Dear Therapist:

I am not a happy person. Is there a way to change that? That is honestly my whole question. I am pretty much fine in every way, I have a good husband, healthy...kids, a decent job, we have decent...[lifestyle]...are part of a nice...[community]...etc.. Yes, I have the stresses of every...family but nothing major. With all that said I am a pretty moody and cynical person. If I am being fully honest, I always have been. I sometimes get jealous of others and imagine they must be so much happier. It's been bothering me that I can't just be happy and it's something I have been struggling with a lot recently. I had an epiphany that maybe it doesn't have much to do with anything in my life and more to do with my personality. Are some people just naturally happier than others? If yes is there anything I could do to change my personality? If this isn't true, what is it really that just won't allow me to be happy?

 

Response:

As you say, you have always been an unhappy person. It seems that you may have had two epiphanies. You mentioned a seemingly recent recognition that your unhappiness may be internally based. However, you also appear to have acknowledged—perhaps in the not-so-recent-past—the possibility that not all people are unhappy.

I believe that the existence of these epiphanies is critical to positive change. The importance of these realizations should not be minimized. It is quite possible that these marked the beginning of your transition from general unhappiness to happiness.

Clearly, we are unlikely to consciously work on increasing our happiness level when we are unaware that it is problematic. Even once we recognize that our unhappiness is a problem, the sense that these feelings are normal can be a powerful agent against change. Your dual acknowledgement of the fact that your feelings are not as they should be and that there is a better way to experience the world is a great beginning. This can help prompt you to work toward a better perspective, and ultimately toward a greater level of happiness.

You listed the positive aspects of your life. You then went on to speak of your feelings of jealousy. This juxtaposition leads me to wonder whether your unhappiness is related to your comparison of yourself to others. This is often caused by a sense of being judged by others, in turn caused by a negative sense of self. Often, the cause may seem to be judgement by others, with the effect being negative sense of self. This may have been true in childhood. However, at this point, it typically becomes a vicious cycle, where each continuously reinforces the other.

If your childhood sense of self was largely based on what you felt others thought of you, this may easily have led to a general feeling of unease and low self-esteem. As you grew older, without any direct challenge this feeling may have been allowed to self-reinforce.

As an adult, you have taken the first step toward challenging your old notions of what others think of you, and as to what degree this should be internalized. This is an ongoing process (as is any self-improvement process). It can be difficult to identify and internalize new concepts and beliefs that directly challenge those reinforced for many years. I would certainly consider enlisting the help of a mental health professional who could help guide you through this process—or any processes that you and they deem appropriate.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

  Woodmere, NY

  adjunct professor at Touro College

  Graduate School of Social Work

  author of Self-Esteem: A Primer

  www.ylcsw.com / 516-218-4200