Jenna Breunig holding a tulip with the words how I stopped being an unhappy person

5 Ways I Stopped Being an Unhappy Person

During my late teenage years, I was a desperately unhappy person. Life felt like an endless downpour and happiness seemed like a story that other people got to live. All the “should”s and “must”s trapped me in a life I didn’t like.

However, today, I consider myself happier than the average person. While I have bad days like everyone else, I find things to enjoy every day.

I’d like to share how I turned my life around. No, I’m not going to tell you to keep a gratitude journal or create a skincare routine. (Those things are nice, of course, but you’ve already heard them a million times.)

5. I Stopped Letting My Potential Be My Boss

I took all kinds of AP coursework as a high school student. School guidance counselors assumed that since I was academically gifted, I should load up on as many AP classes as possible. I did what I was told. That was a mistake.

Fulfilling your potential is not an obligation. I was working so hard that my hobbies and social life stagnated. It’s not easy to enjoy life when your to-do list never ends.

With time, my head caught up to what my heart was telling me. I stopped packing my schedule and started seeking balance. My life belongs to me. I can spend time learning, but I don’t have to destroy my happiness in the process.

4. I Let Myself Enjoy My Free Time

Jenna trying to solve a Rubik's cube
I’m pretty bad at solving Rubik’s cubes right now, but I love doing it.

As a teen, I would secretly spend time on anonymous social networks, immediately hiding the tab if anyone entered my bedroom. I wasn’t doing anything illicit. I was posting badly-drawn doodles, complimenting people on their art, and chatting with other lonely teenage girls. Some evenings, I watched Netflix and tried to justify it to my perplexed parents.

My parents didn’t mind me doing any of those things. When I explained that I had studied hard enough to earn a 30-minute episode, I was really trying to convince myself.

I don’t have guilty pleasures anymore. Don’t get me wrong: I still message people, doodle, and binge-watch shows on Netflix. I just refuse to let myself feel bad about it.

Reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People helped. The seventh habit is called “sharpen the saw.” The author explains that you need to take breaks to restore your mind and energy.

I love those ugly doodles, cheesy shows, and random chats. I’m not doing these things to be excellent. I’m doing them to relax and have fun. They serve an important purpose for me. Why would I need to feel guilty about that?

3. I Asked People to Spend Time With Me

You can have a thousand Facebook friends and still feel desperately lonely. As for me, I was lonely with about a dozen Facebook friends.

When I started to become less of an unhappy person, I began reaching out to other people.

I also integrated Katie into a few of my routines. (It may, though, be more accurate to say that she integrated me into hers.) When the weather allows, we take morning walks in the neighborhood. In the evening, we watch a Netflix show until it’s time for her to get ready for bed.

Katie is a positive force in my life. I look forward to our time together each day.

Now, I spend time with many members of my family. I enjoy walks and bike rides with my dad. My brother and I hang out in the hot tub and chat about games. We also have a show we watch with Katie.

2. I Stopped Making Myself Unhappy for Money

Jenna blogging and drawing happily at her desk
It’s nice to get paid for blogging!

As far as we know, we only get one life. (It would be fun to reincarnate into a puppy, though.) Why would you spend 40 hours per week being miserable?

Currently, I work as a contractor for EpiBuild. From 9 to 5, I talk to clients, write blog posts, design sites, and manage social media. My favorite part lately is blogging for Quantum Living.

I could have specialized in computer algorithms. It would pay much more, and intellectually, I’m capable of it. However, I never loved math class. I could be a math person, but I’d probably be unhappy doing it all day. Drawing logos, creating websites, and writing blog posts is much more fun.

I’d rather make a moderate amount of money doing something that I enjoy than make a large amount of money doing something I dislike.

1. I Changed How I Face Problems

I’m not deliriously happy all the time. (If I were, my family would be calling the doctor.) Like most people, my life usually involves a couple problems at a time.

When I was younger, I hid from my problems. I tried to suffer in silence, thinking it made me strong. Girls aren’t supposed to complain. The worst thing I could do was be annoying. I wanted to be a good person, and that meant hiding when I was unhappy. Eventually, I’d break down in front of my surprised parents.

You see how foolish that sounds.

Nowadays, I take a proactive approach. If I’m not sure how to tackle a problem, then I consult my family’s and/or coworkers’ wisdom. With family, I go for walks and ask if we can discuss the issue. I consider problem-solving a collaborative activity.

I believe it brings us closer. They know what’s going on in my head. They can share their advice and ideas with me. Naturally, I’ll do the same for them when they ask.

I also work on talking out my interpersonal problems instead of hiding them. Yes, it’s awkward at first. However, a more open approach allows us to solve things instead of letting them fester.

My relationships are better now that I talk about things. Besides, life is easier when a problem-solving team has your back for the tough stuff.

Transforming Takes Time

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If you’re leading a miserable life, then don’t expect to become perfectly happy tomorrow. Life doesn’t work that way.

I didn’t become happy overnight. Instead, I adjusted my attitude and approach over time. I tried new techniques and practiced. I reflected and re-evaluated. Above all, I tried to be patient with my progress.

Instead, you’ll need to make changes over time. Try new techniques. Plan and practice. Reflect and evaluate. (The gratitude journal is optional.) Give yourself a little patience.

Life is always going to involve difficulty. You’ll be unhappy sometimes, and you’ll still make mistakes like a regular person. Dealing with it gets easier when you adjust your attitude and approach. Don’t give up. You’ll get there.

4 thoughts on “5 Ways I Stopped Being an Unhappy Person”

  1. Sounds like you a great approach to transforming your life. Very good tips here and congrats on discovering and applying these for yourself.

  2. I relate to #5 – I wish I had gotten it a bit sooner. I’m actually still working on this, as I keep having guilt trips about doing jobs and activities that seem below expectations for someone with “potential” 🙂

    I wonder if this is generally a thing with people who are labelled “gifted” academically – it can be a very problematic label that can set a person up to focus on the wrong (for their own happiness) things, and/or to fixate on keeping the image up (so on others’ expectations and projections, for stress of letting them down), at the cost of paying attention to what is actually important (to that person) in life and what one actually … cares about and wants.

    I’ve read over most of your articles on this blog because I find it really valuable how you use your experience with your sister’s disability as a sort of grounding or counterweight to all the weird paths a “gifted” person without such an appreciation of the “human” side of life could go off on (seen some :D).

    I find it pretty unique. I relate to many of your points probably also because I figured out that I’m on the autism spectrum quite late, but digesting the concept of disability in that context had really a healthy and balancing impact on me in a similar way I think – a shift in priorities in a good direction.

    Since then I’m trying to grow my knowledge about disability in general and better understand the life-worlds of different people, rather than measuring everything and everyone against some pre-set norms / timelines of achievement / criteria of success, etc. It has taken a lot of tension out of my life. It’s like everything got slower and more colourful / enjoyable and somehow “real”.

    Hope you don’t mind the long comment, I’m a fast typer unfortunately 😀

    1. I wish I had learned #5 sooner too. I’d have a little less knowledge, but more happy memories.

      I totally agree with you on the “gifted” label. I think it promotes a fixed mindset instead of a growth mindset, which is something I’m actually finishing a draft on.

      I really love how you phrased that, with my sister’s disability and life being a counterweight to all the weird messages a gifted kid gets. In some ways, she was the role model I didn’t know I needed. (I say “was” because I’m wiser now.)

      I’m neurodivergent myself, so I’m not surprised you can relate. I’m glad that your diagnosis gave you the opportunity to re-prioritize and work on happy living. I discovered my own neurodivergence in my late teens, and it did cause me to stop and reflect too.

      I’m a fast typist as well! How fast are you? I took this test once and it was pretty fun: https://www.livechat.com/typing-speed-test/#/

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