The self-development industry can sometimes, unknowingly, make people feel guilty for not being at their best all the time. We hear a lot of empowering messages telling us we can control our emotions, overcome obstacles and reach our goals if we want. So if we don’t succeed, there is an underlying message that it’s because we don’t really want it.

The reality is that most of the content you see on personal growth and career development is based on one branch of psychology, called positive psychology. The aim of positive psychology is self-actualisation, which is the fulfillment of one’s potential through their strengths and drive. What we tend to forget is that there are so many other branches that focus on other aspects of the mind. Some of these branches look at the influence of the group on individuals (social), the influence of education (developmental) or even the influence of the nervous system (neurosciences) to understand how the mind works like it does.

When looking at these different aspects, we can’t ignore that there are things out of our control that impact the way we feel. Being one of these professionals who write about personal growth, I thought it was important to say once and for all that it is okay not to be happy all the time. Why?

Because life can be hard.

Let’s be honest. Life isn’t always rosy, hopeful and promising. Despite all our efforts to avoid them, negative events do happen. Accidents, injuries, illnesses, failures, pain, arguments, financial difficulties. We can be hurt or see others in pain. We can unexpectedly lose someone we love.

It’s not adequate to tell someone who goes through this kind of pain that they can feel better if they want to. We all deal with this differently. Sometimes it takes a lot of time, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes we have support, and sometimes we feel alone. Events impact us beyond recovery (whether emotional and/or physical). They can shape our attitudes, our behaviours. They can change us long after they happen. And it’s normal because we learn from all experiences, including negative ones. It’s how we grow. It’s how we don’t repeat mistakes.

Another thing self-development tends to brush off very quickly is that we can’t always win. It is unrealistic to only expect good things to happen. Find comfort in knowing that a constant, steady level of happiness doesn’t happen to you simply because it doesn’t happen to anyone.

If you are feeling unhappy most of the time

It’s important to know if you can handle the way you are feeling alone or if you should discuss it with a professional. There is nothing wrong about talking to a therapist. You don’t have to do this alone, and you don’t have to commit to years of therapy. Sometimes a few sessions can be a huge relief and a weight lifted off your shoulder.

If you experience some of the symptoms below for at least two weeks, think about getting in touch with a therapist to discuss it and see what can be done.

  • Continuous low mood or sadness
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Feeling tearful
  • Feeling worthless or guilt-ridden
  • Feeling irritable and intolerant of others
  • Having no motivation or interest in things
  • Finding it difficult to make decisions
  • Not getting any enjoyment out of life
  • Feeling anxious or worried
  • Lacking energy
(source HSE)