The Art of Making Yourself Miserable. . .

I had the occasion to observe a family of four briefly this weekend and their eldest child, a boy of about 9-years of age, offered such an elegant example of The Art of Making Yourself Miserable that I couldn’t take my eyes off him. We were in a larger assembly of patrons waiting for a table at a local breakfast restaurant where each group had been given a pager (to alert us when the host could seat us) according to our place in the queue.

The pager itself became the object of this child’s desire – he wanted to hold it. Briefly, his father permitted him to do so, but when his younger brother also wanted to hold it, the father made him share it with his sibling. This was the first step in the intricate process I call, The Art of Making Yourself Miserable, the realization that you are not going to get what you want. The boy was clearly upset at not getting his way in the matter.

Step two in this process was to make his displeasure known to those nearby. In the boy’s case, he hit his brother and kicked at his father to express his displeasure. This behavior got him some attention but did not get him the pager.

Shortly thereafter, the boy worked his way through the third step in the process, emphasize your sense of injustice or injury. For him this manifested as a very physical contrivance to make himself cry over the issue. It took some doing, he scrunched up his face, rubbed at his eyes, snorted through his nose, grunted from his throat and after some serious effort, managed to manufacture a tear or two – his mother ignored him (clearly, not the result he was going for).

Finally, and likely in an act of desperation, he lunged toward his dad not once, but three times in an effort to grab the pager out of his father’s hand. A maneuver which, in some families might have drawn a physically violent reaction; in his family no one flinched. He simply didn’t get the object of his desire. This is the fourth step in the process, lash out at the authority figure you believe is responsible for your unhappiness.

Within a few more moments, and with the child quietly raging over his personal misfortune, the pager went off and the family moved to the host station to be seated. I have no idea how long it took the boy to recover from his misery and realize that he was about to enjoy a delightful pancake breakfast.

This unhappy 9-year-old perfectly portrayed the steps we humans automatically take whenever we make ourselves miserable, and it is definitely an art. So let me again review these steps:

  • Realize you’re not getting what you want and allow upset to be your response
  • Express your displeasure to the available audience
  • Emphasize your sense of injustice or injury
  • Lash out at authority, believing they are responsible for your misery.

Self-care is every conscious action you take that feeds your soul, nourishes your body, nurtures your spirit, or replenishes your relationship with yourself!

What if, at the very first step, the boy had imagined a different response to the problem? What if, when upset presented itself as the appropriate emotional reaction, he had said to himself instead, “No, my brother can have it, it’s only a dumb pager anyway!” and let it go at that?

Well, this observer would have seen such a mature, thoughtful, 9-year-old as an amazing, human anomaly – because a 9-year-old isn’t expected to have learned yet to manage his emotions, he’s still learning this craft.

Sadly, we see 19, 29, and even 59-year-olds who have yet to master their reactions to the realization that they’re not getting what they want! And in life, there are many occasions when we simply won’t get the thing we desire.

And while we’re adults, not children grabbing at a “dumb pager” we might find ourselves going through all these steps, artfully making ourselves miserable over things as common-place as missing a promotion, a house we wanted, a car someone else bought, or a love-interest we’ve had our heart set on winning.

Are you not allowed to be disappointed when you don’t get what you want? Of course, disappointments will come, and you have the right to feel your feelings when they do. But once you recognize you’re not getting what you want, while you still find yourself in step one, you have a choice!

And anytime we have a choice, we can choose NOT to make ourselves miserable – when can imagine for ourselves, a different path than the one that is guaranteed to bring us misery. For adults, those who wish to master the craft of managing their emotions, choice brings change.

Simply realizing that we HAVE A CHOICE can empower us to choose wisely – to take a different direction, to rise from disappointment to the discovery of something else, equally interesting, valuable, and worthy of our time and attention!

A wise mentor of mine once told me, “Pain is necessary, but suffering is optional!” That’s because the suffering comes from our well-practiced art of making ourselves miserable. The human challenge is to feel the pain, recognize the message it is sending, and move toward an unfamiliar reaction, a fresh solution, a new perspective, a re-defining of what you desire. 

You always have a choice!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About Paula

I help other caregivers – both professionals and family caregivers – acknowledge their pain and learn to practice the many small skills of self-care that can sustain them through the challenges of wholeheartedly caring for others.

Recent Posts

Woman enjoying the scenery on her road trip

Taking Advantage of a Long, Holiday Weekend. . .

Even as Americans discuss the advantages of the four-day work-week, thanks to Representative Mark Takano, D-Calif., who introduced legislation which, if it passes, would reduce the standard workweek to 32 hours instead of 40, we’re also working more hours than ever.

The Guardian reports that compared with other countries, the American workplace record is not good. “In 2021, American employees worked 184 more hours than Japanese workers, 294 more hours than British workers, and 442 more hours than German workers. Unbelievably, in 2023 there are millions of Americans who work at jobs with no vacation time” (The Guardian).

Read More →
You'll never walk alone song lyrics

You’ll Never Walk Alone. . .

Since its first recording, by Frank Sinatra in 1945, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” has been reinterpreted by many musicians, perhaps most recently by Josh Groban in 2015. Its lyrics are formed by a relatively short, 17-line poem, written as a song by Rogers & Hammerstein for musical Carousel.

This song reminds me so much of the nature of my work – certainly, when clients come to me they often feel VERY alone and completely overwhelmed by the caregiver roles they fill. This is true whether they are parents of a special-needs-child or the sole caregiver for a spouse with dementia. That sense of being alone is, in itself, depressing.

Read More →
Women running past finish line at marathon

Measuring Progress Can Help. . .

I’m working with a Health Coach myself (yes, even coaches need coaches!) who seems to appreciate my need to measure things. I’m one of those people who likes to see measurable improvement – to choose metrics that allow me to demonstrate progress, if not full completion, of a goal.

Sometimes, especially if we’re working on goals that feel particularly difficult, it can be important to at least see movement in the desired direction. Most of us can appreciate the fulfillment of getting to the finish line of a quick sprint, like the 100-yard-dash. But when you’re in a marathon you need benchmarks along the way to remind you that you’re actually doing it, and that the end will come, even if you can’t see it from your current spot on the route. That’s where metrics come in handy!

Read More →
How Can I Help You?

Through Co-Create 4 Life, you will learn a range of well-being strategies from skillfully implementing self-care to holistic approaches to well-being, rebuilding resilience, and battling burnout. Book a free consultation call today to discuss your options.

How Can I Help You?

Through Co-Create 4 Life, you will learn a range of well-being strategies from skillfully implementing self-care to holistic approaches to well-being, rebuilding resilience, and battling burnout. Book a free consultation call today to discuss your options.