The Top Two Causes of Unhappiness

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The two main causes of unhappiness are:

  1. Unmet Expectations and
  2. Lack of Control Over Your Work Life

Unmet Expectations

The University College London is well-known for it’s numerous, groundbreaking studies, such as the Habit Study, which readers of my articles are very familiar with.

Another significant study they authored involved happiness, or rather, unhappiness.

In this 2016 study, the researchers found compelling proof that expectations are the most significant factor in determining your level of happiness. Put another way, Unmet Expectations are the #1 cause of unhappiness. When you set your expectations too high and then the outcome you desire fails to meet those expectations, you become unhappy.

This is why it is so important to set expectations which are realistic. It’s a common human character flaw to create unrealistic expectations. We, as humans, have a tendency to look at things through rose-colored lenses. Removing those lenses and setting realistic expectations is one of the most important things you can do to minimize unhappiness.

Lack of Control Over Your Work Life

Two important studies focused on the effects of not having control over your work life.

In the Whitehall Civil Servants Study, 17,000 British civil servants were part of a longitudinal study (long-term study). Those civil servant bureaucrats who were the lowest in the pecking order, were unhappy with their lives.

The Bell Labs Study on one million Bell Labs employees, similarly found that those employees who were at the lowest levels within the organization, indicated that they were unhappy.

Together, these two studies concluded that individuals who do not have control over their work lives, were chronically unhappy. Worse, these unhappy individuals also had significantly higher incidents of heart attacks.

The stress caused by having little to no control over their work lives elevated cortisol levels (stress hormone), which depressed their immune systems, leading to a greater incidence of cardiovascular disease.

If you want to be happy, you need to manage expectations and find work in which you will feel valued and appreciated. This will also lead to a stronger immune system, less disease and a longer, healthier life.

Tom Corley is an accountant, financial planner and author of “Rich Kids: How to Raise Our Children to Be Happy and Successful in Life”, “Effort-Less Wealth”, “Change Your Habits Change Your Life”, “Rich Habits Poor Habits” and “Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals.”

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  1. DP Bouffard on March 9, 2023 at 9:43 AM

    I like this article because it is concise and straight to the point. Expectations are mostly about managing our inner world while being at the bottom of the ladder in an organizational workplace has to do with managing our external environment.

  2. Randy Todhunter on March 9, 2023 at 9:47 AM

    Excellent thoughts, Tom. I especially resonate with the issue of unmet expectations. We can unknowingly set ourselves up for success or failure by the expectations that we set for ourselves. We need to have ambitious, but also realistic, goals.

    Keep up the good work. I enjoy your Rich Habits thoughts.

    Randy Todhunter, author of Your Money, Your Life – Principles of Financial Success