Why We’re Unhappy With Ourselves

Post written by Leo Babauta.

We talked about why self-unhappiness leads to all other problems … but what is the cause of all this self-unhappiness?

Of course, it’s different for each person, because we’re all different with different lives and living environments. But there are some common things that we can be aware of.

Let’s start with my story, as an illustration.

It started when I was a kid … my parents fought, and then went through a messy divorce. I can’t be completely sure, but it’s my belief that this taught me a fear of abandonment, and at the root of that is the idea that I’m not good enough. This isn’t my parents’ fault — they were doing their best, but a little kid can’t really help but develop this kind of fear. I also developed some defense mechanisms to deal with this fear … ways to shut people out, or use humor to smooth over the fears and discomfort.

I learned in school that I could procrastinate to deal with my fears of not being good enough to do things, and this became a habit. I was skinny, and developed some insecurities about my body based on other kids teasing me. Later when I became fatter, as an adult, those insecurities remained.

I learned that food could give me pleasure, and so turned to this pleasure whenever I needed it to deal with pain. I later used cigarettes and other addictions in the same way. I never learned to deal with pain without external coping mechanisms.

I took my fears of abandonment into relationships, and even though I looked to my (now ex-)wife for happiness (something I learned from movies and TV and books), I also learned to shut her out when I was afraid. I learned to be insecure about her leaving me, which in turn led to jealousy and anger.

Does any of this sound familiar? Probably to most of you, it absolutely does. That’s because my story isn’t unique … elements of this story are in most people’s lives. You might have other elements, of course, and I haven’t listed all my sources of self-unhappiness, but many of these things we have in common.

Some Common Sources to Watch For

These problems might not all apply to you, but you should start watching out for them in the coming weeks:

  1. What are your external forms of happiness?
  2. Can you be happy without them? What would happen if you spent a few hours alone, with nothing to do or watch?
  3. Are you happy with your body?
  4. Do you need to be with people?
  5. How do you shut others out?
  6. Are you insecure, jealous, lacking confidence?
  7. Do you trust yourself?
  8. Do you think you’re awesome?
  9. Do you think the world is awesome as it is, or do you constantly wish things were different?
  10. What kind of changes do you fear?
  11. What do you expect of life?
  12. What do you expect of others?

I’d like to ask you to pay attention, as you do your monthly challenge in the Sea Change Program, to your doubts and insecurities, to your excuses for not doing the challenge each day. This can be very useful.

I’d also like you to pay attention as you do work, to why you get distracted, and as you deal with others, to why you get upset, or feel insecure. These are very instructive. We’ll talk more about them later. For now, awareness is key.