You look sad.
I know. It's a weird time. Maybe a hard time. And I have been there... for years. And I have thought a lot about it, during, after, and now, even before I know it's bound to happen again. I want to help you to understand and cope with your unhappiness.
I want to make you "GLAD TO BE UNHAPPY."
Look at yourself, if you had a sense of humor
You would laugh to beat the band
How I discovered unhappiness
While unhappiness is a common occurrence and it's safe to say eventually we all encounter it, some of us take a long time to truly discover it. I didn't discover unhappiness until I was 27.
My whole life, I'd never lost a relative; had always been the breaker-upper, not the abandoned; had always known what I wanted and strove to get it, and I did regularly. Even not moving quite quickly enough always in my career, and some unrequited love affairs couldn't really bring me down. I woke up every single day looking forward to what lay ahead. I loved my life.
But on May 15, 2012 (not that I remember the date LOLS), a professional catastrophe — getting fired by a major corporation — set in motion five straight years of unhappiness. Yes, while you've all known me, I would classify myself as an unhappy person, waking up every day and desperately trying to figure out how to make the absolute best of my lot.
Yet, by the end of this article, I'll provide you with the 8 Steps to Being Successfully Unhappy. But first —
The experience of unhappiness
Now, being unhappy doesn't mean that you don't have anything positive in your life. And it doesn't mean that you don't have anything great going for you... after all, lots of very famous and very powerful people kill themselves; others dope their lives to nothingness in drugs and alcohol. I had a successful Jasper in Deadland, numerous commissions, a wedding to an incredible man ... but REASONS TO BE HAPPY do not necessarily correlate with the state of happy/unhappiness.
Scaling unhappiness... I think of happiness on a scale, from -10 to +10, from abject despair to utter euphoria. At 0, you feel stable, you feel "fine," you feel "okay," nothing to complain about and nothing you're too excited about. And I think of the "absolute" state of being as the sum of all considerations, including day to day knocks and wins.
When I was happy, I didn't know it, but I had a solid cushion of +5 all the time. It meant on my bad days, I would be at a +1; on my better days, a +8 or +9. So no matter what I was living in happiness.
When I became unhappy, I lived in a ditch of -2 ... some months 0 or +1 (like when Jasper played the 5th avenue) and others -4 (like when Jasper got horrible reviews at the 5th avenue). So any minor knock or pain HURT SO MUCH. And success was just a nice thing, but left me still unfulfilled.
Right now, what's your general cushion? Are you living mostly at +3? Hurting a bit around -2? Write down your number.
🐕 🐕 🐕
My mental state is all a-jumble
I sit around and sadly mumble
"Turn that frown upside down!" and more reasons people should fuck off
You guys, unhappiness is real. It is the acknowledgement by our souls that we want very much for ourselves, and we are (or feel) presently unable to control our environment in order to attain it. We feel powerful and capable yet helpless. Unhappiness is a natural feeling and has rational causes.
YES, some orthodox stoics and yogis might say: "Want less. Want nothing. This is the key to true happiness." Okay, tell that advice to hungry theatre people. Good luck, and kill yourself.
Yes, you could go home and be a school teacher. You could give up your dreams in order to find a calmer, more peaceful state. But that's not what you want and the "sweet relief" potentially proposed seems like the act of self-immolation, like cutting off your arm ... the feeling of panic sets in, and you turn to your unhappiness and say, "well I'm not THAT unhappy yet..."
There, see? You're already a little more glad to be unhappy.
But how do I know if I'm unhappy? What is the mental headline you wake up to every day? Is it frustration with yesterday and the impending bleck of your workday or social engagement? Is it jealousy and fear? Are your dreams, generally, on the darker side? You may be unhappy.
Fools rush in, so here I am
Coping with your unhappiness
Be honest with yourself and others
Tell yourself you're unhappy RIGHT NOW. But BELIEVE it will change. "Everything is only for now."
If someone asks you how you are, be honest without inflicting damage onto them. With a smile say, "Ya know, it's not my favorite time but I'm learning a lot about myself!" or "Some days are hard lately, I feel a little depressed, but I'm reading some excellent books and taking better care of my health all the while!"
Here^, you've affected honesty about your condition (which may call your dearest friends to arms for you), but demonstrating rational thinking and strength ... you may even inspire those who you talk to who are unknowingly depressed.
But DO NOT I repeat DO NOT advertise it
Do NOT talk about your unhappiness on social media. Ever. It is bad for business and also is much more long-lasting than you know. You are providing people who hardly know you with a personal understanding of your state. This information is for your heart trust, the people closest to you who are on your team ... they need this honesty; it is NOT THE BUSINESS of your acquaintances, false friends, and your vindictive periphery.
Bring heart-warmers closer and push bringer-downers away
In your present state, you need all the help you can get. Spend more time with those who make you feel good, better about yourself, and inspire you to do things for yourself.
And those who make you feel sad and worse, spend less time with them, cut them out of your life if possible or at the very least don't knowingly place yourself unnecessarily in their midst. (This may be especially tricky if some of your bringer-downers are your parents.)
I wrote an article about this, THE FRIEND MATRIX, if you want more on this.
Good for the body and good for the soul
I don't need to tell you something you already know, but exercise — including the gym, running, spinning, yoga, etc. — is essential for your body's well being and also your mind. If you are unhappy and not taking care of your body, you are making your life harder by 50% already.
Eating right and feeding yourself with things that are good for you (including, perhaps, cheat days, if that's part of your story), are also vital. And then of course....
Getting high with a little help from...
On a controversial note, there are many extra-curricular substances which may also bring relief or contribute positively to your journey in moderation.
As the son of an alcoholic, I keep a cautious relationship to one of my dearest and most important friends, Mrs. Bourbon. While my addictive personality finds work most attractive, I certainly do count my alcoholic beverages, do my research on spotting bad behaviors, and I make sure moderation is always in my grasp.
But, getting high every now and then, or a drink or two, may provide life with a little less of its edge. I am not telling you to do drugs and become an alcoholic. But I (and my general practitioner who balked when I told him I was afraid I drank too much) am here to say many studies show these substances IN MODERATION can contribute to better mental health. It's not called "medicinal" for nothing.
You have to do what's right for you. For some of you, a little bit can lead to a lot of it, which naturally will create deeper and worse unhappiness — in your case, stay away from the green stuff and liquid sugar. (But for those able to keep control of these habits, bottoms up.)
Fill your life with joy
Make a list of 10 things you love or love to do. If you love river otters, go to the aquarium. If you love Jane Austen, go buy a novel you haven't read or get an edition you don't have. The museum? Go! Your friend Pam? Hey Pam let's fuck! Whatever it is ... whatever THEY ARE, your life welcomes a list of the good things you enjoy.
A warning though (NOW a warning?)... should you find yourself choosing human beings among your most joyful assistance ... don't cling to them or you may find yourself draining the living thing you love. Be careful to remember they cannot make you happy — you are making yourself happy with someone you love.
And the greatest advice on coping: GIVE LOVE
When your buckets are empty and your spirit feels like it could really use a friend, I encourage you to give someone love.
Text your friend and tell them you're thinking of them. Buy someone a sweet gift. These actions will make you feel great, and will of course make someone else feel great too.
Sure, the idea of "giving love to get love" sounds quid pro quo (and it is) — but that's life. In our businesses as in our romances and friendships, we aren't here for charity. We make ourselves worthy of positive relationships through our strength and goodness, and we share that with others, who in turn share that with us.
Red Alert: the depths of unhappiness
But it must be stated: suicidal thoughts and destructive behaviors require help. If you have found yourself doing anything (including binge drinking/eating or sex that left you feeling badly about yourself) — this is a moment for you to bring in the big helps... therapy, urgent counseling, rehab, etc. Tell someone you love about these behaviors and ask if you should get treatment.
BUT NOW, THE MAIN EVENT
8 Steps to Being Successfully Unhappy
Very glad to be unhappy
I can't win, but here I am
More than glad to be unhappy
#1. CHOOSE YOUR UNHAPPINESS
For some of you this will be easy, and don't be afraid to be very, brutally honest. Simplicity is key, and you may find the easiest way to get this is to reverse your life's primary ambition. "I want to be a Broadway star!" becomes your unhappiness: "I am not yet a Broadway star, and do not feel close or on track."
Accepting your unhappiness, staring it in the face, and as we discussed earlier, CHOOSING IT (instead of say, going home and being a school teacher and setting fire to your dreams), is vital to successful unhappiness.
Choose your unhappiness by saying "Yes, you are why I am unhappy — and if not for you, I would have no dreams. Thank you unhappiness for reminding me what I really want, and pushing me to discover new solutions to attain it."
#2. DON'T GET IT TWISTED
Now that you have discovered your unhappiness, you MUST be careful not to re-direct or project your unhappiness onto someone else, blaming them in the process, when you know damn well why you're hurting.
Simply said: DO NOT treat your boyfriend like shit because you're not on Broadway yet. He didn't buy dish soap, but he didn't stop you from having an agent. He showed up to the show 15 minutes late, but he didn't fuck up your callback.
These behaviors are natural and common. We just want a hug and we want our boyfriend to say, "I'm sorry you're hurting, I see you and I love you and I'm going to consider you extra much right now because I know you need that." But people can't tell you that every day.
#3. BE HONEST WITH YOUR HEART TRUST
Your "heart trust" is your closest group of 5-6 people: your bestest friends, and your significant other, and possible a parent or two. As discussed, when they ask you how you are, tell them the truth, but also indicate a positive direction forward (for you must have one).
#4. BEWARE THE BOOK OF FACES
As I talked about in my daily rituals, Facebook/Twitter/Insta, etc., has only a few purposes:
To tell you how great your friends are doing: you, who are unhappy, will feel small and betrayed by fortune
To tell you how horrible our country is doing: you have enough to worry about in your own life
To tell you how angry your friends are about something: anger is not going to help your heart create good new things
To be silly and funny: this is distracting you from the things that will truly make you happy.
And on the flip side, if YOU are posting -- well, if you're posting something you're proud of and you're inclined to check your # of likes etc., you are putting more of yourself on the chopping block... if you're beloved today and unloved tomorrow, this may cause despair; if you're never loved on social media, what a pain.
At the very least, stay off social media in the morning. If you must be on Facebook, I recommend you do it in the evening, between 5-8pm.
(For me, in case you're curious: I use Buffer App, which allows me to post on social media all at once in the morning, and I completely forget about it, enough so that I remain present in the SM sphere, but not engaged.)
#5. BELIEVE IT CAN GET WORSE AND IT WILL GET BETTER
In my darkest moments, I had to remind myself in a list of the good things I had in my life. Accounting them was useful. The love of my husband, my parents. My dog. My previous successes. A friend or two. Bourbon. Sondheim. You know.
And I had to remember that when it rains it pours ... and before I had my earlier successes, I had many, many, many failures. Before I was somebody at all, I was nobody. Before I was fired, I was hired. It can get worse, and thank goodness for that. But it will get better.
#6. KEEP A MEMO ON YOUR PHONE OF THE 5 PEOPLE WHO ARE THERE FOR YOU
This might be your heart trust, but is the end of the line in your times of need. These are the people who will take your call and sit on the phone for an hour; who'll rush to meet you for drinks, or come right over with pizza and greens.
Don't put this all on one person ... and remember these are emergency breaks, not crutches.
#7. BATTLE YOUR UNHAPPINESS EVERY DAY
For all the good importance I've put on unhappiness, it is still, nonetheless, unhappiness. Every day, you must do something to battle it, or it will overcome you.
(The Babadook ending is about just this thing, in case you were curious. If you haven't seen it, it's a great meditation on grief and coping.)
For me, my weapons were:
Writing EVERY DAY
Planning future events to be excited about
Treating myself at intervals, because fuck, I'm worth it
Seeing people I love
Avoiding people who suck
Reviewing my life every 3-6 months to check in and redirect negative behaviors and embrace/emphasize my positive ones
- and #8. THIS IS YOUR WAR — NO ONE ELSE'S
For all the heart trust and memo of people at the end of the line, this is your unhappiness. It's not your parents', and it's not your signifo's. You mustn't let your despair bring them down (if you can help it), and you mustn't impede their own progress.
An anecdote. For me ...
During my unhappiness, my husband's career went from almost nothing to the Second Coming. While I can honestly say I was never jealous (his money is my money after all...), it became so hard to wake up and feel sad about my life while he was going off to shoot a Broadway show. And then two years later when he was complaining that shooting 7 Broadway shows in the season was simply not enough for him. When I was so far from Broadway I felt like I was living along on Mars...
But for all the mistakes I made (and many at him), I am proud of myself that every day I battled PRIVATELY and ALONE. And in my darkest moments when I was getting it twisted, I calmly reminded him "I'm not in a great place right now, and I am [working my ass off to stay afloat in the following ways]; I need a little bit of support and extra right now. Thank you. It may be one day the table's will turn and I will give you the extra, too, I promise."
Rational requests for someone to cut you a break are fair, but must be used wisely and without regularity.
And for all of this, I'm proud to tell you, from the other side of this (what has felt like a solid five years of unhappiness), that on reflection, my unhappiness was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me. Here's why.
The joys of unhappiness
The day I got fired, I did not cry. I did not break anything. I went to Chipotle.
And alone, I made two decisions that very same day:
I would start the process of proposing to my husband (which I did, 13 months later)
And I would write a musical I'd been waiting to write, We Foxes
- While writing We Foxes, I discovered vulnerability in my work I had never seen before. I was no long interested in the crazy loud screaming rock music I had been writing...
I wanted to write tenderness and with hope for the light at the end of the tunnel.
These words were as much for this character as they were for me:
THIS VOICELESS GIRL HAS FOUND A TONGUE TO SPEAK.
AND I SEE ANGELS ALL AROUND: BURIED LOVES I WILL KEEP.
FROM MY ARMS, TAKE MY ILLUSIONS
AND FLING ‘EM DEEP.
I’LL BE DAMNED IF I SHOULD WALLOW.
AIN’T NO LAMB. NO FLOCK TO FOLLOW.
BLOOD NOW BOILS IN MY VEINS AND MELTS THE ICE,
STILL I SHIVER FROM THE POW’R TO PAY THE PRICE
I’M SALVATION, I’M DELIV’RANCE, I AM SACRIFICE —
THIS MAP OF SCARS GUIDES ME ON.
MY FAM’LY SHOWS THE WAY.
MY MAP OF SCARS SPELLS BY WOUNDS
SAVE YOUR SOUL TODAY.
I SAVE MY SOUL TODAY,
Unhappiness gets better, because it has to.
Because when you are fighting it and telling it you will not give up, when you CHOOSE it, it will get tired and it will give in. Welcome Happiness with open arms, and share it with those who need it.
And know, Unhappiness will come back.
Because Happiness and Unhappiness are a balanced force. When we have the thing we want, we want more, as humans. It's natural. When we hurt, we will seek relief; when we are comfortable, we will strive through danger for what's next.
Believe in the balance, and trust the balance.
And battle on.
Like a straying baby lamb
With no mammy and no pappy
I'm so unhappy
But oh, so glad!