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One Sign That Someone Is Not Really Happy

Personal Perspective: Watch what they do, not what they say.

Key points

  • You can really get a sense of whether someone is truly happy by how they treat people whom they do not have to treat well.
  • Rude, entitled, or any type of nasty behavior can suggest that something's boiling under the cover.
  • Knowing what's truly behind people's behaviors can alleviate any angst they may cause and may lead to compassion for them.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels.
Source: Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels.

Lots of people claim that they are happy. But simply listening to what people tell you can be a bit like listening to what's said in an advertisement, on LinkedIn, or on a dating profile. It can be difficult to separate what's real from what's not.

Take, for example, someone whom I knew, whom we'll call Whyso Mean. On the surface, Whyso appeared to be happy. Whyso would repeatedly say how great his life was. It wasn't uncommon to see Whyso sporting a big grin. Why was Whyso so seemingly happy? He told people how he had risen up the ranks in his workplace, raked in a high income, and accumulated his share of honors. Indeed, Whyso often expressed thankfulness for his situation and regularly praised those above and around him.

A different picture emerged when you saw how he interacted with people whom he didn't think "mattered"—people whom he thought couldn't immediately help his career or social status. Whyso could be dismissive, abrasive, and, you guessed it, downright mean to such people, even though most of them hadn't done anything to offend or hurt Whyso. That provided a glimpse into what Whyso was really like when he let his guard down.

When you are really happy, do you feel the urge to kick some flowers, push over a random kid's snowperson, or yell at some squirrels? When your heart overfloweth with happiness, wouldn't your first inclination be to share with others rather than spread misery? Remember the name of that 1952 musical romantic comedy film was "Singing in the Rain" and not "Yelling at People in the Rain."

Source: Photo by Kat Smith from Pexels.
A smile can just be a façade.
Source: Photo by Kat Smith from Pexels.

You can really get a sense of whether someone is truly happy by how they treat people whom they do not have to treat well. When people interact with others whom they think are equal to or lower than them, they may let their facade slip and reveal their true feelings or nature. That's because maintaining a facade of happiness when that's not how you really feel can be as energy-draining as maintaining shields on that Star Trek spaceship, the U.S.S Enterprise. So at some point, the guard may come down. That's why one common piece of dating advice is to watch how the other person acts toward wait staff at a restaurant. Rude and entitled behavior can suggest that there's something boiling under the cover and not in a passionate sexual way.

The advice applies to all kinds of acts of meanness, especially when someone goes off on a racist, sexist, or any other -ist rant. When that occurs, my first question tends to be, "Why is that person so unhappy?" Think about it. That person has decided to condemn an entire group of people, most of whom he or she had never even met.

What to do when you encounter such signs of unhappiness? Well, how someone treats others can be the first sign that life has taken a turn for the worse for that person. If it's someone close to you, you can point out to that person what you are observing and ask in a compassionate way whether everything is OK. That could be the gateway to helping that person or helping that person help himself or herself.

Even when you are not in a position or situation to help that person, knowing that he or she may be acting out due to internal unhappiness can change your perspective. It can help you realize that the person's bad behavior is more about that person than you or anyone else. You know the saying, "Misery loves company"? Well, too often misery creates company, as the behaviors of unhappy people may end up making everyone around them unhappy. Knowing what's truly behind their behaviors can alleviate any resulting angst that you may have and may even lead you to have compassion for them.

The next time someone tells you that he or she is happy, don't necessarily take it at face value. Instead, see how that person treats others that he or she doesn't need to treat well. That can provide a real clue to whether that person's needs are really being met.

More from Bruce Y. Lee M.D., M.B.A.
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