Common Habits and Thinking Patterns That Cause Unhappiness and Depression

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

Each one of us experiences every once in a while feelings of unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and discontent throughout our lives. However, what if we find ourselves feeling unhappy and dissatisfied all or most of the time? What are the behavioral and thought patterns that can cause unhappiness, and how can we break free from the unhappiness trap we build for ourselves? What are the habits we can build as Christians? Let’s explore unhappiness as a concept – and how to get back on the path to satisfaction and happiness.

3 Common Thought Patterns That Lead to Unhappiness:

Research shows that more often than not, how we think and how we interpret the world around us will determine whether we are happy or not. Unhealthy, negative thought patterns that lead to negative emotions are called cognitive distortions – which you can read all about in these blog posts. However, we want to highlight three common ways of thinking that almost certainly lead to unhappiness:

Comparing Yourself To Others:

Nowadays it seems nearly impossible to not fall into the trap of comparing ourselves with others. Before the advent of social media, we were comparing ourselves with our neighbors and the people they would see regularly at work or at social events. We would compare and see if they were better looking or not, richer than us or not, had a nicer car, a bigger house, a more expensive piece of jewelry.  Today, not only do we compare ourselves with those we see in person but we also spend hours on social media doing the same thing with people we may have never even met and feeling about ourselves. 

Not all social comparison is bad – it can sometimes motivate us to work harder and make positive changes in our lives. However, if we find ourselves constantly comparing ourselves to others and having negative emotions and thoughts about ourselves – it may be time to set some boundaries and start practicing self-acceptance. Remember that there is no rule book to follow or yardstick you need to measure up to in life. You also do not have the full picture or story (consider all the social media vs. reality memes out there). Have a journal where you keep track of the little things that make you feel grateful to be who you are and set aside some time to think about your own strengths and accomplishments. 

Regretting your Past:

Feelings of regret towards the past – things that cannot be changed – can harm your mood and your mental health. Dealing with regret can be even more difficult because it is accompanied by other negative emotions such as feelings of helplessness, sorrow, remorse, and guilt.  Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, a professor and researcher of psychology at Yale University had found that when people “ruminate while they are in a depressed mood, they remember more negative things that happened to them in the past, they interpret situations in their current lives more negatively, and they are more hopeless about the future.” In other words, consistent feelings of regret towards the past can be extremely detrimental to your mental health and your general level of happiness. 

While it may be difficult to avoid or erase this feeling of regret – especially since none of us can change the past – there are ways to cope with feelings of regret. One powerful way is to reframe this past experience as a learning opportunity that will guide us to make better choices and decisions in the future. We also have to be kinder to our past selves – after all, we were younger and had less experiences to draw from. Treat yourself with kindness and forgiveness. 

Unreasonable Expectations:

Are you expecting someone in your life, your relationship, your job, or something else to fulfill the canyon of your emotional needs? Do the expectations you set for yourself and others sound like an ultimatum? (ie: “You must have children by age 30” or “You must succeed at everything you try.”)  Then we may be setting unhealthy, unreasonable expectations and setting ourselves up for disappointment and unhappiness. 

Instead, consider reframing your expectations to be flexible and adaptable to the given situation and be well within your area of control. An unhealthy, unreasonable expectation may be: “I must get into an Ivy League college or else.” Ivy League schools get more competitive by the year and at the end of the day the admission board determines whether you get in or not. It is out of your control. Instead, you can reframe your expectation to bring it back into your realm of control: “I will put my best foot forward in my college applications and do research to make sure the schools are also a good fit for me.” 

If you find yourself constantly unhappy, maybe reflect and see if your mind falls prey to any of these thought patterns, or these other cognitive distortions. If so, it may be time to start keeping track in your journal of what situations and consequent thoughts are causing you unhappiness and start setting boundaries. 

How your personal habits can cause unhappiness

Research shows that certain behavioral habits can put you squarely on the path to persistent unhappiness. Nobody is perfect – we all have bad habits. However, take a look at the following if any of these apply to you and are leading you to be in a dark mood more often than not: 

Not Enough Exercise:

Exercise is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your mood and your mental well-being. Research shows that even just 20 minutes of moderate exercise a day can reduce depressive symptoms. If you can’t remember the last time you went on a jog outdoors or to the gym, then this may help partially explain why you are feeling so low. 

Poor Nutrition:

 You are what you eat. Studies have shown that there is a strong correlation with healthy eating and happier moods. Even though ice cream and junk food might make us happy in the moment, an inadequate diet can lead to feelings of sluggishness throughout the day and depressed moods. Instead, consider having a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Staying indoors:

Unfortunately most of us do not have much control over this as many of us have to spend long hours in the workplace. However, various studies show that people who spend more time outdoors and in nature have higher levels of happiness – so instead of watching TV in the evenings, try and take a walk outside in the park or go on a hike during the weekends.

Excessive drinking and drugs:

While people who are depressed may use drugs or drink alcohol to escape from their feelings and “self-medicate”, these substances are known to actually exacerbate feelings of depression and even lead to addiction as you build up a higher tolerance. Studies have shown where patients who are depressed notice a clear difference in how they feel (for the better) after cutting back on for just four weeks.

Spiritual Habits that can help boost your mood:

What are some habits we can build to feel contentment and satisfaction in our relationship with God, with ourselves, and with others?

Practice grace:

Romans 11:6: But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. 

One of the biggest gifts we can give to ourselves and others is kindness, goodwill, and the benefit of the doubt. If we find ourselves feeling regret for our past actions, learn to forgive yourself just as God forgave us through Christ. If you find yourself disappointed by unmet expectations by those around you, be kinder in your judgment and re-evaluate your expectations.

Digest the word of God:

Psalm 119:105: The word of God is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.

Empower and enrich your life with the word of God by taking a moment everyday to read the Bible. Being nourished by the word of God can strengthen us to make wise choices, treat others and ourselves with kindness, and also help us be reminded that God is with us when life becomes difficult. 

Accept the invitation to prayer often:

Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” 

Enjoying prayer as habitually as possible is what helps us know that God is with us. Through prayer in Christ, we can become sensitive to His plan unfolding in our lives. Without prayer, we can get lost in the noise of our own minds as well as from the world around us. As children of God, we can go to God anytime with our struggles, anxieties, hopes, and dreams and know that He has a plan for us. 

Especially when we are feeling most unhappy and vulnerable, these are the spiritual habits to try to engage in. If Christ died to redeem us from sin that separated us from God, would He not be concerned for all the causes of unhappiness? Believe He is most definitely with us!

You can watch the accompanying Anchor of Hope video here.

Enjoyed our blogpost? Subscribe to our newsletter for more resources on mental health and integrating the Gospel message in your healing journey. 

If you found our resources useful, please consider donating to Oak Health Foundation, which is a 501(3)c nonprofit dedicated to providing resources regarding holistic mental healthcare and subsidized treatment for those in need.

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