Pissed-Off About Happiness

By Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

“I hate happy people,” said Mark, a former anger management client. “I just want to punch them in the face.” Mark wore his unhappiness with a hostile chip on his shoulder. Unable to appreciate the joy in others, even the sweet innocence of a baby’s laughter, he consumed himself with bitter envy.

Another client, Sandy, spit out her words like bullets while talking about a visit to her wealthy friends home. “She has the car.garden.house.husband.pool.clothes.and I.have.nothing. I hate her!” Sandy’s envy about her friends good fortune robbed her of a happy visit. Had Sandy been able to open her heart and feel a little of her friend’s joy, she might have gotten ideas and inspiration to improve her own life.

Both Mark and Sandy suffer from severe depression, keeping them self-centered, pissed-off, and unable to feel joy and emotional connection with others. This closed-off approach to life can rob you of the opening, building, problem-solving fuel of happiness. Dr. Barbara Fredrickson found that increasing your joy opens your mind to greater possibilities and improves problem solving skills. Happiness adds real practical value to our lives.

Research shows that about 50% of our happiness appears to be a genetically determined “set point.” Some babies are born smiling, others cranky based on hereditary predisposition. Another 10% of our capacity for joy is determined by our circumstances, rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, etc. The remaining 40% of our ability for happiness is determined by our own actions and thoughts. While Mark and Sandy struggled with genetic predispositions to depression, they needed help seeing the impact their own thoughts and actions made in their ability to feel good.

Dr. Sonia Lyubomirsky in her book The How of Happiness writes, “…becoming lastingly happier demands making some permanent changes that require effort and commitment every day of your life.” One of those permanent changes include avoiding social comparison. We often compare ourselves to others and find something lacking in ourselves. This makes us feel down, discouraged, resentful. Instead it’s helpful to stop the thoughts of comparison and distract ourselves by thinking about something else, like a hobby, a personal goal, or a favorite movie or book.

If you find yourself pissed-off about the happiness of others, stop comparing and start living. Happiness enhancing activities include: practicing acts of kindness, committing to your goals, learning to forgive and nurturing your relationships. As you make efforts toward kindness and achieving personal goals, your life improves. When your heart warms toward others, you can find joy in the happiness of others. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, it’s best to cause happiness wherever you go, rather than whenever you go.