THE BLOG
08/12/2013 11:06 am ET Updated Oct 12, 2013

Three Sure Signs That a Person Is Not Happy

Everyone remembers that one time when mom or dad accidentally said, "We just want you to be happy." They were lying. You knew it. They knew it. If it was true, then why didn't they mortgage the house to cover your foodie trek across Italy rather than suggesting you go to law school? Okay, maybe I'm projecting here.

The bottom line is, we do a lot of things in life that aren't about being happy. Then, we hit a point where we stop and notice that we have everything we thought we wanted (or nothing we thought we wanted), and we simply are not happy.

That's okay. Look around the world. Being unhappy is sort of everyone's baseline. Happiness is not the guaranteed outcome of any particular activity, even a foodie trek across Italy. If we want to be happy, we have to actively pursue happiness, which is a good thing to do, since it's one of our inalienable rights and all.

A good starting place in any pursuit of happiness is to limit your exposure to people who are not happy. Surrounding yourself with unhappy people will not get you any closer to being happy, so weed them out. To do that, learn to spot the subtle, but definitive signs of unhappiness.

1. Unhappy People Are Mean to the Waitress

My grandmother always said that you should never go out with anyone who is nice to you but mean to the waitress. She also said to use the restroom whenever you get the chance because you might not get another. Damn, that woman was a genius.

A person who is mean to the waitress, the cashier, the gardener, the school crossing guard or anyone in a position with zero authority, is not happy, and you need to consider how much unhappiness like that you want in your life. Happy people do not feel the need to belittle anyone. Happy people uplift those around them.

It's okay if, now and then, someone gets a little testy because they're having a bad day, or the person helping them is straining everyone's patience. But if this is more of a regular occurrence than the rare exception, you probably want to back away and let them work out their own issues. That kind of unhappiness often has spillover effects. Not only will it make you more likely to behave the same way, but eventually, it will probably get turned on you.

2. Unhappy People Try to Negate the Happiness of Others

Do you have a friend who you dread sharing good news with because you know he or she will find a negative spin to put on it? Is someone in your life guaranteed to be the one to disparage whatever it is you're excited about -- your new car, your job change, your latest hair color? If you don't share DNA or a last name with that person, then why are you still friends?

There will always be people on the planet who will want to negate your happiness. You cannot change them, but you can change how much you expose yourself to them and how you let their reactions affect you. Here's a trick, the more negative they get, the more you fill your heart with happiness that you're not like that. See the mirror image of everything they're saying, so when they come out with, "You really think that color looks good on you?" it gets translated into "That color looks really good on you."

You don't have to live in a bubble of bliss, and of course, sometimes the negative vibes can wear down your defenses, but try to remind yourself how unhappy that person is, and let your brain go to a place that stops you from meeting them at their level. You'll be far better equipped to preserve your own happiness.

3. Unhappy People Can't Take a Compliment

This is going to be a point of great contention, I'm sure, but think about the happiest people you know. How do they respond when you say something nice to them? Chances are, it involves the words, "Thank you."

This is not to discount humility, false or otherwise. We were all trained to say, "This old thing?" when someone mentions how pretty that dress looks, but you're savvy enough to spot when someone is still genuinely flattered and happily appreciates your kind words. On the other hand, the person who is incapable of doing this is very unhappy.

I have a neighbor whose yard work has been going on all summer, but is finally close to done, and becoming quite beautiful. While walking by the other day, I said to her, "It's starting to look really good."

I would have expected any range of replies, from, "Thanks. We love it" to, "Yeah, but it's still got a long way to go," or even, "I just wish it hadn't taken so long." Instead, she snapped at me, "It's a disaster, okay? You think this is what we wanted?"

The question just hung in the air between us, as if I was supposed to give some magical insight as to what she may or may not have wanted. When it hit me how unhappy she must be, I just said, "I'm sorry it's not turning out like you planned. I still think it looks great." Then I went home and hugged my dog.

Unhappy people can't help themselves. They show the world their unhappiness, whether they intend to or not. And by now, you've probably figured out the real message in this post.

Look at the three points above. Do you resemble those remarks? If so, you may need to work a little harder on your happiness.

Here's a tip -- start from the outside in. Don't wait until you're "happy" to stop being mean to the waitress. Stop being mean to the waitress now, and let the happiness follow.

Is someone in your life truly excited about something, and you find yourself on the verge of being disparaging? Picture me punching you in the nose when that negative comment comes out of your mouth. Make it your goal to have other people walk away from all of their encounters with you uplifted, not brought down.

Finally, when someone says something nice to you, accept it with warmth and grace. I'll give you the chance to practice now. "You are so smart to have read this far and to really get what this article is all about. Well done."

Now, think to yourself, "Thanks, Valerie. I am pretty smart, aren't I?"

See? Don't you feel happier already?

To read more, you can visit Valerie Alexander's website, Speak Happiness, and follow Speak Happiness on Facebook and Twitter. For more detailed instruction in achieving lasting, permanent happiness, you can get "Happiness as a Second Language" on Amazon, and for added amusement, please check out the Happiest Book Trailer Ever.

For more by Valerie Alexander, click here.

For more on happiness, click here.