October 21

5 Subtle Ways Society Makes You Unhappy

How To Be Happy


Hard isn’t it?

The message you should be happy is everywhere. Yet you’re feeling distant from this zone of promised bliss.

And you’re asking yourself: “is it me?”

Is there something wrong with me?

Why am I so upset, angry and depressed, and why does [insert friend] on [insert social media channel] always seem so happy.

But that’s not all.

You are trying, you’re trying hard, but no matter what you read or do nothing seems to work.

Now you’re beginning to worry:

  • Is something wrong with you?
  • Will you ever be happy?
  • Is this it?

There’s a never-ending sense of unease and the feeling that life is passing by.

But what if it isn’t your fault?

What if society is a little mad and you’re being set up to fail?

What if there are subtle messages that you receive day in, day out that stand in your way?

What if a little insight would stand you in good stead, allow you to fight off the messages that are keeping you down and enable you to stand up and fight for the happiness you deserve.

Myth #1: All You Need is Hard work

Society downplays the role of luck in life.

It’s like a big conjuring trick by the lucky to get you to feel bad about your life.

All the news, all the stories on social media, all that gets celebrated, is success, and not just any old success but usually the extraordinary, the outlandish, the one in a million case study.

Take running a business for example, millions and millions of hardworking, intelligent people have a go at it each year, yet most businesses fail within six months. For every world-class athlete, there is a whole tail of runners up. Most young aspirants never make it to professional level, never mind the top.

And yet we are somehow held to be a failure for being statistically average.

But how much luck goes into a truly outstanding success?

Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google, were both known to be extraordinarily gifted. But what if they had never met?

And when they started, their search engine was massively behind the competition, all sorts of chance encounters led them to their position of dominance.

Recognizing the role of luck in their story doesn’t mean discounting their hard work, vision, and genius. But it does allow us to see our more humble achievements in a more positive light.

Let me just quickly recap:

When enough people have a go at something, there will always be outstanding successes, but the destination of the vast majority is somewhere around the middle.

Yet you’ll never hear about this.

The lucky will rarely acknowledge that it isn’t all their own doing and society won’t let you get away with blaming your lousy luck.

This isn’t an excuse for laziness or settling for anything but your best. It’s a recognition that extraordinary success often comes with an exceptional dose of fate.

Myth #2: All You Need is Talent

Ever thought for a moment you might like to be a sporting star?

It looks so glamorous and so uncomplicated.

It looks like this person was born talented with so much innate skill that the rest just fell into place. What makes it onto screens is the contests, the trophies and the invitations to meet the Queen.

Tiger Woods is a good example. One of the best golfers of all time, his string of championships suggests that he was born an extraordinary sporting champion. His rise to the top predestined as soon as he picked up his first nine-iron.

But there’s more to it than that.

Did you know his father started him playing golf before age two?

That he held his first putter at 7 months.

That golf was the sole focus of his early life.

We get shown what dedication can sometimes achieve, but not what it costs. Everyone wants to see games and glamour, who wants to see rehearsals and the day in and day out of the rigours of daily practice.

And that’s the point:

You get shown the result, but not what was given up.

Moreover, it’s easy for the successful to go along with this. Acknowledging costs and hard work isn’t sexy or cool. Why not pretend it’s all God’s gift and go with the flow.

This isn’t to disparage dedication, hard work and sheer will. It isn’t to dissuade you from trying to improve yourself, just a recognition that every great success comes with a cost. And is nowhere as easy as it’s sometimes made to look.

Myth #3: Everyone Lives in Happy Land

Society tells us we are supposed to be happy.

There’s a myth that it’s a birth right, a destiny.

Movies all portray this as a goal in life, bookshelves groan with titles that proclaim tips and tricks to achieve lasting bliss.

The Secret is one notorious example. An international bestseller it peddled the myth believing in something will make it come true. You will be happy if you trust the universe enough to provide.

Alas, it is seldom so easy.

One in ten adults will attempt suicide. Thirty per cent of us will suffer a mental illness at some point or other, and vast swathes of us will succumb to failure, fatigue, stress, crises, isolation, and a sense of meaningless in life.

Looked at in this light, happiness is a rare thing indeed.

Can you see why the myth does so much harm?

Believing that happiness is destiny leads to a tendency to think that everyone is happy except you. And this creates more unhappiness.

This isn’t to dismiss the role happiness can play in life. Nor is it to suggest that it shouldn’t be an aspiration. But to suggest that it can be more elusive and short-lived than we’re led to believe.

Myth #4: Everyone’s Got a Soulmate

If only you meet your soul mate, then you’ll be happy?

There’s one person out there who is destined to make you complete. Or so goes the common refrain.

With the right person, everything will be easy. Everything will flow smoothly with no effort on either behalf.

Romantic movies are an example. There are hitches at the start. But the couples are fated to be together, and their stars eventually align.

The film ends when the real relationship begins. The fun and entertainment are in the romance, so that’s what the movie is about. The lifetime of compromise, the inevitable disappointments, doesn’t sell well.

But here’s what wrong with this view:

Real relationships mean goals and desires don’t always align.

They involve a colossal effort to understand another person and to make yourself understood. Real relationships mean an inevitable dulling of passion and the hard work needed to keep love alight.

And they involve accepting that in many ways you are not perfect and are a challenging person to live with.

There is no soul mate where everything is easy.

There is no get out of jail free card.

A word of caution:

Believing that there is means we are too prone to blame the other person when things aren’t going as smoothly as they should.

This isn’t to suggest true romance is unobtainable. It isn’t to suggest that relationship bliss isn’t something to strive for.

But it does suggest is that we need a more nuanced approach. That relationships work best when both parties accept they are imperfect, and that even “soulmates” require patience, attention and hard work.

Myth #5: All You Need and Don’t Need is Money

You’re dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t.

Confess to being broke and not having enough money, and you’ll be unlikely to be well-liked at a cocktail party.

Confess to wanting more money, and you’ll meet with a similar refrain.

Society tells us it’s wrong to want more money while silently condoning a mass rush to get rich; parading wealth and glamour in front of our noses.

The internet is a fascinating example. You can’t spend 10 minutes before you come across some case study about someone who made it rich online, usually by following said marketers shiny new strategy. But traditional media is hardly much better.

What are all those expensive cars draped by scantily clad woman hinting at?

Unfortunately, your getting mixed messages about money all the time.

And most of it far from the truth.

Money does seem to make us happy, but nowhere near as much as we think.

This isn’t to suggest being rich is necessarily bad. It isn’t to suggest that being humble is terrible either. But that we’re continually getting mixed messages, and it’s hard to know where to stand.

It’s Not (All) Your Fault

You’ve been feeling down for a while wondering why you’ve become unstuck.

You’ve been reading around and trying to figure out why everyone seems happy but you. You’ve tried everything.

Part of the reason is you’re being set up to feel bad. There are some critical ways society makes us feel less enamoured with ourselves.

Have a look through the points in this post, can you see elements of truth in each.

  • Is success made to look effortless and the cost, hard work and sacrifice required discounted?
  • Is the role of luck in those who make it big ignored?
  • Does society emphasis the need for a soul mate at the expense of other things?
  • And is it true we get mixed messages about money and believe that happiness is our birth right?

Perhaps it isn’t. But neither is misery and despair. Once you realise the ways society holds you back, once you understand the myths that make you unhappy, you’ll be in a stronger place.

Day in day out, we get bombarded with messages from our culture. It can be hard to separate right from wrong. The points in this post will give you a more discerning eye, allowing you to look at society more critically.

They will also allow you to disregard the messages that are keeping you down.

Making you less depressed and better able to claim a more balanced place in society. Open, engaged, but never just blindly just accepting.

So move forward, starting today with this new understanding. You’ll feel more content because of it, I guarantee.

Related Video: A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success (16:34 min)

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