Turning unhappiness into personal power

I am so grateful when I find myself unhappy.

This sounds like madness, and I suppose it may be to some people. But the reason I am grateful when I am unhappy is because I recognize that in unhappiness, there is a tremendous amount of possibility for personal growth and discovery. There is also an opportunity to uncover and utilize personal power.

When we are unhappy, it means that there is a part of us that is in rebellion to the status quo, that doesn't like something about our place in the universe. So in response, that part of us sounds an alarm to our consciousness, and we experience that alarm as the negative emotional experience of unhappiness.


Unhappiness is a mix of feelings, really -- a mix of boredom, mental pain, listlessness, impatience, frustration and anger. Each of us may experience these different components separately, but we all know the feeling. It's not a great feeling. It's not designed to be a great feeling.

When we don't deal with unhappiness, it can become worse and worse. It can turn into a deeper state of anger, and even depression. 

But there is a certain alchemy (not difficult to learn) by which we can use unhappiness as a rich fertilizer to build a better life.

By following these three steps, you can use unhappiness as mechanism to build a life of passion, power and creativity:

Step 1 - identify the source of unhappiness. This seems obvious, but honestly, this is where most people get tripped up. People can find themselves stuck in unhappiness without asking why they are unhappy. In order to convert unhappiness into something else, you first have to identify what it is that is the source of the unhappiness.

The easiest way to get to the bottom of unhappiness is to talk to other people. We live in cultures that are highly individualistic and where people may not have robust social networks, so this can be a challenge. People are oftentimes embarrassed to talk about themselves and their negative emotions. Throw this attitude out! Talk to your friends, family and professional advisors about your unhappiness. Talking is the best way to uncover the root of your unhappiness because it allows you to verbally explore the emotion and uncover what it is that's setting off this emotional alarm. 

In addition to talking, meditation is also very useful. Sometimes I will meditate for about 10 to 15 minutes to make sure I'm in a very relaxed state, and then, I will visualize a safe space in my head where I am sitting. I will then invite Unhappiness (visualized as a person) to come and sit with me, like a dear friend, and ask it to tell me what it is it wants to talk about. Doing this type of creative exercise can be very useful. 

Step 2 - figure out how much control you have to resolve your unhappiness. Identifying the root cause of the unhappiness is a huge step. After that, it's time to think about what it is you can control and not control about resolving your unhappiness. You need to figure this out, so you know what you can do to change your situation.

Here's a quick action guide: you have control over your own conduct and emotional states. You have no control over the actions of others and the emotional states of other people.

If your unhappiness can be solved exclusively by your own actions, that's great, and resolving the problem is totally in your hands.

On the other hand, if your unhappiness is also dependent on the conduct and actions of others, part of the solution to your unhappiness may involve changing your internal emotional reactions and expectations, and building a solution where no matter what the other person does, you are going to be okay with what happens.

People get lost in this step quite a bit, and may stay unhappy for months, years or a lifetime because they try to resolve their unhappiness by changing others. This is a fool's errand. Don't get stuck doing this! Figure out what you can control and cannot control. Once you've figured out what's in your control, and what you have power over, then move to Step 3. 

Step 3 - build the bridge between the present and the future with an opportunity for personal growth. Now that you know what you can control, and what's possible, this is where you get to be creative and where you can design and build a bridge between your present state of unhappiness and a future where you have resolved the unhappiness through your personal actions.

In doing this type of build bridging, run the solutions by your friends, family and professional advisors, and gather their input. Listen to yourself, as well, as your insides will know instinctively whether your proposed solution will work and resolve the problem. 

In doing this type of inner work, you are taking your life into your own hands and are doing what it takes to build your own life and make it look the way you want to make it look. This is an amazing opportunity. 

You'll also learn important lessons about what you can and cannot control in this life. Sometimes, we don't get everything we want, or the outcomes we want. That's an important life lesson. Instead, we discover through this process that the universe is a vast place, where much is outside of our control, and where the best course of action can sometimes be to tailor our expectations so that they are in line with what is actually possible. When you come across a mountain, you can try to bulldoze it, or you can walk around it. When a river will overrun its banks and flood your house, you can stay and try to bucket out the rising water, or you can take what you can, avoid the flood, and rebuild. When you are looking for something in the darkness, you can try and light a thousand candles, or you can wait for the sunrise and search under the sunlight. In each of these scenarios, one "solution"  will drive you insane, while the other is a fairly reasonable course of action.

This is the art and alchemy of turning unhappiness into positive change. Not only do we learn how to take our lives into our own hands, we are also continually testing the limits of our personal powers. Only unhappiness provides these opportunities. We should all be very grateful for unhappiness.