutionary Modern Paleo Plan to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions
The impact has been so drastic, it’s reason enough for me to not be tempted by bread and pasta (although I’ve had relapses, but hey, sometimes life happens). Of course, such a diet might be more beneficial to some people more than others, which is why you should always figure out what your own needs and issues are, test out things and see for yourself.
11. You no longer pay attention to the blessings in your life
The keywords here are “pay” and “attention”.
You might be miserable because you no longer see nor appreciate the blessings in your life.
It happens. When we get busy, we tend to lose sight of things that appear small or inconsequential, but are not.
But no matter how busy you are, the key to a happy(ier) life is gratitude. And gratitude is not a given. You don’t suddenly become a grateful person, who wakes up and goes to bed grateful just like that.
- Related post: Think you have nothing to be grateful for? Read this
Although it comes more and more easily with practice, I find that gratitude must be actively cultivated at all times. It’s not a result or something that happens when things are going well for you. It’s a conscious practice.
12. You don’t allocate time for creative activities
Creativity is essential to a balanced life, and yet, our modern world undervalues its importance. Maybe it’s just my (very biased and limited) opinion, but it appears that we value rationality and science much more than we value creativity. I must say, though, that I do not necessarily think that they are opposing or mutually exclusive concepts.
According to this Forbes article (based on medical studies), engaging in creative behaviors improves brain function, mental health, and physical health. Being creative could even be a basis for human life.
I wasn’t aware of these studies or theories when I first started “looking for my creative side”. But a year later, I had come to a similar conclusion on my own.
I had not realized that one of the reasons why I felt like I was going crazy, was because I was not expressing myself. And being creative does just that; it allows you to express yourself, and you cannot imagine how powerful this is until you try it.
And the good news is, you can unlock that creativity even if you think you are not creative.