The Ten Cardinal Sins of Making Yourself Miserable

Martha Williams posted a link to this website on Facebook, and my only complaint with the article (10 Things to Give Up in Exchange for Happiness) was that the points are too brief. There is much emotional and intellectual territory covered in those ideas, and I can’t help but want to expand on them.

These are the ten cardinal sins of making yourself miserable, and my exegesis on each.

Caring What Other People Think

Like all of these ‘sins’, it is easy to fall into this one. Other people seem to be holding the keys to one’s happiness. If only it were possible to please them, how happy one could be!

They don’t really care. Even the most cutting remark you receive has little or nothing to do with you; no one else is manufacturing your life, hacking into it, or keeping score. The very worst of what you have to face is incidental to the person doing it.

They’re probably doing what you’re doing: caring about what you think, and getting frustrated at how terrible they are at guessing correctly. You, and they, just can’t read another person well. It’s an extraordinary act to get another person in a realistic and accurate way.

So stop worrying about what other people think of you. You have tons of wiggle room. The ones that don’t like you will make up shitty stories about what you do; the ones who like you will make up a good story. And you can’t change that; haters are gonna hate. Lovers are going to love.

Pleasing Others

This isn’t very different from the discussion above. My presumption is that you care what other people think because you would like to please them. So that the nasty crap stops, so that the kind treatment continues. There’s a problem with this approach. Pleasing other people is an extremely ineffective tool for accomplishing anything.

If you’d like a glass of water, you ask for it. You don’t try to get a glass of water by pleasing someone, and very, very few people become more likely to get you the glass of water you ask for because you are pleasing them.

Pleasing others is of course a useful approach to sex, if you don’t take it too far. But leave it out of your social activities; go after what you want effectively, and leave the pleasing to others.


Gossip is nothing more than social glue. It has no actual content. It can never do anyone any good, and if you do get caught out gossiping, it’s the same as being caught out with your pants down (or worse). It is indeed a gamble: the odds are slim that it’s true. It’s merely an entertainment, but one with many barbs on it. See a good movie instead. Talk with a good friend about a book.

Open yourself up for real connections. Leave the sham stuff alone.


It’s true: no one watches you closely enough, ever, for you to be insecure about yourself or what you are doing. If you were to detach your attention from yourself for a bit, you would observe that other people around you also have insecurities. Some of them are hobbled by having them; some are not. But everyone has them.

Never, ever, do (or don’t do) something because you feel insecure. That is the worst possible excuse there is. You are stopping yourself! If you were standing at God’s own trough for happiness, and you didn’t drink because you felt insecure…you are putting a stopper into your own happiness. Choking it off, as it were.

The thing to do is astonishingly simple: accept your own insecurity as a normal part of the human condition, and do stuff anyway. Start small, because this is scary. I don’t want to belittle the effort required, but if you are going to avoid stuff because it is Hard or Long or Requires Commitment–you are not going to be happy much. Feel the fear/insecurity/trepidation/anxiety and do things anyway.

Observe the difference this makes. Write about it. It’s a life changer.

Taking Stuff Personally

Ditto on life-changing. It’s rare, rare, rare that something is truly aimed at you personally. Very few people know you well enough, are paying enough attention, or will take the time to engage with you personally, for good or for ill. Everyone else is just whistling in the wind, and you happen to catch some of it.

I know from personal experience that this can be hard to believe. But if you start peeling up the floorboards of stuff that people do or say to you, you will discover that it always has to do with their world. They yelled at you, for example, but not because you are an idiot (even if you were an idiot, they wouldn’t really know because they’re not paying such close attention). They yelled at you because they were late to work because they spilled coffee beans behind the refrigerator or had lousy sex or dropped a hammer on their foot, or maybe they just slept lousy and would like everyone to leave them alone.

This is amazingly freeing. Everything around you has its own origins and purposes, and only the tiniest fraction has anything at all to do with you. You can avoid people, you can forgive people, you can question people out loud, you can ignore people who are six inches from your face and not being nice at all. It’s their thing going on.

You completely get to choose what to do with what comes at you, and you never have to worry that any of it is meant to hurt you or harm you. It may look like it is, but it’s just noise. Stay focused on what you see happening, and you will start to learn about what’s going on with the people around you. It is unbelievably empowering to simply observe what people throw in your direction, because rather than personal crap with your email address on it, it’s all information about them!

You just have to stop taking it all personally.

Hanging on to the Past

It’s gone. Let go. Move on.

Spending Money on Stuff You Don’t Need

It’s true; it won’t make you happy. On the other hand, if you take up painting, and it really gives you pleasure, yeah, buy the good brushes. I know, a rough concept, but if you only buy the stuff that you really connect with, you’ll spend less, and have more fun.


Anger is a tool for change. But you only use it when it’s an effective tool for change. If someone is in your face and you need them to back off, your anger could be useful (or not; it’s just one tool, after all).

Anger is just one tool for effective change. If you have a lot of piled up anger, and you let it out randomly (and even directing that massive anger at people who you think deserve it is a random act). (And they don’t deserve it, period, ever.)

Anger is a tool you can use occasionally. If you are in danger, anger can trigger adrenalin, and provide energy for change – such as running, or fighting. But if your boss is in a bad mood and gives you crap for work you did well, your anger is useless. If you have extra anger hanging around, let go of it. It’s OK if you have to ask for help to learn to let go of anger. It’s a hard job, and tricky. Find someone who loves you, or a professional who understands anger, and see if you can get started.

Because the link is right: anger is choking you to death inside. You can’t get past it by holding it in; it’s not fair to dump it on other people. You have to learn how to let go of it.

Forgiveness and generosity are frequently involved in this process. Mostly, you need to forgive yourself, and be generous to yourself.


Yep: total illusion. It can be useful in tiny doses; that is called self-discipline. If you ever find yourself believing that you are controlling someone else, however, stop. You can’t (see all that stuff above about caring what other people think, and pleasing others). It’s just pretend.

As with most changes, you’ll need to learn new skills to replace control, but you will be more effective. And happier.

2 thoughts on “The Ten Cardinal Sins of Making Yourself Miserable

  1. I like this, Ron. I particularly like the point about the brushes. I’d include good paint in that, too. It makes a world of difference. Not to just live this way!


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