Sunday, December 27, 2009

Addicted to Unhappiness

I have a book entitled Addicted to Unhappiness. It came as a free gift with Parenting with Love and Logic. Who knows why but that’s besides the point… The general premise of the book was that some people have unhappiness ingrained so deeply into their worldviews that anything that deviates (EG happiness) is abnormal and, thus, stressful. To avoid that stress, they intentionally seek out and dwell on negativity in their lives. It makes sense when you think about it and I know a couple of people like this, who seem to be addicted to unhappiness and find ways to maintain a sense of tragic equilibrium. In contrast, the people in my life who have experiences true tragedy, misfortune, and oppression tend to focus on maintaining a positive worldview and effecting positive change in their lives. Sure, everyone has their moments of negativity, their blue funks, but these people don’t stay there. It’s an interesting dichotomy.

I think I was there for a long time. I have done my fair share of wallowing in the mud and bemoaning my powerlessness of effect positive change. I have sought out people who and activities (and professions, for the love of Pete!) that allowed me to wallow and revel in my negativity and bitterness. My name is Christy and I am addicted to unhappiness. Not only did my negativity affect myself, it bled out into the people around me, to the degree that it sent some people running. After all, emotions are contagious. Daniel Goldman described the concept of emotional contagion in detail if you are inserted in further explanation but, again, I digress...

I eventually discovered that it required way to much energy to keep seeking out negativity to dwell on. I had to divert my attention away from the positive stuff and actively redirect it to the minutia or the stuff that I could not change. I eventually realized that that energy might be better directed to being more proactive in effective positive change. Additionally, it struck me that maybe in my “supporting” others while they wallowed in their own self-pitting and bemoaned their powerlessness and my justification of their bitterness and despair, I was not helping them at all but enabling their own addictions to unhappiness. In retrospect, those people would have been better served had I not facilitated that negativity.

Perhaps this is controversial and perhaps I am pissing some people off. Whatever. I think we need to be pissed off sometimes. And I am not telling people to respond to someone’s unhappiness by telling them to suck it up and look on the bright side. I am not saying that significant obstacles and oppressive conditions to exist for some and not for others. They do and it pisses me off. What I am saying is that we need to redirect the majority of our energy from maintaining a state of being a passive victim of circumstances to becoming more proactive. Sure, it’s hard. It takes A LOT of energy to effective positive change. But isn’t it worth it in the end? Nothing worth doing is ever easy.

I think one of my resolutions for the New Year is to be a better person. It’s a stretch, I know, but humor me. And one of the ways in which I am going to accomplish this is by not enabling addictions to unhappiness. I will offer an ear to listen and a shoulder on which to cry for a while, but there is only so much support you can provide before you hit a point of diminishing returns; or at which point you are no longer helping but hindering. You can only provide so much sympathy and support. At some point, your someone need to recognize the power they DO have to make positive changes and make them rather than focus on the obstacles and become overwhelmed by them. Or nothing is going to change at all.


  1. Oh, Christy, how right you are. I am struggling constantly to overcoming this feeling of powerlessness and it is true that there are those who would support you in your unhappiness rather than have you be happy because then their misery will not have as much company. I relate so much to what you have written that I could let it make me feel ashamed if I weren't also trying to dump that useless emotion. I'm with you on this resolution. I would be happy a support to you in your effecting this change in your life if you would also slap me across the face (figuratively, of course) with the cold, hard truth when I need it. We can do this. I would rather be happy and face even the most challenging events in life with a feeling of empowerment and not a fear life's vicissitudes plunging me into depression because of the feeling of being a helpless victim. You are an insightful woman and amazing writer.

  2. My dear "Black and Blue"…

    Rule # 1 here on the Edge of the Mommy War Refuge Camp: there will be no shame. Now, I will not tell anyone all to stifle hers or his feelings because that’s bad news. I will tell you, however, that there is no shame in being honest about your shortcomings; especially if you are willing to work to change behaviors that you believe are dragging you down.

    And thanks for the compliments. It made me a little giddy to be referred to as “insightful.” I will not lie. Flattery will get you everywhere with me.