14 Phrases That Signal a Person's Unhappy, According to Psychologists

Unhappy woman looking into the distance

Unhappiness is an uncomfortable feeling—whether it’s for a few minutes during a hard day or a few months after a negative life event has taken place. But at times, it might feel even more uncomfortable (and could make you feel powerless) to watch a friend, partner or loved one be unhappy. You know that something isn’t quite right with them, but you haven’t seen crystal clear signals that they’re miserable either. 

That’s why it can be helpful to be on the lookout for phrases they might say that could signal their unhappiness.

Related: 50 Positive Affirmations To Boost Your Confidence (And Change Your Life)

What Exactly Is Unhappiness?

Aura De Los Santos, clinical psychologist, M.A., defines unhappiness as a constant state of sadness, worry and experiencing a feeling that something is missing in life. 

“Unhappiness is the inability to feel happiness because there seems to be no reason to be happy,” De Los Santos explains. “What people feel and what their external environment offers them seems to be insufficient for them to reach the state of happiness.”  

Hannah Yang, Psy.D.
, founder of Balanced Awakening, says that unhappiness can be characterized by viewing the world from a lens of pessimism or negativity.

“Unhappiness tends to be associated with a more chronic emotional state that can encompass feelings of sadness, hurt, hopelessness or even anger,” Dr. Yang observes. “I tend to think of unhappiness as a state someone gets ‘stuck’ in when they experience negative emotional states for a long period of time. Being ‘stuck’ in these negative emotional states tends to then skew the person’s day-to-day perceptions and worldview so that the person’s focus is on what’s going wrong in their life, what’s wrong with the world or anything else deemed to be negative.”

Related: Is Someone You Love Dealing With Anxiety? Here Are 4 Actionable Ways to Help Them

What Are Some Things That Might Make Someone Unhappy?

De Los Santos outlines some of the things that might make a person unhappy. They include:

  • Comparing their life to everyone else’s

  • Feeling that they haven’t gotten what they deserve

  • Opinions others may have of them

  • Only seeing the negative aspect of any situation

Dr. Yang agrees that there are several things that can trigger a cycle of unhappiness. She says, “In adulthood, some common triggers are chronic stress, such as continuing to go to a job that is high stress or having extreme caregiving responsibilities with not enough support or suffering a loss, such as death of a loved one or loss of identity through a job loss.”

How To Help Someone Who's Unhappy

If you feel that your partner, family member or friend is unhappy, especially if they say any of the phrases ahead, De Los Santos recommends gently, and kindly, approaching them and asking for more information about the phrase they said.

Listening to others is a way for them to express themselves so they feel less alone and that someone is showing them importance,” she adds.

To potentially pull someone out of a funk, Dr. Yang suggests taking the person out to do a fun activity together, such as taking a walk in nature or going dancing. “One of the best treatments for depression, which is similar to unhappiness but follows an entirely different diagnostic system of its own, is behavioral activation,” Dr. Yang says. “Behavioral activation is simply about having more positive experiences in day-to-day life. They are having so few positive and joyful experiences in life that they are stuck in the unhappiness cycle.”

As touched upon, there are key differences between general unhappiness and diagnosable depression. If you sense that a friend or a loved one is depressed, talk to them, encourage them to pursue therapy and direct them to their doctor or a psychiatrist for any medical treatments and/or a formal diagnosis.

Related: 11 Phrases To Use Instead of Automatically Giving Advice, According to Psychologists

14 Phrases That Signal a Person's Unhappy

1. “I feel like I’ll never be able to achieve my dreams.”

De Los Santos says that this phrase is indicative of unhappiness because “something that usually fills others with joy is feeling that they will be able to achieve their dreams and celebrating when they have achieved it.”

2. “I’ll never feel better.”

Dr. Yang says that an unhappy person tends to be stuck in the past, more so than being able to see present and future possibilities. “They tend to project their past experiences onto their future and expect that how they have felt is how they will continue to feel,” she explains.

3. “Why does this always happen to me?”

Dr. Yang says that this phrase indicates that the person is focused on things that aren’t going well for them instead of things that are, “which is an indication of the worldview of someone who is unhappy.”

Related: 10 Ways To Become Someone Who Avoids Negativity, According to Psychologists

4. “I have the feeling that things are going to go wrong.”

This phrase shows that a person is unhappy because, according to De Los Santos, they’re always thinking that things are going to go wrong—this doesn’t give them space to imagine a positive outcome, which ultimately can impact a person’s state of happiness.

5. “Nothing interests me.”

“Unhappy people tend to feel a lack of engagement in activities that could bring them the experience of more positive emotions,” Dr. Yang says. “A chronic lack of engagement or interest in things indicates a state of unhappiness.”

Related: 10 Simple Tips To Have Your Biggest Glow-Up in 2024, According to Life Coaches

6. “I feel that others don’t accept me for who I am.”

De Los Santos says that when we feel that we are not accepted by others, we experience sadness and worry, explaining, “Something that generates a lot of happiness is to feel that others accept us for who we are."

7. “Everyone around me is doing better than me.”

“Thinking that others are always better than you is a symptom of unhappiness because people see themselves as inferior to others, that everyone is doing better and that they are stagnant, which generates dissatisfaction,” De Los Santos explains.

8. “I don’t contribute anything to others’ lives.”

De Los Santos says that this is a phrase that reflects unhappiness because people feel that they don’t have some kind of value, and this can make them feel bad about themselves.

9. “I could never have that.”

“An unhappy person tends to have a low opinion of themselves mixed with a lack of drive to go after things in life, like passion or goals,” Dr. Yang shares. “That can fuel a belief that perhaps they are unworthy of having something nice or positive in life.”

10. “What I’m going through isn’t fair.”

“When a person feels that what they’re going through isn’t fair and that they don’t deserve it, they are experiencing unhappiness,” De Los Santos explains. “It’s normal to feel that from time to time, but it’s also a sign that we are not happy.”

11. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do that.”

Typically, an unhappy person usually lacks the belief that they deserve something, plus the drive to get there, Dr. Yang says.

“If they see someone doing something cool, that perhaps took some work to get there, they are more likely to think that they don’t deserve it plus the drive to do it isn’t present,” she explains.

12. “I’m not comfortable with who I am.”

“When someone expresses not feeling comfortable with their self-concept or self-image, it’s a sign that they feel unhappy,” De Los Santos shares. “Unhappy people may not feel comfortable with who they are, which can affect other areas of their life.”

13. “Nothing ever seems to work out for me.”

Dr. Yang says that this is another phrase that indicates that the person has their focus on all the things they feel aren’t going well versus the things that are.

14. “I don’t care.”

If a person says this phrase multiple times in response to questions or circumstances, it can indicate a sense of indifference.

“Someone who is unhappy is missing that ‘zest’ for life that fuels having preferences and expressing those preferences,” Dr. Yang says.

Next up, learn what to say, and what not to say, to a friend who is depressed.