Using Unhappiness As Motivation

"Desire is a more powerful motivator than fear ever dreamed."

We fear obesity and rejection in order to motivate ourselves to diet. We scare ourselves with thoughts of lung cancer and emphysema, visualizing ourselves in hospitals on respirators to get ourselves to stop smoking. We visualize our lovers leaving us so we'll be nicer to them. We became anxious about unemployment to get ourselves to work harder. We feel guilty to make ourselves do what we think we should. On and on it goes, using unhappiness to get ourselves to do or not do, be or not be.

Why do we use unhappiness to motivate ourselves? Perhaps we believe that our desires aren't enough. If our happiness isn't dependent on it, maybe we won't be motivated enough to change and pursue what we want. So we turn our "wanting" into "needing" believing it will somehow make our desires more powerful and our actions more purposeful.

Needing something implies that there will be a negative consequence if we don't get it. We need food and water to live, or we'll die. We need to breath, or we'll die. But do we really NEED to be thinner? Have that new car? Get that raise? Unfortunately, the unhappiness (fear, anxiety, nervousness) resulting from turning this want into a need take lots of our emotional energy and leaves little left to actually use towards creating what you want.

What if our happiness wasn't based on getting what we wanted? Would we still have motivation to pursue your desires? From personal experience, I can tell you the answer is a resounding YES.

"When we use desire for our motivation, the difference between wanting and attachment becomes clear. Wanting is moving toward. Attachment includes the experience of need and, often, fear of our very survival. We use attachment to connect our selves to the object of desire with our fear, our sorrow, our guilt, our experience of need, as if that draws the object of desire to us. But it doesn't work."

"To believe that I need something requires, by definition, that I also believe that I cannot be okay without that something. It may be an object or an experience that I desire. In this view of reality, if I don't get it, that very not-getting threatens my well-being, my hopes for happiness, my ability to be okay. When I use un-happiness in order to help myself get what I want, or to get you to give me what I want, I live in that need. That experience is self-extinguishing - it is the state of non-being. The very thing I do to help myself cripples me, choking my life force and my ability to create."


"The experience of desire is self-fulfilling. It allows happiness now. It permits a sense of well-being, of okay-ness. It simply acknowledges, "more would be welcome. This is the more that I welcome."
- Emotional Options, Mandy Evans

We also use unhappiness as a gauge to measure the intensity of our desires. The more miserable we are when we don't get what we want, the more we believe we wanted it. We fear that if we are perfectly satisfied with our present conditions, that we might not move towards changing them or taking advantage of new opportunities. This simply isn't the case.

Let your desire and wanting be your motivation. Focus on the imagination, inspiration, creativity, and anticipation that desire creates. Let that feeling be your guide.

Unhappiness To Motivate Others

We get hurt to try and make our spouses take notice and to get them to change. We get irritated with our children to make them move quicker. We get angry at the sales clerk so they'll treat us with respect. We get angry at our employees to make them work faster. All in the attempt to get others to behave as we want or expect them to. For more information on how we motivate others with our unhappiness, see the relationship section.

Unhappiness To Show Our Sensitivity

We become visibly sad when someone we love is unhappy to show them we care about them. Believing it would be callous and insensitive if we were not unhappy when they were unhappy. We even have cultural set guidelines for determining how long a spouse should mourn the death of their partner. God forbid a man dates shortly after the death of his wife. That would surely mean he didn't really care for his now deceased wife, right? This is another one of those beliefs we've passed on from generation to generation. We as a society then reinforce that belief.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, psychologists from the University of California in Berkeley and Catholic University in Washington, D.C., say laughter is the best way to get over grief when a loved one dies. In the past, it was thought that a person had to "work through" the stages of anger, sadness and depression after a death. "It may be that focusing on the negative aspects of bereavement is not the best idea because people who distanced themselves by laughing were actually doing better years later," one of the researchers said. "We found the more people focus on the negative, the worse off they seem later." (UPI)

I specifically remember an incident in High School where my fellow team members tried to teach me that "unhappiness is a sign of caring". Our senior women's basketball team was in the state finals. It was the last game of the tournament and if we won, we would be state champions. We lost. The scene was in the women's locker room after the game. I was sitting in front of my locker, head down, thinking of all the mistakes we had made, what I could have done differently, and feeling very disappointed. There were a few girls quietly crying in the corners, being consoled by other team members. There was no laughter and no discussions. The environment was a very somber, much like a funeral.

I distinctly remember thinking to myself... "hey, wait a minute, the game is OVER. There's nothing I can do to change that. What's the point of feeling miserable about it?" And I started thinking about all the things I had to look forward to.

My mood changed almost instantly. I felt happy and ready to go on with my life. I stood up, started changing out of my uniform, and began joking with some of the other girls, hoping to help them "feel better". The reaction I got was remarkable. The dirty looks, the exasperated sighs, and one of the more assertive girls angrily said to me, "God Jen, don't you even CARE that we lost? You obviously didn't have your heart in the game."

That's when I learned that I had to be unhappy to show I cared. Actually, I decided I COULD be happy and still care, but that it just wasn't a good idea to let others see my happiness in the face of what some saw as a traumatic and difficult situation. If I wanted others to view me as a sensitive and caring person, I would have to hide my happiness.



next: 8 Ways To Happiness

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 17). Using Unhappiness As Motivation, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 14 from

Last Updated: March 25, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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