Miserable People by James T. Berry, Ph.D.
Have you spent time around a miserable person lately? It’s not too much fun for me. I suppose that if I
were a miserable person myself, I might enjoy the company of another miserable person. I am not
talking about the normal misery, suffering, or disillusionment that all of us feel and face periodically in
life. I am talking about people who seem bent on being chronically miserable no matter the
circumstances. I remember being amazed as I worked in a warehouse with co-workers who searched
for the black linings in their silver clouds. There was no pleasing them because they seemed addicted to
doom, complaints, and negativity.
I will attempt to identify the three foundations of misery; identify several ways to cope with miserable
persons in one’s life; and offer a few suggestions in case you happen to be a miserable person yourself.
The first foundation of being miserable is to expect and demand that others make you happy; and when
they fail, make sure they know about it. Why take responsibility for one’s own life, when you can blame
others for almost any problem or roadblock you may be experiencing. Living or working with a miserable
person is a life draining experience. No matter how much you give, it is never enough. The more you do
for the miserable person, the less it seems to make a difference. Appreciation, if it exists, is very short
lived. The miserable person is a bottomless pit sucking your time, money, and energy until you have
nothing to give. You will probably find yourself dreading time with him or her. Miserable people are
entitled. They tend to believe that they deserve being made happy. When people talk of deserving things,
watch out. You may be in the presence of a miserable person.
The second misery foundation is to compare oneself to others. You can always find someone who has
a little more, weighs a little less, drives a better car, makes more money, etc. Miserable people have filter
that only sees those doing better than themselves. They fail to see to see how blessed they are
compared to others with less. They focus on the heels of those higher on the ladder. We have been
taught not to envy others' possessions, spouse, or life. Without realizing it, miserable people envy almost
continuously. Because of these negative comparisons, miserable people are famous for having a
general negative attitude with a never ending stream of complaints about the weather, traffic, political
situation, family life, children, spouse, boss, co-workers, lack of money, etc.
The third foundation of being a miserable person is holding grudges. People who forgive are free to
move on with life and are not encumbered with burning anger, rage, or revenge. Obviously, miserable
people can become even more miserable if they refuse to forgive those who have wronged them. In
addition, holding on to being wronged keeps one in the victim position. Not all victims are miserable
people, but all miserable people are victims and are determined to stay that way. Non-miserable people
who were hurt feel their anger, grieve, forgive, and move on with life refusing to sink into the pit of misery
that would trap their souls. Whereas love does not keep a record of wrongs, misery keeps a record and
backs it up in case it is temporarily lost.
So let’s change gears and ask what we should do if we find ourselves in the presence of a chronically
miserable person. My first suggestion is to RUN. If you are able, you might seriously consider not
spending more time with your miserable person than is necessary. You are probably not going to
change such a person. Remember that they will gladly take from you, but you can never give enough to
make them happy. At some level, the misery defines the person’s identity. In other words, they would not
know how to live and behave without being miserable. So it is a major assignment to try to change such
If you can’t run due to marriage or a work relationship, try to separate your emotions from theirs.
Separating emotions means not accepting blame or getting depressed when blamed. It means not
feeling miserable even when your spouse or boss is. It means telling yourself that you are ok for having
a positive attitude even when those around you are negative. It means interpreting their grudges and
negativity as their problems and not yours. If you don’t, you’ll likely become miserable too. Learn to laugh
and not take them too seriously. You do have to be a little careful about laughing in a miserable person’s
presence. Nothing can unleash the wrath of the miserable like the perception that you are laughing at
them. You might want to work on chuckling quietly inside.
Being married to a miserable person has to be one of the most difficult challenges in life. Imagine
having a spouse who expects you to make them happy but is never satisfied, is envious of others and
expects you to catch up and overcome the neighbors, keeps a record of wrongs and reminds you of it
frequently, and finds the glass half empty and lets you know its your fault. If you are married to a non-
miserable person, take time to thank him or her often. It could be a much worse.
Next, refuse to take responsibility for the miserable one’s happiness. This does not mean to neglect or
to be rude, instead it means not breaking one’s neck or health to rescue them or to meet their demands.
Many times, you will have to remind the person that you care, but caring does not mean you have the
power to make them happy. Insist on having your own boundaries. Try saying no to your miserable
person. If you resist giving in to their demands, the miserable person will try to make your life miserable
so that you will comply. If you resist long enough, the miserable person will lower their expectations of
you resulting in more freedom for you.
Finally, take good care of yourself physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Many times we are
not aware of the stress we are under because we are used to it. We become aware of the stress when
the intensity stops. Therefore, take time out for exercise, sleep, emotional connection with healthy
people, and spiritual connection. Find peace with God and with as many others in your environment as
possible. Fill your reserves so that you’ll have the energy to deal with your miserable person.
Having identified the foundational characteristics of misery and methods of coping, what if you are the
miserable person? Take a minute now to consider whether these foundational characteristics apply to
you. Do they? If you tend to blame others, hold grudges, envy others, and be critical and complaining,
then the first step towards change is to recognize that this is your malady and admit it. Then you will need
to humble yourself and start asking people in your life for their forgiveness. Isn’t it interesting that the one
who keeps the record of others’ wrongs is the one who is wronging others. You’ll need to destroy your
record of wrongs and forgive those in your life. You will probably not be able to do this entirely on your
own because being miserable is a very difficult condition from which to return. You will probably need
help spiritually. If you haven’t driven everyone from you, you might also solicit the help of others. They will
be amazed at your transformation. Finally, to help cure your complaints with life, you might try taking a
journey to see real suffering. When we have faced true suffering, it is harder to complain about trivial
matters. Remember, we are not owed anything. Our life, health, and most good things have been given
to us as a gift. Let’s see what we can do with them rather than wasting our lives complaining.