Managing our own unhappiness

When we’re unhappy, it takes a clever balancing act to recover – a balance between avoidance and contact, and between hiding and speaking.  Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

When we are unhappy, we lean.  We either lean away from people, leading to a degree of isolation; or we lean towards others, with varying results.  If our leaning towards others is friendly leaning, then we can negotiate the help we need.  If our leaning towards others is unfriendly and demanding, then we are less likely to negotiate the help we need, and we may end up isolated.

An alternative to leaning in or out, is to stand more independently.  To do that, we need to be sure enough of our inner resources.  We will still have to negotiate with the world – there is no avoiding that sooner or later – but, if we can find a relatively independent place, then we will be in a better position to negotiate what is needed.


These social strategies could be summarised as:

  • AVOIDANCE – When unhappy, we disappear into a world of our own.  The advantage is that we minimise contact at a sensitive time.  The disadvantage is that others will not know what we are thinking and feeling, and so cannot help us as well.
  • FRIENDLY DEPENDENCE – When unhappy, we tell others in a friendly way, and negotiate help.  The advantage is that everyone is more informed, and so things tend to run more smoothly.  The disadvantage is that, if it’s too much for others, they may, over time, separate themselves.
  • DEMANDING DEPENDENCE – When unhappy, we tell others in an unfriendly, blaming way, and demand help.  The advantage is that our felt needs are made clear quite rapidly.  The disadvantage is that a hostile environment is generated, in which it is easy for misunderstanding and repulsion to happen.
  • FRIENDLY INDEPENDENCE – When unhappy, we try to self-manage, but learn to express ourselves, and to negotiate what we need, in a subtle and adaptable manner.  The advantage is that we learn self-coping skills, but also communication skills.  The disadvantage, is that others may choose to ignore our messages.


When I am unhappy, how do I react?  Do I disappear into a hole, losing contact with others?  Do I reach out to others?  Do I become demanding or critical?  Or do I find a balance between self-management, and effective communication?

If I hide, how will my friends know my situation?  If I do not communicate, how will my friends know what is going on for me?

It is incredibly hard to find the right way to respond to unhappiness.  Watching the animals, some fight, some fly.  But, as humans, we have long had an ability to rise above a situation, assess a context, and moderate ourselves, so that we find a balance between licking our wounds, and keeping our loved ones in touch.

Today, am I self-aware enough to process my unhappiness in a way that does not cause damage to others?  If I fall, am I big enough to admit my mistakes to myself, and move forward?  If I blame, am I honest enough to catch myself doing it, and to become more gentle?  Can I make sure my unhappiness eventually becomes happiness, for both myself and those around me?