“I Don’t Deserve To Be Happy” – How To Overcome These Thoughts

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Have you ever thought, “I don’t deserve to be happy”?

You’re not alone.

These powerful, insidious words often accompany some of the most difficult challenges to overcome in life.

These words are powerful because it’s easy to believe the lie if you’ve been hearing it for a long time. Maybe those words came from a toxic person in your life. Maybe they came from yourself because of problems you’ve had practicing self-kindness.

These words are insidious because they are not an accurate representation of the truth.

But the common counter-statement that “You deserve to be happy” isn’t necessarily an accurate representation of the truth either. That statement dips its toes into the murky waters of toxic positivity because it implies that we are somehow entitled to happiness; that life somehow owes us happiness because we exist and therefore deserve it.

It’s not a realistic mindset for confronting these negative thoughts and overcoming them.

Even the founding fathers of the United States of America touched on the idea in the creation of the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The pursuit of happiness makes much more sense. We may not deserve happiness itself, as in possessing an entitlement to happiness. Still, we do deserve the right to pursue happiness; to have a healthier life with better experiences.

After all, we only get one life (as far as we know!) We have to find a way to make the best of it and create a life that we are content with living.

How do you overcome these thoughts? How can you get closer to happiness?

Let’s look at some of the solutions that may help.

1. Forgive often; forgive easily.

Life is hard. People are messy – they do dumb, short-sighted, inconsiderate things constantly. They say things they don’t mean out of anger, sadness, and fear. They do things that will harm themselves and others because they may not know any better. Or worse, maybe they do know better and still choose to do the wrong thing. You probably have some of your own regrets about past actions.

Forgiveness is one of the most powerful tools for improving your peace and quality of thought. Unfortunately, many people interpret forgiveness as the process of an apology. For example, Jane did something wrong to Mark, she realizes she did something wrong, she apologizes. Mark accepts the apology and offers her forgiveness. And while that is probably the most common way to think of forgiveness, that’s not usually what people mean in that context.

Instead, forgiveness is something you can quietly give to yourself and other people without an apology. In the same scenario, Mark doesn’t need Jane’s apology for her wrongdoing. He could instead look at the situation, look at the wrong action, and decide that he will not let Jane’s action bother him. Mark can internally forgive her for being a flawed, messy human who did something cruel, insensitive, or malicious because she just doesn’t know any better.

People who are cruel or malicious usually don’t end up that way because they’ve had a good life or make good decisions. They are often acting out of their own anger, pain, sadness, or ignorance.

And you can extend that same forgiveness to yourself so long as you are working to rectify the issue. Do not use forgiveness as a reason to excuse your own bad actions and do nothing to correct them. Forgiveness without action to back it up is just deceit and manipulation when it comes to the self.

Forgiveness is a direct path to cultivating the right mental space for peace of mind and happiness.

2. Stop punishing yourself for being human.

You messed up. You messed up big time. Guess what? Everyone has! And if they haven’t yet, they will sooner or later.

Life can be hard to get right every time, even in the best of circumstances. At some point, you will have to choose not to beat yourself up because of your mistakes.

Some people trap themselves in the woe and what-ifs of their bad decisions or decisions that didn’t work out for them.

“If only I hadn’t done this or that…”

“If only I had acted sooner…”

“If only I had taken that chance…”

And for what? Does that blame and rumination actually do anything positive? No! It’s all about punishing oneself for some perceived wrong. And it’s not always about actually being wrong. Sometimes you can lay the best plans, it seems like everything is going to work out, and then it just doesn’t happen. That’s just how it goes sometimes.

The past is gone. There’s nothing you can do about it now. Change your thoughts when you find yourself contemplating the what-ifs and beating yourself up. Bring yourself back to the present, focus on what you want to get accomplished, and look for your present goals. If you don’t have any goals, create some. It’ll give you something productive to think about.

3. Lower your expectations.

Some people tie their happiness to accomplishments. And sometimes, they set the bar way too high for themselves. They tell themselves things like:

“I don’t deserve to be happy because I didn’t get high grades.”

“I don’t deserve to be happy because I’m a failure.”

“I can’t be happy until I accomplish this particular thing.”

This type of thinking guarantees that the person will trap themselves in their own negative thought loops, reinforcing the idea that they should not achieve happiness.

It’s not just about the specific thoughts. It’s about how those thoughts influence actions. People who do not believe they should be happy unless they achieve certain things will regularly undermine their happiness when they don’t reach the goal. This is because they tend to shut down those positive feelings and thoughts. After all, they feel like they don’t deserve to feel them.

Lowering one’s expectations can be the solution. Emotions don’t need to be tied to anything, really.

But don’t confuse expectations with standards. Standards are all about what you will accept and you shouldn’t accept poor treatment from others or poor effort from yourself. But you can’t always expect others to treat you well or expect great results from the effort you put in.

Keep your standards high, but keep your expectations in line with reality.

4. Practice radical acceptance.

Radical acceptance is a powerful way to embrace the world and love yourself. It simply means to accept everything as it is. It ties in closely with mindfulness and being in the present moment. You’re not lamenting a past that’s gone or anxious about a future that isn’t here yet. You’re simply here, now, and you’re letting things be as they are.

This is helpful for the moments when you feel good but find your mind looking for reasons why you shouldn’t be happy. The idea is to not undermine the good feelings you manage to have, so you can enjoy the present moment instead of dragging yourself back under.

Practicing radical acceptance is a long work in progress. So many terrible, ugly things happen to people, and it can seem almost insulting. “How am I supposed to just accept this terrible thing that I experienced?” The mistake that people in that position make is confusing acceptance with healing.

Accepting the way things are is the first step in a much longer healing journey because you can’t start to heal until you accept a wound that harmed you:

“This terrible thing happened to me. Now I have to do so something about it.”

5. Build your self-esteem and self-worth.

It’s much easier to enjoy good feelings and happiness when you feel worthy of them. Some people undermine their own happiness because they feel they are unworthy of having good feelings. Those kinds of feelings can be the result of low self-esteem and self-worth. They tell themselves they are undeserving because they are just not good enough as a person.

The truth is that there is no intrinsic link between what a person gets versus what they deserve. Plenty of terrible people have wonderful lives, and plenty of wonderful people have difficult or painful lives.

Building up your self-esteem and self-worth can keep many negative feelings at bay. A person who understands their value will not pick apart the good things in their life because they feel undeserving.

6. Work on healing your traumas.

The word “trauma” invokes different emotions in people. There is a lot of misinformation, gate-keeping, and whataboutism used to dismiss the trauma that everyone will experience in life.

So, what is trauma? Let’s borrow a definition from the American Psychological Association:

“Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea.”

The keywords in that definition are “terrible event.” In the context of trauma, a terrible event can be anything the person perceives as terrible that caused that psychological wound. Not everyone responds to terrible events in the same way. For one person, it may mean lasting scars; for another person, it may just be one more thing on the pile of other things that happened. Some people are good at accepting and compartmentalizing the terrible things of life; some people aren’t.

Everyone will experience a traumatic event in their life, sooner or later. For example, losing loved ones is traumatic to many people, even when it’s expected. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the person will develop PTSD. Still, they may need some additional help to navigate the negativity and difficulty of traumatic events.

And that’s why it’s so important to be proactive about addressing and resolving traumas. They can leave many lingering doubts, sadness, negativity, impact your self-worth, and reinforce that you don’t deserve to be happy. How can you possibly be happy when this terrible thing happened?

What people typically miss is that trauma and happiness can coexist. The former doesn’t prevent the latter.

7. Work on getting your mental illness under control.

As anyone with a mental illness will tell you, they are a pain in the backside. Not only do you have to contend with the actual symptoms of the mental illness, but you also have to deal with all of the stuff that grows from the difficulties of that mental illness. That can be exceptionally difficult to do.

Mental health issues like depression and anxiety can directly cause feelings of unworthiness, low self-esteem, and a lack of deserving of anything good or bright in life. For example, a person with severe depression may not have the energy to get themselves out of bed in the morning. That can very easily spiral into not deserving positive feelings because they can’t contribute how they would like to. Maybe they can’t work or have a hard time keeping up with housework because they just don’t have the energy or ability.

Then you have the instability that can come with mental illness. It’s kind of difficult to maintain a happy, positive outlook on life when you can’t trust your brain from one day to the next.

Some people incorrectly view mental illness as a moral or character flaw. They think it’s a reflection of who they are rather than an illness that their person is afflicted with. And for some people, that can mean anything from not holding down a job to blowing up relationships to self-harm and suicide.

The only real solution is to work on getting that mental illness under control, working to heal as much as you can, and work on the trauma surrounding life with mental illness. Life with mental illness can be one long traumatic experience. There may be times when you won’t have the comfort of knowing what tomorrow will bring because who knows what the environment of your brain will be tomorrow?

8. Seek help from a qualified mental health professional.

If you feel like you don’t deserve to be happy, or guilty when you do feel happy, the best thing you can do is seek help from a qualified mental health professional. Those kinds of feelings usually don’t come from nowhere. They often stem from mental illness, trauma, or domestic and child abuse. These are not things that can generally be tackled through self-help and articles on the internet.

You’re most likely going to need professional help. Click here to find a counselor near you (or one who can work with you remotely via phone or video chat) so that you can address the underlying causes of the thoughts you are having.

The good news is that this is a problem that you can resolve and heal if you’re willing to take it on. It won’t be easy, but you can do this.

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