Why are you unhappy?

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I know there will be times in our lives when rubbish things happen. We become ill, we loose a loved one or we face redundancy. At these times we might be understandably unhappy. But what about the times when we feel unhappy and we don’t really know why. What causes that pervading feeling of unhappiness and what can we do about it?

Nat Ware suggests “The first step to being happy is to understand why we’re often unhappy.” You could spend a long time contemplating why you are feeling unhappy and still not really understand why. Luckily Nat has a suggestion.  He believes “We are unhappy when our expectations exceed reality“.

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Nat explains that our imagined reality is often different from our lived reality and that this results in unhappiness.

Our imagination has a key role in creating our expectations. In today’s society our imaginations are influenced by the media and social media. You could argue that social media images can encourage us to be aspirational. However, when those images are often staged or manipulated, how realistic are those aspirations?

Whose aspirations are they?

Nat also talks about how our past reality can impact on our present reality. 

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Are you often looking to the past with nostalgic eyes? I am sure I am not alone in looking back and remembering and reminiscing about all the good bits. I don’t think nostalgia per say is a bad thing but how much of our past reality is a true reflection of what was happening at that time or how we really felt. How we choose to remember our past can influence our expectations of the present. 

Find out more:  Why we are unhappy – the expectation gap

The questions this talk prompted for me? –

  • What are my expectations?
  • Where do my expectations come from?
  • How can I balance my expectations with my goal of living a more contented life?

What do you think? Do you agree with Nat’s ideas? What experience do you have of the expectation gap?


21 thoughts on “Why are you unhappy?

  1. I love this, Debra. And I do agree that oftentimes dissatisfaction stems from expectations exceeding reality. (As a side note, I don’t know if I believe that dissatisfaction is the same as unhappiness, but that is another topic for a post of its own, I suppose). Anyway, I think that there is some healthy degree of distance between expectations/desires and reality. After all, why would we bother bettering ourselves otherwise? But realistically, in this age of highly curated social media streams where everything is made out to be unrealistically perfect, I think it is usually the case that expectations exceed reality by too great of a degree, which leads to feeling as though there is no point in trying. If that makes sense :-)

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  2. Thank you. I am feeling better about it as time goes on. I think I am best off without her as she was quite a domiant personality. Looking forward to what this year holds. I hope things are looking good for you. Xx

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  3. I am a terrible one for always looking to the past with nostalgic thoughts. But I do try to look forward too. I’ve been very fortunate that my life has been very hunkydory for the last few years. Sometimes too good to be true I think. Then my best friend sort of decided she didn’t want our friendship anymore. I have had no closure from this…..time is healing my sad and confused feelings, but the whole situation has really dented my confidence. Whoosh, I didn’t mean to say all that! Anyway what I am meaning to say is we all feel shitty sometimes and have bad and good times in our lives. Heres to some Happy Times.:) X

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    • I am really sorry to hear what has happened with your friendship. Sometimes we find our lives going in different directions. If we didn’t have the courage to explain to you what was going on for her, I would say it says more about her and what was going on for her than you. Assuming it’s a her. There are people who are unhappy and don’t show it. Some people don’t like to be around positive people who are living good lives. Something similar happened to a friend of mine but the friend who ended there friendship thrived of negativity and drama and was possessive. Although my friend was devastated and upset at first, overtime she realised she was far better off without her in her life. Here’s to all the happy times ahead.

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    • I am similarly bad about looking to the past with nostalgic thoughts. I agree with Debra that nostalgia in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, but I know that I personally take it to the extreme too often. Just this past weekend we took a trip to visit my family and my husband’s family, and in doing so we went to some places where we used to live and work. It was so hard not to let myself get sucked into the nostalgia of thinking that life was perfect way back when. Because it wasn’t perfect then, just as it is not perfect now. I have to constantly remind myself not to view the past with such rosy coloured glasses. It’s hard, though.

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      • I know that looking back feeling too and thinking life was better then. This can sometimes be triggered by music for me. Imagining I was happy, energised and free of worries and woes. In reality I just listened to music and danced more when I was younger! When your young I looked forward with rose tinted glasses. Now I’m getting a little older, I’m still wearing the glasses but looking back!

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      • Yes! Music is absolutely a huge nostalgia trigger for me as well. Oftentimes it’s a good feeling, but it can, as you say, lead to wistfully thinking that the past was somehow more perfect. I really love your last two lines here, about looking forward with rose tinted glasses when you were young, but now looking to the past with them. I’ve realized that for me at least, hitting 30 was the turning point from looking continuously forward with rose tinted glasses and now to looking back with them. It’s an interesting phenomenon, because really neither is healthy in the extreme I suppose (looking forward vs. looking back).


      • Yes I agree. the best places is the present and the here and now but it’s not easy keeping out minds there. I am nearly 42 and I am definitely looking back more. I am starting to understand why older people do it so much.

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  4. Yes I have to admit I’m often guilty of looking back and wanting something that, like you wrote here, probably exceeds my expectations. And I often feel sad and don’t really know why, maybe it’s a stage of life, grief, or just not knowing what’s ahead. But maybe that’s all just part of life.

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    • Yes, I think it is a part of life. I also think it’s affected by experiences like grief and different stages of life. I think we do put expectations on ourselves which can be unrealistic and can lead us to feel bad about ourselves.

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  5. I’m sad sometimes and I don’t know why. I woke up on Friday and felt teary all day. I blame tiredness and hormones with me. I can be sad for absolutely no reason. Then some days I can get self doubts and negative memories from years ago punctuate my thoughts. It’s hard to break away from the feeling.

    Expectations do play a lot in relation to happiness and if reality doesn’t measure up to dreams/hopes then we are left feeling dashed! Trying to lower our expectations is one way of dealing with the sadness that occurs, but I don’t know how you can achieve that.

    What do you think?

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    • Yes I definitely think tiredness and hormones play a part. I agree about self doubts and negative memories too. I was interested in the TED Talk because I experienced a bit of sadness a few weeks into finishing my job. Just feeling a bit down about life. I think it was because I had unrealistic expectations of how my life would be added who I would be once I quit my job. It really gave me something to think about. I sometimes think my expectations are not always realistic. I envisaged I would have the energy and enthusiasm to make healthy homecooked meals a lot more. In reality I don’t actually enjoy cooking! I don’t know why my expectations thought quitting my job would change that. Does that make sense?


      • Perhaps you need to find a balance between work and life. You need time and patience with cooking. I always enjoy it when I leave plenty of time, it’s quite deceptive how long following a recipe takes. You sound like you need to evaluate what you want in life and what can be physically achieved. We all dream, we just need to realise what is doable and what is just fantasy x Good luck xx

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      • Thanks Christine. What you say is so true. I am learning there is a big difference between what I want in life and what I can achieve. I struggle with my energy reserves. Like anything in life, I suppose it’s a compromise but the compromise is with yourself. I really appreciate your comment. It’s helpful to reflect on this. Something for my journal I think.


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