The Joy of Misery

 Randy W. Green, Ph.D

              “I cut an inch off of every straw I see, just to make the world suck a little less.           Jarod Kintz

We are creatures of habit, because what seems familiar is often most comfortable. Our habits are our “comfort zone.” This is true, even when our comfort zones hurt. People are reluctant to step outside their comfort zones because that would entail risking failure. Why would someone want to do that? After all, there’s a reason it’s called “your comfort zone” - right? And one’s comfort zone is often laced with unhappiness. There are people in this world, who are just not happy unless they are unhappy!

And so they remain comfortable being uncomfortable…

So how do people generate this misery? You know how a Geiger counter works, don’t you? You turn on the sensing portion of this device and scan the environment for ionizing radiation. It has applications in experimental physics and radiological protection, among other things. In short, it’s designed to detect what should not be present.

In a similar way, unhappy people scan their environments for misery. They watch the evening news, which is mostly bad news. (Good news, in fact, is considered by broadcast journalism to be “soft” news; it’s generally relegated to the last thirty seconds or so of a news program).

Upon awakening, they often run negative internal dialogue in their heads about all the things they expect to go wrong today—at work, among family members, with mechanical devices, traffic and more. By the time they get out of bed, feelings of gastrointestinal distress, heart palpitations and labored breathing course through their bodies. Then, their “Geiger counters” begin to notice for all the things in that day’s environment, which will confirm those negative thoughts and feelings!

Another major factor driving those who seem most comfortable experiencing misery is the myths or belief structures which underlie so many of their behaviors. For example:

1-My value comes from others: Unhappy people look for happiness in the wrong places. They run a lot of internal dialogue about what others think of them, when they should focus on themselves. An unhappy person concentrates on trying to please others, in an effort to gain approval. And when this doesn’t work, it merely confirms what is most comfortable: I am miserable.

2- I need to control everything… so I can control my self: A common experience among many clients is that when something new is introduced, rather than embracing the learning and applying it to their lives, they compare it to something else they already know about—that it’s not! The question in that regard is, “Oh, is that like….?” The underlying principle here is that for many it becomes, “Before I risk trying something new, I need to know what is going to happen… ahead of time… so I won’t fail or so I can decide if I will like it or not.” And of course, since the only frame of reference those people have at that moment is their current comfort zones, which do not contain the particular new experience, there is no way to know for sure whether it will “work” or not… unless they (guess what?) step outside that comfort zone and risk… not… being miserable!

3- What’s there is what’s not there: Unhappy people see the negatives in life, their main focus being what they don’t have. They tell themselves, “if only my boss would recognize me I could perform better at my job”, or “if only my children would do what they’re told the first time, I wouldn’t have to yell so much.” Unhappy people believe that they need something they don’t have to be happier. They also look forward to going from bad to worse (“I know we’re in for a bad winter this year!”) Their focus remains on things they don’t have, things that could go wrong—but haven’t yet, and people who “make” them feel badly, thereby making their everyday life unsatisfying. (Go to my website,, and read what happens when people are “chained to their problems”).

The Holidays are coming; something else that can either be experienced as joy or misery. You pick. Meanwhile, how can people learn to experience less joyful sorrow? Be here next time.