a happy life is not a perfect life
are you a g.o.o.d. person?

3 simple steps for conquering unhappiness


"The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be."

Marcel Pagnol


The quote above really speaks to me today. Lately my mind has been wandering into forbidden territory. Little by little, I find my thoughts creeping back to the past. They do it when I'm not looking, when I'm busy or sleeping or not fully paying attention, and then before I know it, I'm thinking backward, stumbling and tripping over my ideas because I'm going in the wrong direction. The trouble lately has been not only that I'm thinking about the past and spending way too much time there, but I've also been romanticizing it, imagining it in ways that are completely unrealistic.

Thinking about the past this way makes me long for it. I want things that aren't -- weren't -- even real. Clearly this is a problem for many reasons, but one of the things that bugs me the most is that I cannot control what I think about.  I know this is normal. I know a lot of us have trouble controlling our thoughts, keeping them moving forward in a productive way. But, for me -- a slight control freak -- this drives me crazy. I want to be able to control what I think about, at least to some extent. I want to be able to turn off certain parts of my mind. No, actually, what I want is to be able to see things truly, honestly, as they really are/were. I have a way of seeing things through my own special set of Dani lenses. Ah the Dani lenses... not always a good thing. In fact, more often than not, they're a very tricky thing. Like magic, I can see things how I want to see them and it's hard for others to change my mind. I often see the world, situations, people the way I want to (and not necessarily the way they are) and, as you might expect, this causes a lot of problems for me (and the people around me). I'm not talking about completely misreading the world; I'm talking about tiny shifts in perception, little misinterpretations, that can add up to a big, big mess when put together into a single life.

Okay, let me be real with you here. What I've been thinking a lot about lately -- what's been driving me a bit crazy -- is my past relationships. With a pen and paper in hand, I can write down exactly why each of them ended. I can clearly identify what I did wrong (things I need to work on) and what I couldn't deal with in the other person (not my problem anymore). My brain knows that these relationships are over. My brain can clearly make sense of the situations. But my heart...my silly little heart...can't seem to stop posing those imaginary, magical scenarios of "what if..." What if we gave it another go? What if we started over in 5 years? What if I really worked on myself and came back to the situation with a fresh perspective? What if we're really meant to be? My mind -- the logical, sane part of me -- knows this is ridiculous. Things end for a reason and, with almost all of my relationships, I've given it a second chance too. It never works out any better the second time around  (no matter how desperately I want it to). I want my mind and my thoughts to stay where they should be -- in a logical, matter-of-fact place --but I somehow find myself here, wondering, curious, experimenting in my mind. Does this happen to you too? Do you find yourself looking back at the past wistfully, imagining it as better than it was?

See that image above? I feel like that's me (and, no, it's not literally me). I'm looking through these lenses at the past and seeing these blue skies, these sunny days, when -- let's be serious here -- that wasn't always the case. Sure, me and my past had some great times. But there were very definite, clear reasons why things ended. It's not as if we were pulled apart by a war or separated by our feuding families. No, these relationships ended because they needed to end. However, I still find myself looking back on them with a fondness that does not seem normal. The other day I was just having a lovely little online chat with my cousin and she uncovered something that I'd written in an email to her last summer. On August 20, 2008, I wrote these words:


"I gotta get right with myself before I get into another relationship.
All of this jumping around has gotten me nowhere.
If you keep doing the same thing,
you're going to get the same results, you know?"


Yep, I said those words. I said them and, back then, I really believed them. But did I take my own advice? Of course not! I might not have taken my own advice last August, but now here those words are, coming back at me from the past, and I'm a bit in shock. Now, at this moment in time, my cousin is online (this is rare) and she happens to stumble across that particular conversation...If that isn't a sign, I don't know what is! I have an opportunity to hear my own good advice again and I need to seize this opportunity as a chance to let go of the past.

I believe that, for many people, the statement at the very top of this post is so true, and I especially see it in me lately. I believe that letting go -- even when it feels like the hardest thing in the world to do -- is critical to living a happy life. In order to let go, I believe it's essential not to do the things in the quote above. So, today, I will resolve to do three things: (1) see the past as it was; (2) look for the good in the present; and (3) realize the future will work itself out. And how will I do those three things? Of course I'm about to tell you right now!


Conquering Unhappiness in 3 Simple Steps

Step 1: See the past as it was.

This, I know, will be the hardest for me. I cannot help but see the past through these happy, sunny, Dani lenses. I remember all of the good (at least, when I want to) and none of the bad. I find myself wondering, "Well, if it was that great, why aren't we together?" It's always more complicated than that. There's always more in my mind than I'm letting myself see. I'm going to do what I must to make sure that I see the past as it was. There is an honesty and a truth in seeing things for what they are. It's hard not to distort your thoughts with emotions and outside influences, but it's important to give it your best shot. Here are some tactics I'm going to try:

  • Write down the good and the bad.
  • Remember all of the ways you could distort your thoughts.
  • Ask others for feedback.
  • Focus on your logic, not your emotions.

Step 2: Look for the good in today.

Of course, I'm always trying to do this one, but sometimes when my mind wanders back to the past and I think about how "good" it was then (was it really?) I find that I'm not focusing as much on today. I must remind myself to stay in the present. The past is gone and it's gone for a reason. Today is the only day I have and if I absolutely must focus my attention elsewhere it should be on the future -- on moving forward -- instead of the past. If I spend my time focusing on the present I won't have as much time to revisit (and rewrite) the past. It's clearly not easy for me to be in the moment all the time, but it's something I'm getting better at everyday. Here are some ideas how I can become even better at this:

  • Be mindful of every day actions.
  • Keep a Happy List or a gratitude journal.
  • Apprecaite the people in your life now.
  • Focus on the great things about YOU.

Step 3: Realize the future will work out.

This one ties in nicely with my last post about perfection. I have to learn to let go, to realize that the future will work out the way it's meant to. No matter what I do or how desperately I try to control the future, there are a lot of things that are out of my control in life and I have to let go. Accepting that the future will work out the way it's meant to is one of those things I really, really need to remind myself constantly. I'm not the kind of person who can easily let go of control, but I have to teach myself to do this, to accept that life will unfold the way it's meant to. If I do this, I know I will be a lot happier. Here's what I'm going to do to relax about the future:

  • Learn to relax and let things be.
  • Trust that things will work out.
  • Believe that you have some control.
  • Accept the things you cannot control.

Obviously there are many, many ways to conquer unhappiness, but I truly believe that these three steps lay a foundation for a happier life. If I were able to do all three of these things every day I can pretty much guarantee that I'd be living a happier life than I am right now. I certainly wouldn't be sitting around wondering why I'm not in a relationship that wasn't working out for me. There is a reason things are over. I know this. But it's not always easy for me to accept it. There is certainly a huge gap in my mind between what I know is true and what I accept. I need to jump the gap and realize that the facts are where it's at. I can't discredit my emotions -- after all, we all have them and they are useful for some things -- but I have to realize that I can be in control of the way I think. I might not be able to control situations or people or even the way I feel, but I can control how I think about a situation. I know that putting the three steps above into action will help me gain a more realistic perspective on the past, a better appreciation for the present, and a superior ability to accept what will come in the future.

What tactics do you use for letting go of the past? 
What other ways can you think of to conquer unhappiness?


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One of my tricks to get rid of unhappiness is to write down, in concrete terms, what exactly is bugging me. When I see the list, it is 1) usually way fewer items than it seems in my head and 2) a lot easier to deal with when in black and white. When unhappiness is more "tangible," it is easier for me to either let it go or do something about it.

Interesting post. Thanks for sharing. I think that we all romanticize the past. We remember the good times and forget the bad. It's how we remain sane, or at least that's how I remain sane. Cheer up. The steps you're taking definitely seem like steps in the right direction.

You can choose your thoughts. You can be picky about what you think. You can do it right now....... and that's what's make everything so... difficult.
When we are caught up in unhappiness getting to point we can realize this is what we need to work for. You've taken the steps in that direction with this post. Good one..

Sarah - That sounds like a great idea. I bet you that problems seem a lot more manageable when they're written down.

Vi - I'm glad you found the post interesting. We all romanticizing the past to some extent, but I'd like to do it less than I'm currently doing. Hopefully these steps will help!

Shamelle - You're so right. We can control what we think about it, but it's not easy to do. I'm hoping that focusing on the now and doing my best not to romanticize the past will help me out with controlling my thoughts.

Hi Dani, when I realize my mind is spinning and stuck on a particular thought or set of thoughts, I do what Sarah does and write it out on paper. Like she wrote, it is usually fewer items than it seems in my head. My other suggestion would be to substitute a positive behavior for the negative mind chatter you are experiencing. If you realize you are thinking about the past again, get up and walk around the block, or do a lap around your office, or jump up and down 20 times, something like that. Moving around always helps me to clear my mind. And like Megan wrote in her post today, "this too shall pass." Good luck!

Oh boy - this post really hit home - to the me who was me about seven years ago. Since discovering that true happiness comes from within, I can't remember a day that I've been unhappy.

And I know I'm radiating my happiness from the inside out when people notice...and they do! I've been told that my happiness precedes me into a room. I've gone through the lunch line and had the cashier tell me "wow...you look so happy." I replied, "I am!" To which she asked, "how can I get some of that?"

That's what my blog, Serendipity Smiles (http://serendipitysmiles.com) is all about. Finding your happiness from within. And then never letting anyone change your mood because they're unhappy.

A few books I recommend - "Loving What Is" by Byron Katie, "Stumbling Upon Happiness" by Daniel Gilbert (this is a pretty cool scientific look at our brain!) and "When Things Fall Apart" by Pema Chordrin.

Great post Dani!

Great post Dani. I have to admit that I've been dwelling on my past quite a bit lately, and obsessing over the future. But, you have a great point, the past is not as perfect as we'd like to believe it was. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

I know what you mean about drifting back to old habits or thought patterns. The best technique I've found is simply checking the questions I'm asking. If I'm asking what's wrong with this, I flip it around to what's right with this.

Beautiful post with insight and story - great job.

1) Byron Katie, Byron Katie, Byron Katie. Google her. Use her 4 questions. Like...a lot. (And yes, her book, "Loving What Is", is fantastic!)

2) Actually, I think missing someone is okay. There must have been love there. And so it's natural to feel that way sometimes. It's acting on it that's the problem. Or if it's painful. Can you miss them, recognize the love.....and just 'notice it' and then move on with your day? (Without dwelling there?)

3) We can't always control our thoughts. But we can be aware of them, and choose 'better thoughts'. We can also just simply notice the thought and let it go.

An example I just used recently: I just shot a wedding over the past weekend. Absolutely every single time a ceremony is over....and I do mean...every....single....time....I think, "I KNOW I just missed it."

The difference? It used to totally freak me out and I would be on edge through the reception and the whole time until I got home and saw what I actually got.

Now? Now I still have that thought for a moment, but just notice it, kind of laugh at myself and think, "Ah! Yep. There's that thought I have after every ceremony. And I know it's not true. haha" And move on.

4) What is really underneath missing these past relationships? Is it yearning for a new one? Is it loneliness? Is it feeling something missing in your life? Get to the underlying stuff and work on that.

5) Watch that scene in the woods in Legend of Bagger Vance. ha!

OK. These are all things I do....or have done.
Your mileage may vary.

All the best!

Jodi - Thanks for your suggestions. Those are great ideas. I'm definitely going to start working on the writing it down thing and I think you're on to something with the "get moving" idea. I'm going to use that too. Thanks!

Peggy - Every day I'm working on finding happiness within so that someday I can be that woman who is radiating happiness. It's not easy, but writing and thinking about things from a positive perspective is really helping me. I'm always on the hunt for new books so I will definitely check out the ones you recommended. Thanks!

Srinivas - You're welcome. The past is definitely romanticized a lot by a lot of us. It's easy to do this, but it's important to keep it in mind when considering what is we want to go back to.

J.D. - Great idea about flipping the questions, especially from a negative question to a positive one. I'm definitely going to try this. Thanks for the great piece of advice!

Deb - Thanks for your awesome comment! There is so much great information in there that I don't even know where to begin. I'm really excited to take some of your suggestions and put them into action. You've also posed some really great questions that I'm going to spend some time thinking about today. Thank you!

Every day is such a wonderful masterpiece that it can feel overwhelming and I shut down or tune it out. Lately I've been working on opening myself to all the brilliance. Even a small interaction with the mail man can be amazing if I'm open to it. This takes practice, but I feel like I'm improving every single day.

Dear Brain: Shut up. Please. I care not to have these thoughts, I don't know if it's even ME that's talking. All I know is that I'd like it to stop.

Dear Past: Way to totally screw me. Why couldn't you have been nicer? Why couldn't I know then what I know now? Oh, wait - I had to go through that to even know the little bit I do now? Shut up. Please.

Yeah, obviously I feel you on this one as well... One of the things I do when I start to feel myself slip into Dwelling in the Past Land, is sing the following line from the musical "The Full Monty":

Let it go
Let it go
Loosen up, yeah, let it go
Let it go
Let it go, it's all right

I'm not sure if you're into musicals, but I'd highly recommend this one - if not only to get the tune of the lyrics. They're a big help to bring me back to now and also help boost my happiness because of how peppy they are and the context in which the characters sing them.


Moment-to-Moment Optimism

Oh Dani,

I could have written this post. Not as well as you did maybe, but I've definitely been struggling with these same things. I wish I had some answers for you, but I don't. I think you're way ahead of me in this particular bit of self-evolving, so I thank you for the answers you've given me in this post.

All I can offer is the words of the great Billy Joel: "The good ol' days weren't always good, and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems."

Nice post Dani - I try to live by those rules, but some days the rain is harder to take than others

Oh...I see there's another Byron Katie fan here! High five Deb Owen!

Dani - great line from some book that I don't know the title to:

"The Past is a different country...they do things differently there..."

It's one of my favorite quotes to remind myself that my past is not where I'm going ;-)

Karl - Great point. Every single day is a chance to experience new, great, exciting things. I need to focus on that rather than going back to the past. Thanks for sharing your insights!

Veronica - LOVE your comment. So great! I love what you wrote to Brain and the Past. That's exactly what I'm thinking. I love musicals so I will definitely look into that. Thanks!

Jay - Billy Joel was on to something with those lyrics, wasn't he? I'm glad you got something out of and related to this post. It wasn't an easy one for me to write so it means a great deal that others have been able to connect with it.

Cat - Thanks! I agree. I do the best I can but some days are just more difficult than others. I guess that's life though!

Peggy - Yes! Apparently I really need to get a hold of some of her stuff and read about her insights. It sounds like I could use them. I've also heard that quote about the past and it's a great one. It would have been perfect for this post had I remembered it when writing this.

Thanks for this. One idea I'd add is that it helps me to really get an understanding of how I experience unhappiness on a physical level -- for me it's a sort of sinking feeling in my stomach. When I get in touch with what bodily sensations tell me I'm "unhappy," suddenly I stop taking the story of why I'm supposedly unhappy seriously, because I see that it's actually just a bunch of sensations and nothing more.

What a wonderful quote!! Simple yet so powerful. I'm really an advocate for the 3rd step....why would you worry about something that hasn't happened yet....always try to live in the present.

Hi Dani,

As someone who used to fret about the future, I know exactly what you are talking about. When I look back at those days when I used to get all stressed out with worry, I realize that I missed some wonderful moments. I have no regret but I see that the worrying really do not achieve anything. All you can control is the present moment. The outcome is totally out of our hands. People forget that because they can control their computers, phones and so many other gadgets but you cannot control how life will play out. So just enjoy the ride. If I can change, anyone can. :)

Dani deluxe!! :)

awwwwsome article... and great reminder :)

ecky (a.k.a. eckhart tolle a.k.a. german gnome of destiny) would be proud :P

i know the feeling of reminiscing and wanting the past driving you crazy.

one question to ask yourself that i find really really helpful is to ask yourself, "can i let go of wanting to edit the past and let go of wanting to change right now?" ...or simply, "am i wanting to change this? (now)" ..."can i let go of wanting to change this?" (courtesy of the sedona method ;) )

with regards to the relationsihps - i completely understand how they can drive you bonkers. end of the day, and another one of my favourite quotes, "this is it." live now or waste your time reminiscing. up to you.

really liked your 3 steps to conquering unhappiness. i think it comes down to not looking for happiness but drawing it from within. total acceptance of what is. that way no matter what the past was or what the future holds, it's all good. nothing gets to you because you don't need anything to complete you. you don't derive happiness and your emotions from anywhere but within. you tap into your limitless inner awesomeness. you unleash reality.

inspiring read
gave it a stumble

keep well and in touch
alex - unleash reality

What a lovely site you have here. I salute you for simplifying this message into 3 very powerful steps. Each one can take us years (if not lifetimes!), but each one also guides us more deeply into our truest self. Our essence, as you know is happiness. It is all about awakening to that, reconnecting with it, plugging back into our innate joy, and foregoing that self talk or preoccupation with what isn't right. The 3 steps you offer can guide us into that soulful place of awareness. Kudos on your very good inner work and this offering to the world. Blessings to you!

Dani, again great stuff. I always feel the angst in your writing and as I continue to read it resolves itself out and I leave feeling better.

One of the most important journal-type references I keep is a decision book. This is where I write the reasoning behind hard, potentially life-changing decisions; career, relationships, major purchases, etc. I started it because of doubt over past decisions. I knew I was working with limited information at the time, but I rarely gave myself the benefit of the doubt.

Now, when I look back at my journal and see what went through my head, what my pros/cons were, and how I came to a conclusion, I feel so much more settled. I trust myself and my evolution a lot more.

My favorite part about this post was actually when you mentioned the August 2008 note to yourself and how you didn't follow through on it. I always find the discrepancy fascinating, as if we wrote it down, got it out of the way and forgot about it. At least you know what you were thinking on that very day.

By the way, I absolutely loved the quote you used for this post. May I add it to my Quotes (http://justbeandyouare.com/quotes/) page under Spoon-Bending Motivations?

Hi Dani,

You've described a very sensible approach to dealing with anxiety and fantasies we generate about the past and future--something very similar to Byron Katie's The Work.

Excellent post, and I'm sure you'll help many people with this approach.


I don't break up well AT ALL. When I love a person, I give 150% percent of myself and my heart and it is VERY hard to make that caring for them less intimate and less personal. To let someone skip back into the hum of humanity to become just another.

Now that I have been with Chris, I look back on those relationships and can REALLY see just how unbalanced they were and how unwilling I was to let go of them.

Honestly, time is the only thing that works and even still we can have these moments of nostalgia and bittersweetness. I also found that pouring my soul into HORRENDOUS and angst filled poetry was QUITE helpful.

Okay, soooo... I just responded to a BUNCH of comments and when I clicked POST they all disappeared. Tempted as I am to just say forget it and not respond, I cannot bear the thought that someone took the time to write a comment that I didn't respond to, so here it goes... Recrafting what I just wrote...

Chris - Great point about getting in touch with the body. I try to do this but I'm not the best at it and I think it's really important. This is something I'm definitely going to give some more thought to.

John - It IS a great quote isn't it? I was so happy when I found it. I agree that worrying about the future never gets us anywhere (though that's SO much easier said than done!)

Actually...I'm going to break it up now...Maybe it was too long?

Nadia - Your comment inspires me. If you can do it, anyone can and that means me too! It's not an easy path I'm on but I do believe that focusing on the now will benefit me A LOT in the long run!

Alex - Thanks so much for the Stumble! I love to see that! :) I'm so glad you liked the post and think the 3 steps are good ones. I also LOVE your quote "this is it." I actually wrote a post with that title and it's something I need to learn to live by!

Jan - I'm definitely a work in progress, but I'm getting there. Every day I'm learning new things about how I can apply these three steps to my life and I'm really much happier the more I do it. Thanks for the comment!

Akshay - What a great idea -- a decision book! I'm definitely going to start one of those. It sounds like it will be so useful for me. Thank you for the idea! Of course you can use the quote. Spread it around because it's great one and more people need to hear it (and learn from it)!

Kaushik - Thanks for your comment! You're the third person to mention Byron Katie in this comment section so I MUST go out and read some of her stuff ASAP!

Hayden - The poetry idea is a great one. I used to write poems all the time but I stopped for some reason. I think it will be a great outlet for me so thank you for inspiring me to get back into it. You never know, maybe you'll see something up on PP! :)

Dani, I truly enjoyed your three steps. I find them to be very helpful. Although I am happily married I still find your solutions helpful with many other areas of my life.

Thank You!!

Great post! About "Look for the good in today": I like to try and string together a bunch of great "nows" to *make* the good in today. I try and do this by defining what will make today a great day and working towards those goals, all the while appreciating what actually happens. Not easy at first but a great habit once it sets in (and mine is not set in yet).

Tabitha - I'm so glad you liked the steps. They can definitely be applied to all aspects of life (not just relationships) so I hope that you get some good use out of them.

Mike - That's a great idea, stringing together great "now" moments to make the day a good one. It sounds like a great habit to get into and I'm going to start working on it too! Thanks for the comment!

John, who was having trouble posting a comment, wrote this in an email to me. It's a great comment so I'm posting it here for all to read:

I subscribe to this blog feed via RSS. Today, this article's headline jumped out at me. This feels relevant to me because I just came down
off a surprisingly sudden emotional peak (feeling mostly sadness,self-directed anger and a sense of being lost).

Over the past 5 years I have had a number of physical and mental health difficulties that I have been trying to resolve. This came to a head about a year ago, when three things happened. I lost my job, I
stopped going to counseling (couldn't keep up w/ cobra payments), and I started studying T'ai Chi Chuan. It has been one hell of a year.

Recently, at my T'ai Chi Chuan teacher's suggestion, I volunteered with a local festival that encompassed this and other similar arts. Because I already had sort of been 'under the wing' of my teacher
(helping me find ways to continue w/ the class due to hardship), I already felt pressure to be my best and exhibit gratitude, and also represent my teacher well in whatever capacity. I knew it would be a challenge, and at times I was very stressed,confused, frustrated and exhausted. I was both helping out and availing myself of a few of the workshops presented.

In the course of trying to 'relax' (a key problem in my practice) I wonder if I made myself vulnerable to my old patterns of a destructive internal dialogue (monologue really). The volunteer work was taking me
far out of my comfort zone, and learning in the workshops was really showing me pretty radical new ideas for understanding the mind-body
connection. The new questions I now needed to ask myself from this also contributed to focusing inward.

I found myself, at the conclusion of the festival, deeply saddened that it was over, frustrated that I was baiting myself into old reactions (maybe I did some things poorly, this or that means I'm no good, this person doesn't like me, inability to maintain equanimity means I've failed as a student, and walking the very fine balance of respecting the teacher-student relationship and finding an approach comfortable for both of us - we had some opportunities to socialize and get to know each other a bit better throughout). The following day, which was just this past Monday, I was wiped out at all levels. I was experiencing sudden strong waves of...grief, sadness, asking the universe for forgiveness...through choking tears. Out of the blue, on and off, until I seemed to level off yesterday.

Well, I felt like I had learned nothing from years of work to maintain perspective and keep centered. When I saw this post, I thought how ironic, I've just been there. I read it only this morning, and it rattled around in my head. Finally I've come back to it, with the following thoughts I jotted down in my car while contemplating the article: memory allows for elasticity of reference, and meaning is a shortcut around re-processing the events in our memory. We can choose to stretch that elasticity of reference fully, or not at all, but perhaps the 'in-between' is best (similar concepts are in T'ai Chi Chuan), and it is dangerous to let whatever meanings we have established become written in stone.

This is probably way too much information about my personal experience, but I couldn't think of any other way to convey what I thought and how I arrived at that. Thank you for indulging me, and I hope this adds to the thread in a meaningful way.

Dani, great post. It is so true...thoughts are very powerful. What we think we act out. Sometimes we have to "fake it" before we make it. Hopefully we don't have to fake too much.

Thanks for the tips. I have a hard time letting myself be happy despite all the blessings that have come my way.

Have a great weekend!

Jewel - Yes, sometimes we have to fake it before we make it, but usually faking it leads to actually feeling happiness. Hope your weekend is a great one too!

This is really a beautiful piece of writing! I think the third important simple step is something to look forward to, in the positive light. If i realize the future prospect will be bright, i would stop molding those bleak suppositions and invoking a fragile mental state of the current moment. It is rational and logical enough for the mind to comprehend its existence. The present is ubiquitous to reality, thus we're breathing as we do. It's a terrible laxity to exhale all that air over worrying over the past or the future.

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