A guide to staying miserable


An article caught my eye on The Good Men Project last week: 30 Ways to Make Yourself Miserable (Along with Everyone Around You). Good title isn’t it? It’s a wordy one though, and being a fan of the bottom line I decided to make a meme and share it here, with kind permission from Lion Goodman, the original author. He even posted it on his site which is nice. Thanks Lion!


The notion of the paradoxical intervention has long appealed to me – long before I even realised that it had a name! The term was first coined by Adler nearly 100 years ago and as a “technique” it has fallen in and out of favour over the years (I’m happy to report it’s back “in”). In my own I practice find this kind of intervention most effective when used with care and humour – which was my intention when creating the meme here, and no doubt was the intention of the author Lion Goodman when he wrote his original post. There seem to be few academic papers on the subject. There is one accessible here though if you’re interested in reading further. Indeed it might make for an interesting PhD if any students are reading! (Do let me know if you run with that idea!)

The use of humour in a therapeutic setting is a contentious one in my experience, with many colleagues shying away from it, indeed some regarding humour as completely innappropriate in a therapeutic setting.

But I see great value in introducing humour when the relationship between the therapist and client is established. Or to use a Steve Covey phrase, once we have made enough deposits in the “emotional savings account” that we co-manage. We do need to be mindful of course that some of us use humour to avoid issues. Also we need to be aware that the line between warm nurturing humour and mocking (of the self or other) is often crossed.

And that is where you will find one of my boundaries: if you’re into dodging personal responsibility and/or self deprecating you’ll quickly find that I won’t collude with you!

And of course it’s not for everyone. Humour cannot be planned, contrived, or forced, then it becomes something else, a “technique”,  a barrier to congruence which prevents honest relating to the other. Humour must be treated with care.

It works well for me as a therapist and as a person to be humourous when it feels appropriate. After all, as a therapist, I am a person. And one quick look at the stats on my Facebook feed confirms for me that as humans, we are very much attracted to things that make us laugh, and particularly so to things that make us laugh, then think. In his wonderful book Thinking Fast and Slow, Kahnmann discusses, among other things, the notion that our default ‘factory’ setting is to be biassed towards the positive, the enjoyable. It’s part of our survival mechanism, and therefore normal and natural.

And so on to the paradoxical intervention part. The sentences I chose for this meme are ones that I am guessing that you as a reader will readily recognise as choices you have made, or at least thought about. We see a lot of lists in books and on websites of things to do if we want to be happy  (or as Reality Therapists would say : if we “choose” happiness), but few lists of what to do if we choose misery. So here (well there, above, in the pic attached) is a definitive list! Or as the sub title says:


Lion Goodman shares the secret techniques to suffering.

(Yes, tongue firmly planted in cheek.)

Check, really notice how you feel as you read through the list on the meme I’ve made for this post.

Is it eerily familiar?? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. Oh no, indeed I’ve practiced a few myself.

Many of us choose misery, we are simply not aware of it. We engage in thoughts and behaviours that will lead to a state of sadness, or resentment, or hurt. We often don’t take responsibility for these choices though, and instead get busy blaming others, or the government..

If someone suggests though, that we should actively choose misery, we will probaby reject the idea as preposterous!

Misery? WHY would I WANT to be miserable?

Well, sometimes we do want to be miserable, (and sometimes that’s appropriate!) and the “why?” is for another post. But for now – here is a list of the many things we do in order to make, and then keep ourselves unhappy.They are all choices.

Has it made you think? Do you want to be happier? If the answer is truly yes, then one of things you can do for yourself is ask “What am I willing to do differently in order to change how I feel?”. Because, to use one of my all time favourite mottos:

 If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve got.



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