Do some people *want* to be miserable?: A deliberately controversial post

We’re just curious.

We see some folks do the same negative repeating behaviors over and over again and we don’t understand it.  Complaining about the same things.  And not just addictive stuff.

Sometimes they group together and encourage others to wallow too so there’s a mutual complain and enable-fest.  Sometimes they take turns.  Sometimes they talk over each other.  However they communicate though, it seems to encourage the misery rather than taking it away.

We don’t get it.  When we complain we want to vent and then to find a solution after we’ve calmed down.  We want to be happy.

We all get hit with bad things from time to time, some of us more than others.  But some folks seem to be able to manufacture their own bad luck, or to react incredibly strongly to things most of us are just mildly annoyed by.  How people react to negative events seems really important.

We want to be around people who want to be happy.  We like people who have growth mind-sets.

We understand that sometimes people have chemical depression, and we’re all for therapy and FDA-approved (and psychiatrist-monitored) pharmaceuticals as needed.  Please get professional help if you need it!

#2 would like to note that there is a time and place for shared misery, particularly in grad school and in the early tenure-track.  But there are ALSO times to stop moaning and do your writing.  Structured groups are good for this: first hour bitch-n-moan, second hour hard work, then break for snack, more work, a closing few minutes of social time, etc.  Commiseration is useful sometimes, but it must be backed up with productivity if you’re going to survive.  My good friend in grad school pointed out that we had “a culture of stress” and that it wasn’t necessarily the most helpful.

We gotta wonder though, if you’re hanging out with people who seem to enjoy being miserable, and seem to enjoy encouraging you when you’re making bad choices (that will cause misery down the road) or just being miserable (and discourage you from making choices that could reduce the misery)… why are you doing that?  And can you explain it to us?

79 Responses to “Do some people *want* to be miserable?: A deliberately controversial post”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    Well, sometimes those miserable people are family members and you feel a sense of obligation to being with them. However, for me it got so bad and ruined so many holidays that I had to cut off contact. I was absolutely fine having this kind of person in my life because I wanted to be there for them, but when it got to the point that they were affecting everyone else close to me including my kids and mom and spouse, my protective side kicked in and I stopped inviting them to stuff.

    I do think that some people manufacture dramas in their life just to “feel” and/or justify their dismal outlook on life and yes, I have seen folks blow things all out of proportion over stupid things. Although depression is part of it, attitude is another part. I know a variety of people who suffer from depression and the people who are thankful for the things that are precious in their life have a much more healthy outlook and demeanor despite their disability. The ones who are all “woe is me, my life is so horrible, I’m so unlucky, I don’t have x, y, and z” are the ones who are like a black hole and no matter how much love and support you shower on them, it’s never enough. When you make suggestions, they are also quick to point out all the reasons their life is harder than everyone else’s and why those suggestions don’t apply to them. I make bad suggestions, obviously because I don’t understand their lives enough. Like..why money problems can’t be solved with something like you know, income.. What a great idea. Hey, you have income and I have money problems…..wait a minute, that’s not what I meant.

    Just like the cliche, first a person must want help before they can receive it. For a lot of people change is very scary and it’s a lot easier to just keep on being miserable than doing something about it.

    I had a lot of these types of people in my life when I was younger because I wanted to be needed by someone. It took a long time to figure out I wasn’t really helping but just being a big enabler. Once I had a family of my own, I realized what being needed was really all about and I’m thankful to say that these types of individuals are no longer part of my inner circle.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      True on the family! Though sometimes with some of my partner’s family I’ll just erupt into laughter with the ridiculous of it all… and that kinda seems to help…but maybe they think I’m a horrible person after I leave. (Good thing we live far away!)

      We feel you on the black hole thing.

      Change can be scary… I can’t imagine not wanting to try to feel better, but then, we’ve always sought help when we’ve exhibited signs of depression. Not everybody does. I wonder what the difference is.

      Family definitely gives a person less patience for other folks’ problems, especially once that are fixable but refuse to be fixed.

      • rented life Says:

        “I wonder what the difference is.” As someone who has gotten help and not, and watched the same with my spouse, I can tell you what the difference is. Sometimes you’re in so deep you can’t even recognize it. It took me a long time to recognize the signs within myself–when it seems so normal to you, you don’t put together that it isn’t. And if you don’t feel like you’re worth it, then you’re not going to put together that you can/should/deserve to get out. I can recognize my own triggers and signs I’m slipping now, and I know what it feels like to feel better so I actually can say “woah, it’s getting bad, time to turn this around.”

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        What made the change for you? How did you figure it out?

      • JaneB Says:

        I can’t be the only one who has asked for help and been refused it, or given ‘help’ which made things worse for my personal situation (e.g. some people react really badly to some meds, and it’s not their fault!), and when you already feel worthless that erects a much steeper barrier to asking for help another time…

        That said, I did try again and did get enough help to get me out of the worst of the black hole, but it was hard – and I only had minor and simple problems compared to some people (plus the advantages of a solid ‘no life’s not fair but why expect it to be’ and ‘count your blessings’ type of upbringing to fall back on)

      • omdg Says:

        After being on the receiving end of unhelpful help (which took too much activation energy to seek out), you start to lose hope that things can actually be better, and stop trying. That’s my experience, anyway. I don’t think you could pay me to go to therapy after having had the experience of a couple of shitty therapists.

  2. Leah Says:

    I think you’re right. I view this as similar to some people who are surly (or some of those who have other body/personality issues) — for some people, being drama or miserable or whatever is a good shield for explaining why no one likes them. If they were happy and everyone didn’t immediately love them, then the problem is them. With misery (or other issues), the problem is the issue.

    Of course, the real truth here is not that everyone will love you, and that is okay. It’s something I’m coming to realize and adjust to (and way too late, I might add).

    Some people also just really want attention, and they haven’t figured out a positive way to get it yet. So they seek attention any way they can. I admit that the strategy appears to work (and I occasionally fall prey to it myself before forcing myself to snap out of complaint mode), but it doesn’t work in a way that is ultimately a positive, self-bolstering, internal happiness way.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s kind of sad! But sometimes these misery-wallowers seem to group together and encourage the negativity. On the internet sometimes they attack any little rays of sunshine that dare make a comment. (It’s scary to watch!) But then, that’s just the internet…

      The attention hypothesis makes a lot of sense. I wonder how that works out in a repeated group setting. Do they just not notice that nobody is really paying attention, or maybe they really are taking turns.

  3. NoTrustFund Says:

    I’ve read a few different versions of ‘happiness is a choice’ lately in the form of wisdom from people older than me. I love that idea and I am starting to believe it.

    (Disclaimer- I realize there are some exceptions)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Definitely exceptions, but there’s a lot to be said for cognitive restructuring for those who don’t have reasons to be unhappy other than how they view the world.

  4. Holly@ClubThrifty Says:

    I’ve known plenty of people who were overly negative for whatever reason. I try to keep my internal voice upbeat so I typically stay away from people who create drama. Unless it’s funny.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      There is something to schedenfreude. Why do some people seek folks who create drama rather than the other way around? And why do they create drama themselves?

      • Dame Eleanor Hull Says:

        Habit. My mother was a negative, narcissistic drama-creater. Partly because of her modeling, partly as a form of self-defense (i.e., “you’re not the only one with drama!”), I acquired some of her behaviors. After she died, my life was much calmer . . . and it felt both welcome and strange. Several years later, I still catch myself starting to create drama, or seek it out. It’s hard to explain how something can feel awful and yet comfortably familiar, and I wouldn’t be surprised if addiction to the chemicals thus produced has something to do with it. It is clear that I have the ability to be calmer and happier than my mother; that may be hard-wired or it may be the result of all the therapy I did in her lifetime. But I sure did get habituated to a certain level of it, even as I found it exhausting. I can easily imagine that people with less support for changing their behaviors would find it difficult or impossible to break the cycle.

        There can also be a fine line between kvetching and complaining, and it may move. I enjoy good kvetchers—they’re funny—but I don’t like being around complainers.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Interesting. The power of habit is very strong. (And one day I will read the book on the power of habit… in my copious free time.)

        Btw, your writing group has been super super helpful this time around! It’s really nice having that consistency and habit on at least one of my projects. I should um, get to work on that for today (in about 4 min when leechblock turns on).

  5. investfourmore Says:

    I stay as far away from negative people as possible. They drive me crazy! Facebook seems to be a great place to find people wallowing in their own misery. Post after post about how horrible the government is, how horrible school is, how horrible work is, how horrible family is.

    If something is that horrible change it.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s interesting, because we also hear people complaining about how facebook seems happier than RL. I wonder if that’s there are two types of people who post on facebook (those who post only happy stuff and those who only post negative stuff) or if it’s that there’s two types of people who read facebook (those seeking negativity and those who aren’t).

      • Debbie M Says:

        My first exposure to Facebook showed me that some of my acquaintances were huge whiners. And some of my relatives were super religious. I stayed because one of my friends had pictures of her cakes she decorated! Now I have more friends who just give updates on their lives. And lately, most posts have been all about links to articles and videos. I don’t know if there are two types of readers; I think it’s more likely that different writers have different foci, and our group of friends may show a bias toward one of these.

    • chacha1 Says:

      I block posts from “friends” whose posts annoy me. :-)

  6. Thisbe Says:

    FWIW –

    “Bad is Stronger than Good”

    I read something else related recently, but can’t for the life of me remember what or where. The general idea was about addiction to grief – did you guys post that link, or was that somewhere else entirely? I think it may have been (or at least have been related to) this paper:

    Craving love? Enduring grief activates brain’s reward center

    It has been interesting food for thought for me; having “negative” emotions activating reward centers would definitely explain a lot of otherwise inexplicable-to-me behavior in other people. It’s hard to know how well-supported the idea is, though.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Huh. Though we see it in things that aren’t so hard-core as events that normally cause grief. I wonder if that negativity is true for all events or just bad ones. And why do most people seem to be able to not dwell on normal amounts of upset (or to be able to arrange their lives so they avoid as much negative upset as possible)? I suppose maybe there’s something to do with the literature on resiliency. But it can’t just be resiliency– some people seem to actively seek out things that are going to give them negative consequences later, and not just stuff where you think the short term benefit over-rides the desire for long-term benefit (it’s not just time inconsistency).

      Baumeister is a pretty prominent person– he’s the guy who wrote Willpower.

      • Leslie Beslie (@lintacious) Says:

        This probably won’t make sense if you haven’t experienced it but let me try to explain because I am/was one of these people.


        Happiness is scary. Being miserable/feeling nothing is easy. For one, you don’t have to put yourself out there. You don’t have to do anything. By not trying to make your life better or not trying to make new friends, you can just laze about. Sure, you’re unhappy but you’re also comfortable. Because trying to improve yourself means you might get rejected. New friends might not like you. That company may not hire you. You might fail. Then you’d be right back where you started. Why not just stay there being unhappy to begin with? It’s easy. You’re going to be miserable anyway. Even if you’re happy in a relationship, at some point it will end and then you’ll be unhappy again. Why bother?


        Those are real thoughts, albeit irrational, that constantly go through/went through my head before I started therapy. Taking the risk to be happy is/was so terrifying to me. Rationally, you are probably thinking to yourself “but what if you do get the job then you’ll be happy!” but in the minds of these people (myself), that isn’t even a possibility. It’s not so much pessimism as it’s an actual comfortable feeling.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Thank you. That provides a lot of insight.

      • Cloud Says:

        I have a close relative who is prone to getting stuck in negative ruts, and in her case I think it is absolutely this- it is more comfortable and safe feeling to stay in the rut and complain than to take the risk and try to fix it. It drive me nuts. But as I said, she’s a close relative, and I love her, so I just focus on finding ways to not have it drive me nuts. I finally decided I can’t help her unless she wants to change this, so all I do now is make polite sounds about how unfortunate it is that whatever she’s complaining about has happened, and change the subject.

  7. monsterzero Says:

    It’s an easy way to bond socially. There’s solidarity in talking about how much everything (and by extension everyone else) sucks. There’s also the competitive element. If I’m the worst off then I win!

  8. becca Says:

    People are bags of hormones and cells- all emotion (happiness, sadness or “meh”) is chemical. While there may be cognitive handles on some of those emotions, it’s very rarely as simple as willing oneself to be happy. Or even being in the habit of happiness (although that comes closer to describing a successful strategy, it also describes being *lucky* enough to be in a position to develop such a thing). I also think there is, on average, a real developmental stage thing. Older people are generally more mellow than younger people- it’s about life experience, but also biology, I suspect.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yet… cognitive behavioral therapy works. Our mental though processes can change our chemical responses for better or for worse. One can make an effort to restructure positively or one can allow oneself to restructure negatively.

      Do you think that some people are just stuck in a negative restructuring rut and can’t escape? It isn’t that they don’t want to, but that they’re too far gone to even try?

      • becca Says:

        CBT treats depression successfully at rates on par with SSRIs. Just as you wouldn’t expect giving an individual patient statins to prevent all heart attacks and strokes (even if statins given to a population will reduce the total number of heart attacks and strokes), you shouldn’t expect CBT to work for each individual. Actually, the effectiveness of both CBT and SSRIs combined still isn’t all that impressively higher than placebo. Empirically, some of the fish really are dead.

        I do think there are a lot of negative cognitive ruts, both seen in clinically recognizable depression and in other forms of discontent. Some people lack the training to restructure, some people lack the motivation for restructuring (particularly when it’s not actual depression, it might very well prove adaptive to be highly critical in some environments- it seems to work for people who are smart enough to make it hilarious anyway), and some people lack the ability to restructure (i.e. no amount of training or treatment will improve things significantly). It can be very hard to tell from the outside which it is, unless there’s an obvious reason for a particular negative bent.

      • JaneB Says:

        CBT works, but not for everyone. So for SOME people this definitely IS a component in their Crab-in-a-Bucket-ness which can be ‘treated’ and changed, but there’s a lot more involved too…

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Maybe it’s lack of vitamin chocolate?

      • GMP Says:

        One can never have too much chocolate.

        I often complain online, but am generally satisfied with most of my life. I simply don’t feel compelled to blog when I am content; general happiness does not easily make compelling blog fodder, at least not in my hands (I sound like a Easter Bunny who’s high on sugar).

        I have also tried CBT and I agree that it has significant benefits. It did help me calm down in interpersonal relationships at work, I get less upset and I think I am calmer when interacting with people. But, for instance, I don’t think CBT has helped at all with some of the professional insecurities I feel and which, I have found, are the real source of my misery most of the time and spill over into my personal life. Basically, when I am content at work, I am OK at home. For me, the feeling that I am just not good enough, that I am fooling myself, that I will never amount to anything of value — I don’t see an easy way out of that one. Now, CBT would say “But you are not a failure. Look at your CV, papers, grant,” and I would say “Meh. Whatever. Anyone can have those. I am just mediocre.” Or a CBTherapist (or my husband) would say “Well, what’s so bad about being mediocre? So what if you are? Is that really a reason to make yourself miserable?” but I just cannot accept that. To me, being mediocre is awful. On the other hand, it’s not like I can get some objective external assessment from anyone, someone of stature who would say “GMP, your work is really awesome.” In this career, it is really about being able to constantly push yourself and not doubt yourself and your path. A therapist or my husband telling me that of course I don’t suck means nothing, because I don’t consider them authorities who can bestow this type of approval. On the other hand, it’s not like anyone in my field is ever going to pat me on the back. I know getting over the need for external validation is part of growing up, so I suppose in my work I am still a baby. Or something. And knowing that this may well be impostor syndrome doesn’t actually help much; a little voice always asks — but what if it’s not, what if you just suck? So that’s why I am grumpy most of the time, and generally channel it (not fairly at all, I know) through being angry at my husband.

        On a semi-related note, what’s annoying is really a matter of perspective. I am generally on the very impatient side, about pretty much everything. People who make my skin cringe are the people who are, in my view, overtly passive and take their life like they are going to live a million years and there’s no rush to do anything; they take infinitely long to make any decision (my father is an example, so are a few of my colleagues and assorted acquaintances). In my husband’s opinion, these people whom I consider to be wasting their life and opportunities are just thoughtful and patient. One person’s lethargic, indecisive underachiever is another person’s Buddha-like wiseman.

      • hush Says:

        “I simply don’t feel compelled to blog when I am content”

        Me neither. Now I’m happy and in a fantastic place in my life, my career, kids, health, and marriage have never been better – and I’ll note that I’ve recently stopped blogging. But obviously, that’s not the correct choice for everyone. There are happy bloggers, too – like The Grumpies!

      • JaneB Says:

        GMP, I can relate to a lot of what you said. Although I tend to take it out on myself, perhaps due to the lack of a significant other to be angry with :-) For me at least, and I think for many of the bloggers I enjoy reading, blogging is at least partly a way of working through some of these bad moods, a way of letting off steam before going back to being positive and supportive and calm and all that supposedly good stuff in your ‘flesh and blood’ interactions… so certainly internet examples are perhaps distorted because some people at least use the net to support/vent/express that side of themselves and you don’t see the full person. (true also of most real life contexts, even in the closest relationships you don’t see all of a person)

  9. Jacq Says:

    Years ago, I was on an Albert Ellis kick. He wrote a fun book: “How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything (Yes Anything!)” His methods work. Of course, one has to turn that on themselves and refuse to make yourself miserable about the existence of people who enjoy making themselves miserable and have compassion instead. If it’s that common, it’s probably part of the human condition and there’s no utility in asking “why??”
    Some people have just never learned more productive ways of thinking (even if they ignore your attempts to help them think about their problems differently, they’re getting some kind of bigger pay off by just complaining – probably that they don’t have to do anything differently). Learn complaint / whining-resistance techniques etc. Or stop reading their blogs or hanging out with them – that works too.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Oh, I dunno, it’s always interesting to find out the “why”. And who knows, like FGA says, sometimes it’s your family (or a coworker) and that’s harder to avoid than blogs.

      And yes, we’ve been making a concerted effort to not read their blogs (though occasionally the headlines on the blogroll are too catchy… one wonders… what is it *this* time?).

  10. Debbie M Says:

    No generalities. Just four examples.

    I know one co-worker pretty well who’s a complainer. I don’t see her making choices that will make her life worse, but she did once join the staff association and actually push through several good changes (for example, we now have a staff ombudsperson).

    I had a neighbor who complained all the time and would never do anything to change it. A co-worker said that’s her definition of “loser.” I didn’t notice him doing anything to make things worse, either; he just wouldn’t make them better. I got the idea that he didn’t actually believe he could make things better.

    One person who’s boyfriend was my friend and whose past roommate was my roommate was definitely a drama queen. In a partnership you help each other, but when it’s always the same partner needing help, that gets old. Not sure if she generated bad luck herself, but once I do remember that she was frustrated with her dinner party guests for not drinking their wine–which she poured for everyone without asking if they wanted any. She concluded that now she had to drink it all herself, and she went around finishing up all the wine out of the glasses. Don’t know where that came from. But maybe she’s like my mom and has trouble realizing that people are not all the same, that not everyone likes the same things she does (in the same quantities) for example. And so the world is always extra perplexing.

    I once had a friend of a friend who was such a complainer that I challenged myself to not ask questions that were begging to be answered with whining. To this day, I do not know how she broke her arm that one time! (Victory!) And I would always point out the positive. Like when she told me about the scary car wreck and I pointed out how at least now she has the kind of boyfriend who drop everything and come pick her up. I don’t know why she was like that. When my friends first met her, she was nothing but charming. When I knew her, she was majoring in math. She once told me that she had gotten a 9 on a test. “Out of how many?” 100. It seemed like the wrong major. When I got my last job, I found out she was the one I replaced! Again–a bad job for her since it was very math-like and also made her carpal tunnel flair. But then she got with a loving guy, they moved to an affordable suburb, and she switched to weaving scarves and making glass beads, which seems like an awesome improvement. I don’t know if she’s still negative, though because I never see her, though I do see occasional updates on Facebook.

    • hush Says:

      “But maybe she’s like my mom and has trouble realizing that people are not all the same, that not everyone likes the same things she does (in the same quantities) for example. And so the world is always extra perplexing.”

      Amen, clap, clap, clap!! Probably most of us are like your mom from time to time, but usually we figure it out.

  11. plantingourpennies Says:

    We have a (former) good friend who became a negative nancy, and the friendship just became too exhausting to keep up. I’ve cut off most ties with family members that can’t seem to say a kind word. None of that was particularly easy, and I did go to therapy for a while to get me out of the negative cycle that had defined familial relationships. Sometimes I feel sad I have lost those relationships, but it’s not those relationships I mourn really – it’s what they should have been had the other parties not spent so much time depressed and willfully unhappy.

  12. scantee Says:

    Yes, there are absolutely people that want to be miserable. I have an acquaintance-a long-time friend of my husband-who is one of these people and I’ve recently told my husband that I’m finally done with her because I just can’t take her self-pity anymore. This is a woman with a devoted spouse, well-paying full-time job (that only requires her to work 10 hours per week from home!), twins, good health, and a beautiful house and all she does is bitch about how terrible her life is.

    Now, I’m all about allowing people to bitch and moan about their lives even if on the outside everything seems to be perfect. But the only thing this woman does is complain. She does not have the self-awareness to put her problems in perspective or to appreciate the good things in her life (which are many). I come to realize that this is just who she is: a person who enjoys being miserable.

    Since she was not my friend originally I have less tolerance for her crap than my spouse but even his is wearing thin. I have enough enjoyable people in my life, I don’t need waste energy on total drags.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      One of my colleagues spent so much time complaining about her fiance that I finally (after weeks of silent self-control) broke down and asked if she was sure she wanted to marry the guy (“there’s still time to change your mind!”). Very awkward, but at least she stopped complaining about him in front of me.

      • hush Says:

        “Very awkward, but at least she stopped complaining about him in front of me.”

        You provided her with valuable feedback, and you were not unkind. Sounds like you did her a tremendous service.

  13. LifeorDebt Says:

    They do say misery loves company.

    That being said, I tend to not like to commiserate– it just brings me down. Complaining, bemoaning, gossiping and the like aren’t productive, don’t change the outcome of anything, and just make you feel like crud. Writing it out, however, helps immensely, and can help find a solution if one is needed. If you tend to be the depressed sort-or have been affected by that sort, go into a new-age-y store, one that is super lovey-dovey, and feel the love. It’s nearly impossible to walk out of those patchouli-smelling places without a smile on your face.

  14. Linda Says:

    It seems that being negative and complaining are all around us these days. Turn on the TV and there is the news covering one awful thing after another (bombs! floods! fires! political bickering!), “reality shows” featuring the worst of human behavior and emotions, and dramas about family or work conflicts. Even if you don’t watch TV much, these same themes are played out over and over again in movies, books, magazines, and ads that are on the sides of buses and billboards, etc. It’s a real challenge to stay above the misery that we are all being told is present somewhere in our lives. Here’s a small (yet, funny) example of how we simply cannot seem to catch a break no matter what we try.

  15. Linda Says:

    And Dame Eleanor Hull, we seem to have the same mother. I know my mom has always acted out because she was desperate for attention. But that doesn’t excuse her horrible behavior. I’m sort of ignoring my mom these days because I just can’t deal with her right now.

  16. rented life Says:

    Have you seen “What the bleep do we know?” Or read “Molecules of Emotion” by Candace Perk? Perk’s done research on how we become addicted to certain emotional pathways. So you get hooked (used to, comfortable, habit) on an emotion and the hormones it’s released. Each time, that neural pathway gets stronger, however it also takes more to get that same “rush” that you’re now hooked on. Anyway, it’s interesting, and made a lot of sense for why we get caught in these cycles, interact with others who add to it, etc. There’s also the reality that for those of us with depression, our brains will lie to us. It’s hard to override that to then get help.

    Some of my not cutting people out was because I wanted friends so much that I didn’t really put together that they should be good friends, not just people in my life. When a few relationships dissolved on their own, I reflected and realized that I missed what I wanted that relationship to be, not what it was. My husband recently figured this out with his parents. He tried for ages to have a relationship with them, and recently decided it was time to put up some barriers. What a change that made.

    • hush Says:

      Cutting people out – “What a change that made.” Amen!

      My DH cut both of his toxic parents out of our family’s lives. See:

      Prior to that we both got rid of the same BFF we had in college once we finally figured out he had been actively undermining our attempts to make healthful choices (with friends like that, who needs enemies?). Good riddance! Now our lives are awesome. But we took and take a lot of flak for cutting those toxic folks out. We’ve learned to ignore the naysayer flak and just be happy in our own way.

  17. Leigh Says:

    I don’t like being miserable, but with constant fights with depression, it is really hard not to be some days. Eating food frequently definitely helps a lot and getting enough sleep. I’ve tried talk therapy and it doesn’t really help with depression when I’m all “Everything is terrible!” It is helpful when I have a specific situation that I can work through though. I’ve been journaling for a couple years now, which helps somewhat. Every once in a while, I make lists of why I’m awesome. (Especially when someone else breaks up with me! I am really awesome and it’s totally their loss!)

    I don’t deal well with change at all. And in my twenties, life has been changing constantly. I’m really glad I now own my place, which helps to cut down on the changes a bit. But friends moving away, changing jobs, trying to make new friends, these things are all really, really hard for me, even if it’s the right decision.

    Sometimes too, it’s really hard to see what you’re complaining about from an outsider’s perspective, which would really help to solve the problem. In that case, therapy can help. Or friends if it’s a small thing. Or maybe you’re just stuck in a small rut, which I’m really bad at recognizing.

    I like your structured group suggestion of complaining, then working. I definitely find that external influences can help a lot. Like if someone else is around, I’m better at eating food and usually better at being happy. But, if I don’t get food in an adequate timeframe and other people are around, all hell can break loose and no one else understands that. I hate traveling with people who lack empathy.

    I’ve been working on developing my empathy skills in the last year or so. I now start a response to almost anything with “I’m sorry you feel X” or something. Also, I spent all of college and my first few years working completely avoiding my emotions since software developers are supposed to be super rational people. I’ve learned that I’m not really that rational at all and that pretty much everything is an emotional decision.

  18. oilandgarlic Says:

    I have so much to write about this but no time. I did wallow in misery with fellow miserable co-workers fora two-year time period. I dont know. Cynical people seemed smarter. But I don’t like negative/miserable people at all. Maybe I like ironic Pollyannas the most, if that makes sense. For true depression and true life woes like health issues, I highly recommend therapy and meds, but I know many people who are “ashamed” of therapy. My inlaws would keel over if they found out I ever went to therapy (probably a generational thing?)

  19. chacha1 Says:

    I think there ARE people who love to be miserable. They love drama, and will go out of their way to create it if life doesn’t serve up enough to suit them. The people I know who display this tendency all do have one thing in common: highly reactive personalities, a.k.a. hypersensitivity.

    These people take EVERYTHING personally; they hold grudges; they don’t “get over it;” they obsessively return to past events and dissect them; they expect other people to change (rather than themselves); they don’t understand why other people don’t or won’t change; they take little responsibility for actions of their own that create or perpetuate the situations they deplore.

    It would be tempting to characterize this as a kind of personality disorder, but frankly I think it’s just ego. These are the people who think any attention is good attention.

    • First Gen American Says:

      Wow. This totally describes someone in my life. Isn’t the clinical term a narcissist? Like when you’re talking about something not even related to them and they somehow think it is about them anyway?

      • Mados Says:

        I agree, that is definitely a description of a narcissist personality. If that is what Nicole and Maggie meant with the post then I agree except it isn’t misery these people prefer, it is the ‘perks’ they hope to get with it – attention, drama (entertainment and emotional stimulation), compensations and social impact that they may count as a type of social success compared to being a nobody.

    • Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

      “These people take EVERYTHING personally; they hold grudges; they don’t “get over it;” they obsessively return to past events and dissect them; they expect other people to change (rather than themselves); they don’t understand why other people don’t or won’t change; they take little responsibility for actions of their own that create or perpetuate the situations they deplore.”

      You know my parents!?!?!? And it is a personality disorder: narcissistic or borderline.

      • chacha1 Says:

        LOL. Narcissism definitely is part of it. But the misery part is an important distinction, because the people I know who are egomaniacs like this are mostly very nice people … who seem oblivious to the fact that they are constantly stirring up shit in their own lives that they claim to want to live without.

        Maybe worth noting that the most significant examples of this in my personal circle come from families which exhibit, through several members, various clinical mental disorders. It’s undoubtedly just part of the spectrum, and probably explains the obliviousness and inability to learn from experience.

  20. becca Says:

    Oh, and in other “random twitter links which pertain to N&M blog discussion”, maybe there’s something to the models of the environment (e.g. in songbirds- I do think early environment makes a big difference… maybe some people get programmed for pessimism due to insufficiently enriched environments? (which, for humans likely means physical and interpersonal environments). Lack of vitamin chocolate AND lack of vitamin hugs. A tragic combination.

    (can you tell I find all the simplistic “some people just like to be unpleasant, boo on them” to be… insufficiently curious? and/or insufficiently compassionate?)

  21. Viola Says:

    This is an excellent question (although I am very slow to actually comment). I do think that there is a substantial fraction of the population that doesn’t know/believe that they can actually change their habits or emotional state. Even though they are pretty much deciding to be negative about a situation at any given time . . . And it’s really hard to convince them of the value of working on changing their thought patterns – it’s all so internal to each person. Anyway, I would definitely agree that some of this is personal choice, and some of it is people not understanding that certain techniques and coping mechanisms can actually be generalized across different humans.

  22. bogart Says:

    It’s funny reading all this because somehow I cannot get my dad out of my head though he is the reverse: now that he’s declining into dementia in a nursing home, his virtually complete inability (?) to acknowledge or react to negative information is proving a valuable resource. But throughout most of his life, his commitment to living in complete denial (if negative information popped up) was of course a major handicap (except that it turns our that if you can cling to it tightly enough, long enough — perhaps it can see you through!).

    In contrast my mom is something of a complainer, though not in so much of a bad way (she is also a fixer).

    (At some point I realized that the one thing my parents, who seem in many ways polar opposites, have exactly in common is that each is perfectly committed to the thought that, no, really, if you just knew and fully understood all the facts, you would understand that he/she — whichever one whose perspective we are in — is right. This is true regardless of the question at hand and regardless of who “you” are. I will note, however, that my mom is capable of learning and incorporating new information, and sometimes of seeing other people’s perspectives (and learning from them), skills my dad lacks.)

    I do suspect a lot of what is being observed and discussed in this post and its comments (including but not limited to mine) is some blend of chemicals and habits/patterns/expectations.

    As for me, I enthusiastically embrace mediocrity (as is likely plain). As I like to tell my mother and brother, neither of them is capable of doing things by halves (true). Me? I am a maestra. Perhaps by three quarters. Satisficing? I am doing it right!

    And … yeah. I’m not much for hanging around complainers or people with fixable problems they fail to fix (yet don’t accept), or insist on repeating, though, ironically, I seem to have married something of one. Go figure (note: when I met and was dating him, he was rebounding from a divorce, a fact that may have made him — in the halcyon days of our early relationship — sunnier than he is on average. Plus there’s no doubt some of this is, you know, an effect of many years together, i.e., regardless of starting point we are past the halcyon days). But his complainer tendency is on a tolerable level (See? Satisficing!) and he has redeeming qualities.

  23. Mados Says:

    What type of misery do you refer to – Depression? and if not, can you provide an example of online communities that are primarily about sharing and encouraging misery. Also, what do you mean by misery – specific problem, or a global attitude that ‘ everything is shit’?

    I think my answer is no, but you may be thinking about examples that are not coming to my mind right now.

    I do not think that anyone wants to be depressed, if that is what you mean. People may share their problems in communities because of the need to belong in a group where they feel understood and included, and maybe the barrier is too high for communities of people that ‘have it easier’ and the chance of being understood with the challenges they have not high, so they prefer a community of people who are ‘on the same page’ (that is typical human, anyway).

    Maybe ‘prefer misery’ applies where the need for belonging in a ‘complaint culture’ of people they have become familiar with is very strong, and their shared problems or ‘misery’ have become like ID/group membership badges. However, in that case I don’t think it is misery as such they prefer, but other aspects related to it where misery is just a price they are willing to pay. Or alternatively, expressing the misery may make them less miserable overall, or in the long run more able to get a grip and overcome the problems. That is how it usually works for me if I share personal problems with someone, but I don’t really think that counts as ‘misery’.

  24. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Thank you everybody for participating in this deliberately controversial post.

  25. Why I Love to Read the Business Section, and Other Linkish Topics | Funny about Money Says:

    […] Nicole and Maggie stir up some conversation over at Grumpy Rumblings of the (Formerly) Untenured with a rumination on whether some people relish misery and drama. […]

  26. Mutant Supermodel Says:

    “We don’t get it. When we complain we want to vent and then to find a solution after we’ve calmed down. We want to be happy.

    We want to be around people who want to be happy. We like people who have growth mind-sets.”

    Amen to this!
    P.S. Can you tell I’m catching up?

  27. What makes a blog post popular? Drama or the hope of redneck jokes? | Grumpy rumblings of the (formerly!) untenured Says:

    […] I think we must have either pretty amazing readers who aren’t attracted to us for Schadenfreude reasons or we must be filling some kind of SEO niche that isn’t predicated on misery, but […]

  28. Lisa Says:

    Fantastic posts by educated thoughtful people. I laughed and cried my way through these posts. I have struggled for years with a family member who is chronically negative . I felt it my duty to fix her so she could be happy. What a waste of time……and it started making me physically ill. Saddest thing I ever did was cut her out of my life. Then you go through the stages of grief because of loss. Then you realize you never had a two way relationship to begin with. Tough to grieve something that never really existed. Then you move on and try to seek out positive growth-minded people.


  29. Internet Drama is so 2010s | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] times in the past because of repetitive negative behavior that cycled over and over again which was super frustrating to read about.  But she’s on a blogroll and has a gift with post names so sometimes one has […]

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