7 Obstacles to Happiness and How to Overcome Them

Dr. Liza Varvogli
10 min readMay 1, 2018


The two enemies of human happiness are pain and boredom. — Arthur Schopenhauer

Being bored

Being bored as an adult is not a good sign. Bored people are not happy people. They dwell on this state of mind and think it’s insurmaountable. They have lost their ability to dream and visualize what may interest them or what they like. Being bored means that one is prisoner of a stagnant mental state. Nothing much happens. No inspiration, motivation, enthusiasm, or hope ignite the spirit. The bored person laments their state of mind and hopes that something external will come and lift them out of boredom.

The solution: No hard or fast recipe. It’s an individualized process. It all starts with a simple question; “Do I want to stop thinking I am bored or is this state of mind serves a purpose?” If being bored serves the purpose of not creating, not meeting with friends, staying away from discussions etc., then the person has an incentive to be bored- they have this excuse not to live life. Otherwise, the bored person can start by taking a walk, thinking of what they like, what they are (or used to be) passionate about, and experiments with different activities. As long as one remembers that it’s the process that makes us curious, motivated, excited, enthusiastic, and awakened, then there’s no need to wait for an ‘end” to have a feeling of satisfaction and happiness. The road, the journey is happiness.

Being in psychological pain

Another obstacle in happiness is when one is in pain. By pain I mean psychological pain. Not the heavy duty, devastating and debilitating psychological trauma with deep roots- that needs to be addressed by mental health professionals. I mean the everyday psychological pain of a broken heart, shattered promises, a difficult childhood, troubled or challenging relationships, etc. Many people hold on dearly to this type of pain. This is a real, valid pain that has certainly played a role in how these people have developed and evolved. They try to explain their experience, their whole life based on this psychological pain; eventually they become their pain. We know that the human brain has peculiar ways of perceiving information and it can be easily tricked to believe things that are not really there, as the science of optical and auditory illusions shows. For example, the stimulus that caused the pain may long be gone, but the perception of psychological pain persists. The human brain likes to connect the dots: so, if there were experiences of hurdles and obstacles, of sorrow, distress and suffering, that the person continually thinks about, then the brain connects them to reveal the picture of unhappiness, or, unattainable happiness. But who says that because a person had sorrow, heartbreak, or grief, should be denied of happiness? Suffering, is unavoidable; it’s part of the human experience. Yet we can choose how to respond to hardship.

The solution: Accept the pain and the experience or fact that caused it. They are real. They did have an effect on you, when they happened. They still affect you in different ways. But pain and hardship are only some of the myriad of experiences you had. Be gentle with yourself. Be compassionate. Talk to yourself the way you would to a loved one. Console yourself for what you have endured, remember it, but chose to peacefully set it aside. Then allow yourself to feel happy, starting with the little, every day things in the here and now. This steaming cup of coffee, the fragrant tea in your favorite mug, fresh flowers, the clouds in the sky. Stop, notice, acknowledge. There are other things besides your pain. Take a minute to notice and appreciate them. I am not telling you that you ‘ll become blissful. But you will be able to register the slightest feeling of serenity and pleasure, and that’s a huge step toward feeling happy.

Talking negatively to oneself and feeding the inner critic

We all engage in an inner dialogue with ourselves, we all have a little voice inside that we converse with and listen to, for help, direction, and encouragement. This voice is not always helpful; for some people the voice inside them judges them, doubts, belittles or ridicules them, and tells them that they are not good enough. That’s the inner critic. You feed your inner critic when you think negatively about life, the present and the future. When you see just problems and not solutions, when you have no hope for the better, when you see the worst in people and notice your shortcomings but never your strengths, you feed your inner critic. Then this little voice inside grows stronger in its negativity. That’s basically your inner thought process. If it’s negative, chances are that it’s not going to let you feel happy. Negativity and happiness don’t go together.

The solution: For starters, practice realistic thinking. Instead of focusing on the negative and the bad, learn to see the flip side of the coin and notice any positive, no matter how small. Learn to pay conscious attention to your thoughts and question the validity of the negative ones: “Is this true?” “How do I know for sure? What evidence do I have?” “Is there an alternative explanation?” can be some questions to help you get unstuck from negative thinking. When your inner critic starts being overly judgmental, just pause and respond with another truth, something that’s more realistic than the debilitating “you are not good enough person/father/mother/spouse/friend/employee, etc.

Not acknowledging the good and positive

We all know them. The people who walk around and live life without acknowledging the good and positive. They always compare the bad things they have in their lives to the good stuff others have. It’s not necessarily material things; it could be anything: relationships, good mood, positive life experiences, etc. Invariably, they conclude that the bad ones are more, with greater significance and impact. They ignore the positive. They think it’s an artifact, a coincidence, something transient. They are people who don’t want to improve. They are stuck in their ways and their life’s mission is to “prove” that everything is negative, after all. They like seeing what’s wrong with the other person, point it out, and have a sense of doom. In fact, these are the people who leap to conclusions that bring about negativity, pessimism, and hopelessness. They are not mean people. They have trained their brains to spot the wrong and negative, because they think this way they can protect themselves. These people are afraid of happiness. They prefer to find excuses not to get joy, least they lose it.

The solution: Acknowledge that there is positive and negative in life. Be true to yourself and admit that you are afraid to be happy, because you have seen so many times happy people getting sad, stressed, or dealing with strong emotions. Maybe you have your own share of negative experiences that have impacted you. Don’t let them chain you down in a reality that you haven’t fully created. Allow yourself to see the bright and positive side of people, things, and situations. Don’t assume the worst. Let yourself be open to all possibilities, including positive ones. Cultivate a sense of realistic optimism. Embrace positivity and welcome it in your life.

Comparing self to others

That’s another major roadblock to happiness. When you compare yourself to others, it’s as if you haven’t stopped to acknowledge and savor your accomplishments. There are always going to be people prettier, smarter, more rich or popular, or whatever it is, than you. Why try to reach an elusive standard? Why always let yourself down? Why always see beyond yourself, with the goal of glorifying the other person who has more, thus belittling yourself? If you have trained yourself to look at the strengths of others and compare them to your shortcomings, then you are being unfair to yourself.

The solution: Learn to focus on yourself. Strive for the best, whatever the definition of “best” is right for you. Remember that different people have different needs, wishes, and goals, so you don’t have to compare and contrast. Life is not a competition, after all. Train yourself to do the best, encourage yourself, find meaning and joy in what you do. Look back and see how far you ‘ve come, compare to yourself. That’s the only meaningful comparison, after all.

Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking. — — Marcus Aurelius

Being pessimistic

What we believe colors the way we view ourselves and the world around us. Pessimists tend to see the negative and problematic sides of a situation. However, they seldom act accordingly, to remedy the situation, to prepare, to act in order to prevent what they think it’s coming. Pessimists usually freeze in their tracks, being stressed out about a possible outcome. When the feared outcome happens, they point out to the optimists “see? I told you so!” thus validating their pessimistic point of view. The problem with this type of thinking is that such a view of the world is biased. Of course, if you see the problem and do nothing about it, there’s not going to be a magical solution. But the pessimist thinks they are right. And they continue in this line of thinking. On the contrary, a person who’s more realistic, may see the problem coming and do something about it ahead of time, in preparation for it. Things may or may not turn out as expected. But the realist will have the sense that they did what was in their power, and things didn’t work out because of uncontrollable variables. The realist will resume action next time. The pessimist will step back. The way we think also colors the way we feel. If pessimists think that there are only problems out there, that people have no or little control over things and that their failures are permanent and exclusively due to their shortcomings, then there’s no doubt they are not happy.

The solution: We have the power to regulate the content of our thoughts and our feelings. We have a choice in how we react to the things that happen to us. Believing that happiness is reserved for the chosen few, that it’s unattainable, or that one doesn’t ‘deserve’ it for some reason, is negative thinking. Beliefs similar to those don’t allow a person to act on their happiness. To manage negative thinking takes time and practice. Remember to stop over-generalizing every negative and seeing the worst in each situation. Make a list with the positive and negatives and ask yourself objectively how likely they are. Learn to see the positive in its true size, without minimizing it.

“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.” — Seneca.


The definition of worry is that it’s mental distress or agitation, resulting from something impending or in anticipated, which may or may not be real. It starts with this one thought that bugs you. Then this though leads to a another, and then, before you know it, you have to deal with a cascade of negative thoughts. The worried mind dwells on difficulties and troubles; it generates thoughts such as “Am I good enough?” “Will I ever make it?” “What if…” and concentrates on the questions and their significance, without trying to answer them. Worried people don’t act on their worries; they mull over them, they replay them in their minds, they stay up all night being distressed about something that’s in the future. Worrying is an energy-drainer. It feeds unproductivity and disconnects the person from dealing with life. The worried person closes the door to happiness; they are too busy worrying about all kinds of things to notice and live life fully.

The solution: Acknowledge that this is just a thought and not the reality. Accept that you are not thinking straight, and that your thinking takes you down a negative path. Another way to deal with worries is to write it all down. This way you may gain perspective, as you see it in front of you, rather just inside your head. Consider talking to a trusted person. Change perspective: if a good friend was in your place, with your worries, what would you have said to them? Generate one constructive thought and one action you can take. Reconnect with yourself. Invest in your well-being with stress management techniques and physical exercise.



P.S. If you liked this article, please consider clapping, once, twice, 50 times so that it can reach more people.



Dr. Liza Varvogli

Ph.D. in Psychology| Harvard-trained| Psychotherapist| Stress Management Professor|Parenting & Relationships Expert|Meditator|Positive thinker|Solution-oriented