Here you are: you are unhappy and want to find a way to get happy again. But where to begin?
This post walks you through the steps you can take right away in order to start finding happiness again. This article contains many actionable steps that have helped many others become happier, and I’m sure you will find some interesting things you didn’t know before!
Disclaimer: this article will not contain advice such as “just cheer up”. Instead, this post focuses on advice that you can implement in your life right now, in order to start building towards a happier future.
If you are only interested in the remedies for your unhappiness, then you can use the table of contents below to jump straight to the section you want.
- Determine why you’re not happy
- 11 Actionable Remedies For When You’re Not Happy
- 1. Write it down
- 2. Set small goals and try to improve yourself one step at a time
- 3. Find the balance between long-term and short-term happiness
- 4. Realize that happiness is often a choice
- 5. Create an actual plan
- 6. Track your happiness
- 7. Spend time with people you love
- 8. Don’t give up after a bad day
- 9. Prioritize your sleep
- 10. Try to spread happiness
- 11. Be grateful
- Find your happiness again
This article is part of a much bigger guide on learning how to become happy that I’m sure is the biggest freely available guide on the internet right now. This article contains some great tips, but you’ll find a lot more actionable tips in the section Happiness Tips!
Determine why you’re not happy
The first step to becoming happy again is to diagnose your issues. Why are you not happy at the moment? You can only find the remedy for your issues if you’re willing to dig up the problems.
If you’re asking yourself one of the following questions, I might be able to help you find the answers.
“Why Am I Not Happy?”
Start with the why. If you are unhappy at the moment, I want you to take a deep breath and follow the problem back to its cause.
- Are you unhappy because you feel like a failure?
- Do you feel like a failure because you are not happy with the way you look?
- Do you hate the way you look because you find it difficult to make friends?
I want you to ask yourself a chain of questions like this. It will help you realize what’s causing you this serious lack of happiness. It might be painful to think about all these things, but you need to be aware of the true cause(s) of your unhappiness.
This topic is also thoroughly covered in another article I wrote about how long it can take before you can be happy again.
“I Am Not Happy Anymore”
Another thing that can help is to vividly remember a time in your life when you were still happy.
If you used to be a happy person, you can try to compare your current situation to your former happy life. What are the differences?
- Did your relationship end?
- Did you lose a person close to you?
- Did something change at your job?
- Did your health decline?
If you can find the answer to this question, then you have a pretty clear diagnosis of what causes your unhappiness.
Remember, this first step is only about recognizing the reasons behind your current feeling. We’ll get to the remedies at a later point.
“Why Am I Not Happy In My Relationship?”
Relationships are usually one of the biggest contributing factors to happiness. But don’t assume this is automatically the case for you as well. Relationships can be a cause of internal conflicts, which will eventually set you off on a path to unhappiness.
This can happen without us being aware of it.
It’s important to ask yourself the question: “am I truly happy in my relationship?”
If the answer is not positive, you may really want to find out what’s wrong with your relationship.
- Are you fighting all the time?
- Are you simply not enjoying each other’s company anymore?
Both these situations are just as bad for your happiness. In fact, a lot of people remain in a relationship due to the fact that they’ve already been together for so long. They figure if we’ve spent so much of our lives together, then it makes sense to continue to go down this road. Right?
A relationship should be a continuous source of happiness. If you can’t remember the last time you’ve had a great week with your partner, then you should really reconsider the reasons why you’re in this relationship again. Can you spark things up again, or should you cut your losses and move on? It’s important to not fall trap to the sunk cost fallacy.
“I Am Not Happy At Work”
Similar to relationships, our work is usually one of the biggest happiness factors in our lives.
We want to live the lives we want, but that means that we have to earn enough money to enable us to do so. We can only earn that money by sacrificing a bit of our time (and happiness) at our jobs. Now, it’s important to realize that 90% of all workers are not passionate about their jobs. That’s not the end of the world, because you are being paid for it right? It makes sense to trade in your time for money.
But that trade should never come at the cost of your long-term happiness.
Everybody experiences a bad day at work once in a while. But if you can’t remember the last time you’ve had a good day at work, then you should really reconsider the reasons why you’re in this position at all. What made you enter this career? Why are you working a job that has such a negative impact on your life?
The first step to fixing your unhappiness is to find out what’s causing it. I hope by now you have a good idea of what things you are unhappy about.
11 Actionable Remedies For When You’re Not Happy
By now, you should have a clear idea of what’s causing your unhappiness. What follows are 11 actionable remedies that you can start working on right away. This list of remedies is based on different types of activities that you can do right away. I’ve listed all the activities below and determined whether it’s something you actually have to DO or something that you have to PLAN.
Here are the 11 actionable remedies for when you’re not happy:
- Write it down
- Try to improve yourself one step at a time
- Find the balance between long-term and short-term happiness
- Realize that happiness is often a choice
- Create an actual plan
- Track your happiness
- Spend time with people you love
- Don’t give up after a bad day
- Prioritize your sleep
- Try to spread happiness
- Be grateful
Let’s get started.
1. Write it down
I want to encourage you to write these questions down somewhere! Grab a piece of paper, put a date on it, and start writing down these questions and then try to answer them as thoroughly as you can. This allows you to move on to the next part of finding happiness again. Here are some great benefits of writing down these questions and answers:
- Writing down your challenges forces you to confront them.
- It allows you to better deconstruct the issues without getting your thoughts distracted.
- Writing something down can prevent it from causing chaos in your head. Think of this as clearing the RAM memory of your computer. If you’ve written it down, you can safely forget about it and start with an empty slate.
- It will allow you to look back at your struggles objectively. In a few months time, you can look back at your notepad and see how much you’ve grown.
It might not be hard to imagine that people often start journaling when they are in a difficult situation. Even though writing down your thoughts might sound silly, it can have a direct effect on your mentality. Do not underestimate the power of writing down your feelings!
2. Set small goals and try to improve yourself one step at a time
Change happens one step at a time. You cannot change your life overnight, which is something that might be difficult to accept. If you determined 6 issues that you want to change in your life, then you would be smart to only focus on 1 at a time.
Because you have to build habits. There’s a chance that the things you want to change have been a part of your life for a long time already. Therefore, it will be difficult to change these things. You have to consider these changes to be long processes that require constant effort. It’s a marathon and not a sprint. You can’t work on all these issues today and expect to be happy again tomorrow. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.
Let’s say you want to start living healthier. This is, of course, a very big and noble goal, but it’s much better if you could narrow it down into smaller sub-goals. Try to figure out smaller, more specific goals, like:
- Stop eating junk food on weekdays
- Spend 30 minutes exercising twice a week
- Wake up before 08:00 5 days a week
- Go to bed before midnight
- Take 5,000 steps per day
Notice how these goals seem much easier to accomplish? This makes it much easier to build lasting habits that will slowly transform your life in a great way. And it doesn’t happen overnight. These goals can be narrowed down even further. An example:
Want to spend 30 minutes exercising twice a week? Start out with exercising for just 10 minutes tonight. Then, in 2 days, try to exercise 20 minutes. Next week, try to exercise 30 minutes, etcetera. Building habits isn’t about reaching your end goal immediately, it is about engraining doing that one thing you want to achieve every day.
It’s difficult to build 10 habits at the same time. Instead, try to focus on one habit and once you feel comfortable, then continue to the next.
3. Find the balance between long-term and short-term happiness
So you’re unhappy and want to become happier. In a recent happiness essay, I talked about pursuing short-term and long-term happiness. There’s a big difference between the two, and it’s vital that you are aware of this. Let me help you by giving you two examples.
Imagine that you are 25 years old and extremely unhappy with your future prospects. You cannot find the motivation to work towards a better future and the most difficult part of the day is often the moment when you have to get out of bed. You think of 2 ways to get happier:
- You invite a bunch of friends over, turn the music up and drown your sorrows in alcohol and drugs. At least, you’ll be happy for the night. Have fun now, and worry about the rest of your life later, right?
- You force your life to turn around and work your ass off at your job every day. You work 60 hours per week, hoping you will get promoted. In your free time, you’ll be in the gym working your ass off again in order to get fit again. You don’t allow yourself to have any fun before you have reached some goals. You need to get your life in order first, you’ll have fun later.
These are two extreme examples. Example one focuses on short-term happiness, while example two focuses on long-term happiness.
Do these examples sound like a good idea to you?
No! They are both completely unbalanced and will not lead to sustainable happiness. They say that the journey is much more important than the destination, right? I say that both the journey and the destination can be fun. You should be happy while working towards your future happiness.
What does this look like in real life?
I like to use another example for that:
Imagine that you have set clear and actionable goals and are working diligently towards reaching those. Then, one day, you wake up and feel like shit. You have zero motivation to force yourself to work on your goals and just want to slack off for the day. You might be thinking “here I go again…” or “there goes my progress… back to square one”.
If you experience a bad day where you don’t feel motivated to do anything productive, you shouldn’t feel bad about yourself! Just own it. “Yeah, today I did nothing but binge-watch Netflix, but fuck it, it is what it is and I at least enjoyed it”. There is a time for everything, so that includes wasting time. I want to be happy now, without having to constantly worry about my future happiness.
I have thought about it a lot of times, and “wasting time” should not be a reason for feeling bad as long as you at least enjoyed that time. At the very least, that “wasted time” managed to keep your thoughts in a happy place instead of thinking about your misfortunes.
You have to allow yourself to be happy. Do not beat yourself up over a single “failure”. We are not robots. We are entitled to occasionally give in to our weaknesses. We all do it. And we shouldn’t feel bad because we do.
With that said, it is important to limit your time on distractions that do not make you better in the long run. And please notice how I say “in the long run”. It’s okay to binge-watch series or play games the entire day, but just remember that tomorrow’s a new day. Create a new set of small and achievable goals that you want to achieve the next day and do your best to reach those. It’s perfectly fine to drop the ball every once in a while, but try to limit it to a single day if you do!
4. Realize that happiness is often a choice
What if you’re unhappy because of your rapidly declining health, or because you lost someone you loved?
Then you might have determined that there’s nothing you can do about the cause. This is obviously not good news.
But I want to let you know that it isn’t necessarily the end of the world. Without looking at your personal situation, it is commonly known that your happiness is made up of the following approximate factors:
- 10% is determined by outside factors
- 50% is determined by genetics
- 40% is determined by your own outlook
So even though outside factors are currently making you feel miserable, it doesn’t mean that you have to be unhappy by default.
Now I’m not saying that you should just cheer up and magically be happy. It doesn’t work like that, as “choosing happiness” is relative. If you’ve ever been depressed, you know how trapped you can feel, how ensnared you are and fruitless your attempts at escape are. Additionally, some people don’t have a “choice” in feeling this way, as some people have had unspeakable atrocities committed against them and they live with it. I don’t mean to say “just chose to be happy” to those people.
I’m thinking about smaller events or things that happen to you. I want to show you an example of how you can sometimes really decide to tackle something with a positive mental attitude. Here’s an example:
Imagine that you just finished a long day at work doing something that sucked the living soul out of you. You want to get home ASAP in order to binge-watch Netflix. But when you enter your car and turn on the radio, you hear that there’s been a crash on the motorway. As a result, you’ll be stuck in traffic for at least 30 minutes.
The first thought that enters your mind may be similar to this: Can this day get any worse??!?!?!
And that’s okay. I usually have that exact thought whenever I see a big traffic jam on my commute.
But that doesn’t necessarily have to mean your day is ruined. Instead of feeling irritated by the seemingly endless amount of cars in front of you, you can try to tackle this issue with a happy attitude. Here’s a post I wrote about choosing happiness which includes actual examples of other people! How does that work?
Well, instead of blaming your misery on the traffic, you can focus your energy on something positive like:
- Good music (turn up that volume and sing along to your favorite song)
- Give a good friend a call to see if (s)he has plans for tonight!
- Close your eyes for a minute and let your mind wander (only do this when completely stalled though!)
- Plan out your week on how you’re going to do the things that you have written down
By now, you should recognize that these things are all within your sphere of influence. You can do all these things without being reliant on some external factor that you cannot control. This is one example of having a Positive Mental Attitude, and I hope you understand how this can actually help you get happier in your life.
5. Create an actual plan
This one is very simple. I’m going to ask you to create a specific plan that you can reflect on at the end of each day. You can either write it down on a notepad or save it as a text document on your smartphone.
This plan should contain how and when you are going to tackle the things that you found out in step 1. I’m going to ask you to make this plan SMART:
- Specific: like going for a long walk every now on.
- Measurable: like taking at least 5,000 steps per day, at least 5 days per week
- Achievable: don’t make your plan too ambitious, as this will only make it harder to get motivated on bad days
- Relevant: explain how you are going to work on the things that you diagnosed in step 1.
- Time-bound: when are you planning to work on this goal? Are you going to start right away, or after you’ve reached another goal?
You don’t have to write it down like this, but I definitely want you to put a lot of thought in your plan. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have achievable and measurable actions in your plan. You want to become happier in the long run, so you have to invest in forming life-changing habits. Create your plan in a way that allows you to work on these habits one step at a time.
6. Track your happiness
You’ve just diagnosed your issues and created a plan. Now what?
You can now start to work towards your goals. Something that is incredibly inspiring for some people is to see their progress every single day. This is what I call “tracking happiness”. It’s more than a shameless plug for this website though!
- Rate your happiness every day on a scale from 1 to 10
- Determine your happiness factors (the things that influenced your happiness the most, like work, stress, exercising, your family or the weather)
- Keep it up and learn
I really want you to try this out, especially since it will only take 2 minutes of your day. It allows you to track your progress, but also to find trends within your data. By tracking your happiness, you’ll be able to find out which factors in your life have the biggest impact on your happiness, after which you can steer your life in a better direction.
Anyway, if you want to track your happiness, then you can get started with my free and easily accessible templates right away. They are accessible in Google Sheets, which you can update with your smartphone, tablet, and computer. It’s extremely convenient, and I’d love for you to try it out.
7. Spend time with people you love
As Chris McCandless – from Into the Wild – said prior to passing away:
Happiness is only real when shared.
While the exact influence of spending time with others varies per person and per day, it is commonly known that you need some form of social interaction once in a while to be happy.
I consider myself to be an introvert, meaning that spending time with others may actually cost me energy. You can lock me in a room for a full day and I might actually want to stay there longer. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t mind being alone every once in a while.
That said, spending time with people I love has a huge influence on my happiness. Whether I’m with my girlfriend, family or close friends, I almost always notice that I’m happier after spending time with these people.
The truth is, you have to get out there and be amongst others if you want to find sustainable happiness. Even if you don’t feel like being around others, you should really try to meet up. You’ll likely find out that you enjoyed it afterward.
However, it’s important to spend time with these people in a setting that you enjoy. If you’re anything like me, you don’t want to meet up with your friends in a club (I absolutely hate clubs). If a quiet night playing board games together sounds more fun to you, make sure you meet up with others under these conditions. Don’t associate and mix up good things (your relationships with the people you love) with potentially bad things (like spending time at a club).
8. Don’t give up after a bad day
So you had a bad day last week? Or maybe a terrible week in which you didn’t do anything to improve your situation? Who cares!
We are only human, so we’re bound to experience a bad day every once in a while. It’s important to realize that everybody occasionally experiences a string of bad days in their life. What you need to when this inevitably happens:
- Don’t let such a thing set you back.
- Don’t interpret it as a failure
- Don’t let it stop you from trying again tomorrow
You see, eternal happiness does not exist. Sure, we can try to be as happy as possible every day, but we have to accept that unhappiness is something that we have to deal with on occasion. The truth is, happiness doesn’t exist without sadness.
So what if you screwed up your plan today? Fuck it! Just do your best to get back into shape tomorrow.
9. Prioritize your sleep
If you are currently unhappy, then have you considered that your sleep habits might be one of the main causes?
A worrying trend amongst millennials right now is that sleep deprivation is becoming more and more normal. You often hear phrases like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” or people bragging about how they thrive on 5 hours of sleep per night. And then there are people like Elon Musk that are becoming a role model by working 120 hours a week, and saying that 80 hours per week is manageable. This is insane, and you have to realize that sleep is a crucial factor for your mental health.
That’s why I try to sleep as much as possible. And if you’re currently unhappy, I really advise you do the same.
(I mean sleep as in actually being asleep and not spending time in your bed lying awake, these things are completely different.)
I’ve tested how much my sleep has influenced my happiness and noticed something interesting. I tested over 1,000 days of data on happiness and sleep to find out that:
- I’ve only truly been unhappy on days where I was sleep deprived.
- Sleeping more isn’t directly correlated to being happier, but the odds of me being unhappy are much bigger when I am not sleeping enough.
I want you to know that sleep is one of the biggest factors that influence our mental health. The problem is that sleep is not as glamorous as other factors, such as exercising, sex, social interactions, and your career. The effect of a good night’s sleep on your happiness is far more difficult to measure than most other factors. But that still doesn’t change the fact that your sleep is crucial to your mental health.
If you are currently feeling unhappy, then I recommend you to include “improve sleep habits” as a part of your action plan.
You can make this more specific by writing it down like this:
- I want to (try to) sleep for 8 hours a day on average
- I want to go to bed at 23:00 and wake up at 07:00
Those are goals that you can track every single day. You can download sleep tracking apps on your smartphone (such as Sleep as Android) in order to track your progress! I’ve been doing this for 4 years now.
10. Try to spread happiness
On your pathway to happiness, you will probably encounter a lot of people that are dealing with similar issues like you. I want you to consider the possibility of being a source of happiness for these people. Yes, even though you feel unhappy right now, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be a source of happiness for somebody else!
You see, humans tend to move in groups. We tend to unknowingly copy the behavior of others, and as some of you might know: emotions can be contagious!
If your partner or close friend is sad or angry then there is a possibility that you will feel that emotion as well.
The same works for happiness.
Your happiness can actually radiate to other people. Your smile has the power to bring a smile to someone else’s face! How can you put this to practice?
- Smile to a stranger
- Try to laugh when you’re around others (not in an awkward way!). Laughter is one of the best remedies for sadness.
- Do something nice for somebody else, a random act of kindness
- Make a compliment to somebody else and notice how it affects their happiness
Why would you want to focus on the happiness of others while you’re the one who’s struggling to be happy?
It’s easy: Spreading happiness will make you happy as well. Teach by doing, and you’ll learn something for yourself as well.
Happiness is truly a subjective feeling that has a lot of myths, biases and different strong opinions. People say it can’t be measured, it’s a waste of time to pursue it and that happiness is not really measurable at all. I’ve further detailed my definition of happiness in a separate essay.
Despite all this, there is one interesting aspect of happiness that most people agree on, and that’s:
When you are trying to make others happier, you will paradoxically find happiness yourself.
11. Be grateful
You’ve probably heard this one before, but I’m still going to include this in my this of remedies. Practicing gratitude can have a great effect on your mental health, as shown by numerous studies. I’ve covered the topic of being grateful and how it influences your happiness in this in-depth article.
How can you practice gratitude?
- Thank your family for everything they’ve done for you
- Keep a gratitude journal
- Look back at your happy memories and be grateful for those memories
- Think about and focus on the positive things you have going on in your life
I find that remembering good memories helps me maintain a happy mind. Thinking back about that time that I laughed my ass off about something silly brings a smile to my face. This is something I try to do daily, whenever I find a moment to stand still and think about my life.
Find your happiness again
I really hope you have found this post helpful and that you have learned about some actionable remedies that can help you find your happiness again.
I’m sure that you can implement some of these remedies in your life right away. Write it down, create a plan and get going. And don’t worry about a series of bad days.
I’d love to hear from you now! If you have any questions or if you want to say something in reply to this post, your comments are very much appreciated! 🙂
Founder of Tracking Happiness and lives in the Netherlands. Ran 5 marathons, with one of them in under 4 hours (3:59:58 to be exact). Data junkie and happiness tracker for over 6 years.