I know misery, but I don’t like it. I don’t like what it feels like, what it smells like or what it tastes like. I have seen misery up close and personal with both an internal and external lens, and I’d don’t like it. I don’t like how it makes me feel, how it makes others feel and how it drains the hopes, aspirations and goals from a person. I don’t like how it adds toxicity and low productivity to everything it touches, including the workplace.

What about you? Do you know misery?

Have you experienced its grip or known someone who has? Have you lived with it, worked with it – or even worse – worked for it? Have you smelled it a mile away and wanted to run in the opposite direction so that you wouldn’t catch it (like the flu)? Have you been invited to its office parties, its work lunches or its boardrooms and spent the entire time trying to figure out a way to get the heck out of there?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you surely know where I am going with this.
Chronically unhappy and miserable people are everywhere, including our workplaces, and they work overtime to create toxic organizational cultures and work environments.  Miserable people are sapping the creativity, inspiration, joy and productivity from our best performers. Indeed, we should stand up and take notice of the warning signs and work to help these people get better.

5 Reasons Miserable People are Miserable

Most of us have heard and used the saying “misery loves company,” but what exactly does it look like? How can we know that it has come for us? You have to be astute enough to know when you are being invited to be in its company because if it spots you before you spot it, you just might fall under its spell too. The following behaviors and patterns of thinking help to create miserable people over time.

1. They pass on opportunities and then complain that nothing ever “happens” for them.

We become miserable when we allow our behavior and thinking to get stuck in perpetual negative mode and succumb to a victim mindset. I say ‘perpetual’ because just behaving or thinking this way on occasion may not turn an otherwise happy person into a miserable one, but if we are not careful to turn off these behaviors and work against them, we may wake up one day miserable and wonder just how we got there.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Miserable people help themselves get that way by hoping that something will just magically ‘happen’ to or for them, and they compound the issue by using a faulty lens and an invalid measuring stick to compare themselves to others.

“Miserable people use a faulty lens and an invalid measuring stick. Resist the temptation to measure your success, happiness or failure against the tip of another person’s iceberg. We can never really know what other people have walked through to get where they are so we shouldn’t be comparing our outcomes to theirs without also knowing the full price of the inputs – sacrifices we may never be willing to make.”

2. They have outsized expectations and standards for everyone’s behavior but their own.

“If I make a mistake, drop the ball or neglect to follow policies, there is a good reason or explanation for it, but if you do the same, you are an idiot.”
Workplace bullies come to mind here. This is the way miserable people think; they have unbalanced rules and outsized standards and expectations for other people. Miserable people feel that life has somehow done them wrong – more wrong than it has done other people – so when people disappoint them or neglect to follow their rules or a policy (the same rules and policies that they themselves break all the time), they appear overly aggrieved and feel justified in completely disrespecting or humiliating another.
When the shoe is on the other foot, however, they want and believe they deserve more forgiveness and more understanding than they ever think to give.

3. They look for greener grass as if it’s actually just waiting to be found and exists somewhere other than where they are.

Happiness isn’t something that is branded upon us or that falls out of trees on the lucky bystanders who might happen to be there to catch it at just the right time.  Happiness isn’t something we find; it is something we create.
Every single person at every income level, at every education level, at every position level has joy, pain, challenges and rewards. Sure, there are circumstances that can create an experience of more happiness (for example, if I am starving and homeless, I will be happier with food and shelter). But there is a limit to the level of happiness that material items provide. We have to take responsibility to move our lives from whatever place we find them to the next place we want to be. We have to demonstrate the levels of discipline, commitment and persistence that create peace and joy.
Someone else is always taking their choices away. Miserable people really do feel powerless when it comes to making their own grass greener. They believe that, somehow, other people have a kind of “special water mixture” they are using to make their grass greener and, of course, the miserable person has been mysteriously blocked from using this particular water mixture himself.

4. They let the mistakes, failures or wrongdoings of yesterday consume all their thoughts today.

Whether it is your mistake or theirs, it becomes something to grab on to and justify in their minds why today is just horrible and life is continually unfair.
As so often happens in life, things don’t go as planned. Unfortunately, mistakes happen. Accidents happen. Tragedy happens. Things both beyond and within our control happen. Sometimes this may be due to our own mistakes and failures, and sometimes it’s because of something others have done. Either way, things don’t go as planned.
Yes, sometimes, a monkey wrench gets thrown in the loop. Sometimes it’s another person’s complete lack of judgment or poor or illegal behavior that creates a nightmare for us. Call it whatever you want, but when a past mistake, failure or wrongdoing occurs, miserable people just can’t seem to get beyond it. They are obsessively stuck on what could have been; should have been; would have been – if only…
When we are unable or unwilling to let go of our past failings or those of someone else, we give the person, event, incident or occurrence from yesterday way too much power over our today and tomorrow, and we lose.
When/if we are unwilling or unable to change course and develop new plans for our careers and our lives, we allow misery to brew and grow. It will go from being “company” to actually living in and owning our whole house. Take the time to grieve, change and then really do find a way to move on.

5. They blame others for, well—everything that goes wrong in their lives.

If you are thinking that the problems in your life are the result of someone else’s behavior, actions or choices, think again. Is it all really someone else’s fault? How much power are you giving away to other people when it comes to your choices?
Defeatist thinking and a victim mindset serve like huge neon welcome mats for misery. If you find yourself sitting around thinking about how other people are stopping you from accomplishing your goals, you are being a victim.
If you are thinking about how everyone else gets a break or has luck except you, you are practicing defeatist thinking. If you are thinking about how your upbringing, your parents, your family, your boss, your employer, your salary, your status, etc.is the reason for your shortcomings or unreached potential, shut it down.
There is no good in that kind of thinking. I should know because I have been there. I have had wrong done to me and had to move beyond some real horrible experiences and some real ridiculous people in my life. I am not saying that other people aren’t sometimes the reason for something going horribly wrong in your life or with your career. Certainly, sometimes other people are indeed the blame for our pain and struggles. Certainly.
However, I am saying that our lives, our careers and our choices are indeed ours. Even when someone does something to us beyond our control, we still get to choose how we respond and how much power and influence we give any event or person over our joy. We get to decide whether to keep or give away our power. Miserable people are too often giving away too much of their own power.

You tell me –

  1. Have you worked with chronically unhappy, toxic or miserable people? If so, why do you think they are that way?
  2. Do you think miserable people know they are miserable? Why/Why not?

Terina Allen
CEO, ARVis Institute
International Speaker | Strategist | Management Consultant | Educator | Author

Leave a Comment