What makes people happy or unhappy?

When we are happy, we feel welcome in our own and others’ lives. Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Happiness in a human has many aspects, but is easy to spot.  We may think of a dog delighted to see its owner, or a child enjoying positive communication with its mother.  The face and body seem to open up and welcome the world.

Equally, unhappiness has many parts to it, but it’s easy to recognise.  We may think of a mistreated dog cowering in a corner, or a child crying because a beloved thing has been taken away.

Unhappiness can be caused by:

  • not being welcome
  • not being looked after
  • not being respected
  • not being listened to
  • being the object of aggression
  • being deprived of something loved

Importantly for psychological purposes, unhappiness can be self-reflexive.  This means that a person’s attitude towards, or treatment of, themselves, can in itself cause unhappiness, independently of circumstances.

So unhappiness can be caused by:

  • not being welcome in one’s own life
  • lack of self-care
  • lack of self-respect
  • lack of self-empathy
  • aggression towards the self
  • self-sabotage or self-denial

Moreover, there is a link between self-treatment and the treatment of others.  Those who are unhappy for the above reasons find it very hard to make those around them happy.


How do we break the pattern of personal unhappiness?  Here are a few tips:

  1. MAKE YOURSELF WELCOME – Have a look around your home.  Does it welcome you?  Is your front entrance pleasant and clutter-free?  Is your environment clean and tidy?  Is it decorated to your taste?  Does it have nice places to sit?
  2. CARE FOR YOURSELF – Are you a good friend to yourself?  In particular, do you allow yourself rests and pleasant breaks?  Do you keep yourself clean, and dress yourself nicely?
  3. RESPECT YOURSELF – Do you appreciate who you are?  Do you celebrate your own existence, your skills, your own opinions, your own right to time, space and resources?
  4. EMPATHISE WITH YOURSELF – Do you notice and take an interest when you are unhappy?  Do you try to understand what’s happening, with the aim of relieving your own suffering?
  5. BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF – Do you treat your own mind and body as precious, allowing yourself freedom from restriction, and freedom from harm?
  6. LET YOURSELF BE WITH WHAT YOU LOVE – Do you allow yourself to be with people and things you love?

In addition to doing these things for ourselves, we can do them for others, and help them to be happy.


You may tell me that you don’t have time to do the above – you are too tired, or busy.

If so, then it means you have no choice in your own life, and are destined to be unhappy.

I would challenge that, and say that we all have simple choices every day, to be welcoming, caring, respectful, empathetic, gentle, and compassionate, with ourselves and others.