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The 14 Habits of Highly Miserable People

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PNND13-5

How to Succeed at Self-Sabotage

By Cloe Madanes

Most of us claim we want to be happy—to have meaningful lives, enjoy ourselves, experience fulfillment, and share love and friendship with other people and maybe other species, like dogs, cats, birds, and whatnot. Strangely enough, however, some people act as if they just want to be miserable, and they succeed remarkably at inviting misery into their lives, even though they get little apparent benefit from it, since being miserable doesn’t help them find lovers and friends, get better jobs, make more money, or go on more interesting vacations. Why do they do this? After perusing the output of some of the finest brains in the therapy profession, I’ve come to the conclusion that misery is an art form, and the satisfaction people seem to find in it reflects the creative effort required to cultivate it. In other words, when your living conditions are stable, peaceful, and prosperous—no civil wars raging in your streets, no mass hunger, no epidemic disease, no vexation from poverty—making yourself miserable is a craft all its own, requiring imagination, vision, and ingenuity. It can even give life a distinctive meaning.

So if you aspire to make yourself miserable, what are the best, most proven techniques for doing it? Let’s exclude some obvious ways, like doing drugs, committing crimes, gambling, and beating up your spouse or neighbor. Subtler strategies, ones that won’t lead anyone to suspect that you’re acting deliberately, can be highly effective. But you need to pretend that you want to be happy, like everybody else, or people won’t take your misery seriously. The real art is to behave in ways that’ll bring on misery while allowing you to claim that you’re an innocent victim, ideally of the very people from whom you’re forcibly extracting compassion and pity.

Here, I cover most areas of life, such as family, work, friends, and romantic partners. These areas will overlap nicely, since you can’t ruin your life without ruining your marriage and maybe your relationships with your children and friends. It’s inevitable that as you make yourself miserable, you’ll be making those around you miserable also, at least until they leave you—which will give you another reason to feel miserable. So it’s important to keep in mind the benefits you’re accruing in your misery.

• When you’re miserable, people feel sorry for you. Not only that, they often feel obscurely guilty, as if your misery might somehow be their fault. This is good! There’s power in making other people feel guilty. The people who love you and those who depend on you will walk on eggshells to make sure that they don’t say or do anything that will increase your misery.

• When you’re miserable, since you have no hopes and expect nothing good to happen, you can’t be disappointed or disillusioned.

• Being miserable can give the impression that you’re a wise and worldly person, especially if you’re miserable not just about your life, but about society in general. You can project an aura of someone burdened by a form of profound, tragic, existential knowledge that happy, shallow people can’t possibly appreciate.

Honing Your Misery Skills

Let’s get right to it and take a look at some effective strategies to become miserable. This list is by no means exhaustive, but engaging in four or five of these practices will help refine your talent.

Be afraid, be very afraid, of economic loss. In hard economic times, many people are afraid of losing their jobs or savings. The art of messing up your life consists of indulging these fears, even when there’s little risk that you’ll actually suffer such losses. Concentrate on this fear, make it a priority in your life, moan continuously that you could go broke any day now, and complain about how much everything costs, particularly if someone else is buying. Try to initiate quarrels about other people’s feckless, spendthrift ways, and suggest that the recession has resulted from irresponsible fiscal behavior like theirs.

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12 comments

  • Comment Link Monday, 10 November 2014 10:44 posted by Debbie Rice

    I really enjoyed this article. I definitely recognized some personality disordered thinking, which of course is not chosen, but developed over time, and not easily changed in my experience. I do think that personality disorders are often not recognized and someone is seen as manipulative when really there's a serious disorder behind the behavior.

    Personality disorders aside, I do subscribe to the theory that many of our behaviors have a payoff (positive or negative) which we gain something from, thus we repeat them over and over. All therapists know this. The issue as I see it is determining first of all whether the behavior and thinking is egodystonic or egosyntonic. Next, what's the gain for the person and do they really want to change the way they interact in the world.

    The author has a gift for clarity of describing behaviors and thinking and I think it's presented in a fun and insightful way!

  • Comment Link Saturday, 08 November 2014 16:54 posted by Kelly

    Wow, looks like a bunch of the miserable people the author sees so very clearly are the same ones commenting. Funny how if any of these people had enough self awareness to recognize their own behavior they would know they all hit most of the points in this article in their responses and pointed the misery arrow right at themselves. So they are sensitive and mad about what? That someone called out their misery game and it touched a nerve? If you are mad and embarrassed that thre is someone in the world that sees your game of attention seeking for what it is change the behavior or just own the fact that you cultivate being an unhappy person. It is a choice, whatever the circumstances of your past,present, or biology you always have the choice to change, the choice to forgive, the choice to do the work it takes to heal, the choice to seek help, and the choice to accept the help, therapy, medication, and lifestyle adjustments. So quit whining. And FYI this article is clearly satirical and meant as a tongue and cheek " what not to do" manual based on keen and experienced observation of cognitive dysfunction. I thought it was hilarious. Learn to laugh, even at yourself, it solves a world of problems.

  • Comment Link Friday, 07 November 2014 11:22 posted by Brustvergrößerung

    Having read this I thought it was extremely enlightening.
    I appreciate you taking the time and energy to put
    this article together. I once again find myself spending
    a significant amount of time both reading and leaving comments.
    But so what, it was still worth it!

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 05 November 2014 16:29 posted by emmw

    Great read, hilarious if there weren't actual people like this around. Shame tpeople aren't allowed this opinion about people, maybe one day alot of people will be happier by avoidin these miserable selfish ones among us.

  • Comment Link Monday, 28 July 2014 13:16 posted by Charlene Hall-Redick

    How heartening to read the responses by other clinicicans to this article and see manifested such mercy towards those who are miserable. Someone once told me: "Therapists give out hope like cookies." I laughed but I've never forgotten it and i do see this "giving out Hope as a main function we perform.
    Charlene Hall Redick

  • Comment Link Monday, 07 July 2014 13:40 posted by Emily French

    Sorry but I like it we need some satire in our line of work, and lets face it some people do like being miserable they get enough out of it not to change --at least for now

  • Comment Link Monday, 07 July 2014 13:28 posted by Deirdre Modesti

    Laughed so hard! Perfect article!

  • Comment Link Saturday, 29 March 2014 13:56 posted by Dee Dunn

    Vitriolic. Hmmmm...Is there a DSM-V code for that?

  • Comment Link Monday, 18 November 2013 09:20 posted by Frankie Wall II

    Wow, what can one one say about such an ignorant, unempathetic, victim blaming author. Cloe views "miserable people" (of which I am one - treatment refractory dysthymia with recurrent major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, primary insomnia; I am on disability because of these illnesses) as people who want to, and go out of their way to be miserable. I find this highly offensive as well as breathtakingly stupid. It's just one display of her ignorance. No one wants to be miserable. That assertion by Cloe says more about her than anyone else. She comes across as a jaded, cynical burnout, full of disdain for "miserable people" who just will not stop being miserable (by her account). One of her most bizarre assertions is that "miserable people," who are poorly defined, are selfish with narcissistic tendencies. Strange that I don't know many miserable people who fit this mold and I met a lot of miserable people in the 18 years I worked for a mental health agency, mostly with schizophrenics (who, I suppose, make themselves delusional and cause their own hallucinations...such is the "logic" of Cloe Madanes).

    Some of her "strategies" are actual symptoms of mental illnesses and they are most certainly not chosen by those suffering from them. Number 10 for instance is a symptom of depression known as anhedonia, or the inability to experience pleasure. No one goes out of their way to not enjoy themselves. In fact, I find myself fighting this symptom on a regular basis. It is torturous and I daresay one of the most debilitating symptoms of depression. It affects motivation, energy, and ones social life (if nothing is pleasurable why bother spending what little energy you have on pursuing it). Many of her other "strategies" are also symptoms of depression, as well as anxiety disorders.

    Overall, I have to say that Cloe is a hateful, bitter individual severely lacking in compassion. If she really is therapist, she needs to retire and start a support group for former therapists who also hate the clients they treated. I can imagine a suicidal person being pushed over the edge by this article. I can't imagine Cloe ever being or having been an effective therapist. And I find it obscene that someone actually posted this garbage for mass consumption. This piece belongs in Cloe's own personal journal where she can blow off steam, not out there where anyone can read it; there are people who suffer from chronic incurable (as they all are) mental illnesses, who are going to feel worse thanks to this petty, pathetic article written form the point of view of a spoiled child, a child who screeches "Why can't people just be happy?! They're being unhappy on purpose! Just to make me mad!" Oh wait, that sounds awfully similar to those "miserable people" Cloe so despises. Is this an article about hating herself and, well, everyone else who has ever been miserable on purpose (I mean, c'mon, that's the only way anyone could ever be miserable: by choice! Amirite?) Mental illness does not exist, especially not depression and nothing bad ever happens to people that isn't their fault. Grieving people obviously killed those they're grieving for just to be miserable and to make Cloe feel mild to moderate discomfort, i.e., torture.

    Read the comments on the AlterNet posting of this article. It made a lot of people feel miserable. It also brought the know-nothing know-it-all sadists who could "relate" to this article out of the woodwork to further shame the "miserable people."

    Cloe - if you have any sense of decency, you'll post a clarification about this article saying you didn't mean to offend anyone and are very sorry if you exacerbated the symptoms of anyone suffering from any mental illnesses. You will also admit to being insensitive and thoughtless. Maybe you can repair some of the damage you've done. If you actually care to.

    AlterNet comments: http://www.alternet.org/comments/personal-health/14-habits-highly-miserable-people#disqus_thread

  • Comment Link Sunday, 17 November 2013 20:28 posted by Marilyn Scholze

    This was the most judgmental article I have ever seen in this magazine. There was no compassion for where people's self defeating habits come from or the pain they cause. Yes, people have patterns that are self defeating, cause misery to others and are annoying or cause others to reject them. I first read this article on Alternet and was shocked to finish it and discover it was written by a world famous family therapist, not an ordinary writer doing a rant. If patterns and self destructive behavior could be willed away by ourselves, or by shaming and shunning from others, there would be no need for our profession. I am truly shocked that this article made the cut to be in the magazine which I have subscribed to and read for many years. Many people are terrified by the vulnerability of being hopeful and optimistic, and shaming them is not the way to release these old patterns. This article seemed like below the belt hits to annoying people, who in all likelihood were traumatized or raised by parents who were.

    The email below is not current. I changed it on my profile today, but if a reply was made to it it would not got through. I'm not sure why it would not allow me to self correct it.

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