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The 14 Habits of Highly Miserable People

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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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5 comments

  • 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.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 17 November 2013 14:09 posted by CHRISTINE ALLISON

    The article does lay bare some of the behaviors truly miserable people engage in, which I appreciate,. But, it also makes me wonder about the author's level of burnout... I read the first part of the article and then decided to log-on to see what others are saying. It is certainly a thought-provoking article. I hope others will comment with their thoughts and reactions!

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 06 November 2013 18:42 posted by Chris Williams

    What a surprisingly mean-spirited article! I understand it's meant to be ironic, but how does that tone help anyone? If the author wishes to claim that anxious and depressed people are actively choosing to be in those mental states, then it would be far more becoming to say so directly. As written, the article is a passive-aggressive accusation, far more likely to offend the people to whom it's ostensibly addressed than to make them stop and amend their ways. Commiserating about frustrating client behavior has its place-- addressing those clients with such disrespect perhaps also has its place, but maybe just not here.