#5 - What makes some of us unhappy?

Dear Lee Woo Sing students,

With the passing of the add-drop period and the different public holidays, the semester is in full swing. You are probably occupied with coursework, college and university activities, social engagements, part-time jobs, etc. What would be a good message to share with very busy students at this time?

In some of the counseling-related courses that I teach, I introduce the idea of irrational beliefs to my students. These are beliefs that we all hold to different extents and underlie some of our unhappiness. For example, “I must be loved and approved of by everyone”; “I must be competent, adequate, and achieving in every way”; and “When I do something badly, I am a bad person and a failure”. These beliefs make us feel terrible inside when disappointments inadvertently arise (e.g., having an argument with a loved one, not doing so well on a test). Rather than trying to heal from the disappointment, these beliefs make us feel worse because they set unreasonable demands on us. If I do not like everyone who comes into my life, what makes me expect that everyone likes me? Why is it not okay to have some who don’t?

That being said, it is impossible to fully eliminate irrational beliefs. Having the desire to be liked actually helps us to be an effective team player, and setting standards motivates us to work hard towards goals. But we do need to recognize instances when we allow one disappointment to define who we are. Does making a mistake really make us a total failure? It may feel painful in the moment, and some mistakes may in fact be irreversible, but would we feel the same two months from now? 2 years? 20 years? Would this event have the same impact on us years from now?

One way to cope with irrational beliefs is to soften them. For example, “It would be nice if everyone loves and approves of me, but some may not”; “I will try my best to be competent, but there will be some areas that I am better in than other areas”, and “I did badly in this area this time; I still did okay in other areas and perhaps I can try to do things differently next time”.

These are just some ideas to help you think about the issues that you may be facing with now. Don’t forget that you also have the support of your DoS/ADoS, staff, and friends who want you to succeed and enjoy university life!

Wishing you a fruitful month of October.


Harold Chui

Associate Dean of Students, Lee Woo Sing College

Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Psychology

The Chinese University of Hong Kong