Understanding Unhappiness

Written by: Dr Kishore Chandiramani
Edited by: Lisa Heffernan

What do we mean when we say “unhappy”? The word “unhappiness” should literally translate to “not being happy”, but we attribute negative words of all kinds like fearful, anxious and dissatisfied to the meaning of being “unhappy” and give ourselves the impression that we can ever only be either happy or unhappy, with no in between. The problem with this way of thinking is that we seek happiness to undo unhappy feelings, but this will only suppress or shift negative feelings to one side. What we need to do is tackle negative emotions head on to deal with them and ultimately overcome them.

Just like the song “Don’t worry be happy”, people tell us not be unhappy, but nobody tells us how not to be unhappy. In schools, children are taught to be strong and successful, but no teacher prepares children to deal with emotions of failure, anxiety and stress. Let’s dive deeper into how we can program our thoughts to react better to negative emotions with Doctor Kishore Chandiramani and discover if happiness is a choice.

Our mind has a tendency to naturally drift into negative emotions before dwelling on the positive. Perhaps this is a built-in mechanism to help us deal with negative emotions first, otherwise, they would continue to block our access to positive thoughts and experiences.

Doctor Kishore Chandiramani tells us that unconsciously we can even seek out situations that cause us distress, to learn new skills to handle negative emotions and become stronger. In relationships, for example, people often create a situation for no apparent reason wherein they experience the pain of separation, real or imagined to deal with their insecurities within that relationship, alongside enjoying the positive feelings that come with the relationship.

How can we tackle feelings of unhappiness?

The laws of the psyche tell us that negative emotions cannot be overcome with positive experiences, but rather through solitude and non-reaction to our thoughts and what happens around us. One might ask, how do we not react to things? Here are some techniques that we can use to master “non-reaction” and negative emotions:


1. Stop making quick judgements about people and situations. We judge situations as good or bad, right or wrong, beautiful and ugly, without adequate information. 8 out of 10 of these thoughts don’t represent reality. We let our emotions take over. If we learn to harness our strong emotions, we can make appropriate judgements that are more in line with reality.


2. Accept that change and impermanence are inevitable parts of life. A lot of unhappiness stems from the fact that people want things to stay the same in their life or they want their circumstances to change and it isn’t happening. What we need to realise is that life is not constant, it is not solid, but fluid-like. Just as water is constantly shifting and moving, circumstances in our lives never stay the same. Nothing stays the same and nothing lasts, whether it be a good or bad experience. Expecting the unexpected, being open about what is to come and realising that unhappy circumstances will change, can help one deal better with difficult times.


3. Lose the fear of separation and loss. Many people fear losing someone or fear dying themselves, which can transfer over into a fear of heights, fear of flying or fear of crowded places. Certain therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy can help people overcome their fears. The realisation that worrying about something, isn’t going to stop it from happening, can also help us to deal with fear and unhappiness.


Existential philosophy tells us that, if we accept that there is nothing we can do about death and certain negative circumstances, then there is no point to worry and we become more accepting, kind and less critical. We also learn to appreciate the good times more.

In contrast to conventional thinking, existentialists believe that inevitable forms of suffering (ontological suffering), like the fear of death, feelings of loneliness, separation and loss can be overcome by changing the way we perceive our experiences, without changing the experience itself.


4. Stop trying to control everything. A large part of stress and unhappiness comes from wanting to control our lives, our thoughts, our situations. It stems from our perception of things being negative and harmful just because they are unpleasant – but behind their unpleasantness, many situations are beneficial to our development and make us stronger.

When we are faced with unwanted situations we get stressed. We have to let go and accept what comes our way. About 60-70% of things that happen to us every day are unexpected. We can’t control what happens, but we can control how we react to it.

Imagine sitting on the side of a river bank, sometimes bad debris passes in the flowing water but sometimes the water carries pretty flowers. Our mind is like that river and sometimes it carries bad thoughts, but also good thoughts. Whether the thoughts are good or bad, they have to pass through. All we can do is accept the bad, focus on the good thoughts and know that unhappy thoughts won’t last forever.


If you would like to learn more about stress management techniques, anxiety and dealing with negative emotions you can visit doctor Kishore Chandiramani’s profile or download six audio sessions by doctor Kishore Chandiramani free of charge.

By Dr Kishore Chandiramani

Dr Kishore Chandiramani is a renowned psychiatrist based in London and Staffordshire with over 35 years of experience as a psychiatrist. He specialises in treating anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and phobias among many other psychiatric conditions. He also sees patients for psychotherapy sessions. 

He received the prestigious Gaskell Gold Medal and Prize for Clinical Excellence in 2002 from the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Dr Chandiramani works for the Ministry of Justice as a medial member of the metal health tribunals and also for the Care Quality Commission as a Second Opinion Appointed Doctor.

He has been involved in academic psychiatry for over 16 years in various teaching capacities across countries, including as a lecturer, assistant professor and associate professor.

Mr Chandiramani utilises a variety of approaches to therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), inter-personal therapy, relationship counselling, biofeedback therapy (computer assisted stress management), existential psychotherapy and mindfulness meditation.

He recently published a book “Emotions and Stress: How to Manage Them” which is available to buy on Amazon, and has contributed articles to various international scientific journals.

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