If we know that all unhappiness leads to choices, we can be ready for alternative action and therefore we can stop wallowing in self pity. Unhappiness can be a good thing if we learn to frame it in a different way.
I am unhappy when things do not go as I want. The unhappiness is due to unfulfilled desires. It happens when the rest of my world does not have the same view of a perfect world as I have. I think I have done a good job. My boss thinks otherwise and tells me so. I become unhappy. I couldn’t make it to a top B-school. I become unhappy.
As soon as I am unhappy, my thought process goes like this. I am right but they are not agreeing with me. If they were my friends, they would agree with me. So they are not my friends. Therefore I do not need to like them. Ergo, I will thwart all they want to do, because they have stopped me from following my wishes. I know that this thought process seems exaggerated in the cold light of day, but when we are unhappy, this is the sentiment.
Since I cannot thwart them, as I have no control over them, I feel incompetent. I have two reactions – either I try to control them (be it my significant other or my boss) or I wallow in self pity. Sometimes, I try control and if that does not work, I wallow. While I wallow, more scenarios come to mind specially those that reinforce my belief. I love these thoughts because they justify my unhappiness and give a reason why I should not do anything.
The result of this mind set and lack of action is that people become genuinely unhappy with me and want to avoid my company. If the issue is at the workplace, the company wants to avoid me. I get fired. Let me reframe unhappiness. When I am unhappy with the status quo, I want to change it. The desire to change can lead to action. Wallowing in self pity is denying myself the opportunity for action. Sometime I pay lip service to action, but I know that it will not work, so that I can retreat into self pity.
As soon as I am unhappy, I say to myself, “Yes, I am unhappy, therefore I need to change my status quo. What actions can I take?”
The impulsive or instinctive action of fight-flight is obvious. That is what animals do. Do I have any other choices?
One choice could be to reframe my desire and really determine if this desire is a genuine need or wishful thinking. For example – I want a Rolex and I am unhappy I don’t have one. Do I really need one. What need does it satisfy? To prove to myself that I have money or to impress someone? If neither is necessary, or I can achieve the objective by another means, I don’t need the Rolex.
The other choice could be win some-lose some. Maybe I will agree in this case, so that I invest in a relationship which will yield something bigger later. For example, does it make sense to take up cudgels with my client just because of ego – to prove that I am right. If I agree with him now, will he agree with me later?
The third choice could be to determine an action plan of some duration, which leads to the change in status quo. I sometimes want the complete change to happen overnight, and when that does not happen due to laws of nature, I get the reason to wallow in self pity and stop the action. For example, if I am not satisfied with my weight, my desire is to do something so that I become thin overnight. When that does not happen, I get a reason to give up. I can create a plan with some intermediate checkpoints like losing 500 grams a month so that I can do 6 kilos in a year. The problem is my emotions and the desire for instant gratification.
My point is that I have more than one obvious choice. If I know that all unhappiness leads to choices, I am ready for alternative action and therefore I can stop wallowing in self pity.
Prof. Chandra Kant, is an alumnus of IIM Calcutta and currently, a senior professor at Indus Business Academy a top B-School in India. He teaches, change management, business leadership and Self Management.