Let the Energy of Unhappiness Power Your Purpose


“The obstacles of your past can become the gateways that lead to new beginnings.” ~Ralph Blum

The summer of 2007 was simply terrible. I wish I could find something positive to say about it but there really was nothing that I can think of. I was underemployed, the economy was tanking, and I was in a shame spiral of depression and self-hatred.

Following a fight with my husband, I found myself driving aimlessly, snot and tears running down my face. I’m not comfortable saying I was on a mission to stop living, but the thought had definitely crossed my mind.

It was just a bank advertisement that caught my eye as I drove, but seeing the billboard took my breath away. “YOU MATTER.” The image of those huge letters is burned into my mind.

I wish I could say that billboard changed my life in a big way. It didn’t. But what it did do was change my life in a subtle way. The four years that followed that day in 2007 were similarly difficult. I was depressed, borderline alcoholic, and more deeply unhappy than I thought possible.

But somewhere in the back of my mind was the image of those letters: “YOU MATTER.”

By the fall of 2011 I hit my low point and I sought conventional counseling. I can attest that it was one of the best decisions I ever made. But there was a secondary emotional and spiritual journey that made an equally important impact on the quality of my life.

That journey started with the image of the billboard coming back to me in moments of quiet. At first, I couldn’t help asking “Do I really matter?” whenever I thought of those words.

Slowly, but surely, the answer became “Yes, I do matter!” Eventually it was not only “I MATTER!” but also “Maybe I have a purpose!”

Professional help is so incredibly beneficial. But the truth is, it lifts a veil that reveals unexpected “stuff” to deal with. There were times when this felt like a vicious cycle to me.

In other words, depression and anxiety… seek professional help… uncover some inner junk… inner junk causes unhappiness and despair… circle back to depression and anxiety.

So, what can you do about that vicious cycle? What’s the point of having a purpose when you’re caught in a whirlwind of your own issues? The best way to describe the solution I found was to snag the energy from that cycle and harness its power for better things.

The thing is, unhappiness and despair take energy. In fact any emotion takes energy, but unhappiness often feels like hard physical labor. Would you rather wear yourself out on something unproductive, or use your energy to do something productive?

In order to harness the energy of your unhappiness and despair, remember that the energy isn’t a bad thing. It just is.

If you subscribe to the theory that the whole universe consists of energy that is neither good nor bad, it’s easier to imagine a shift in more productive use of your energy.

Think of emotional energy like an electrical wire. If a live wire is broken and lying in the street it is useless at best, and quite dangerous at worst. But when it is properly connected it provides us with power to make our lives easier.

My spiritual and emotional journey led me to wonder if I could unhook the metaphorical power line feeding my unhappiness and install it somewhere else. What if I fed that energy into something productive? Something with a purpose?

Connecting your energy to a purpose can take many forms. Throughout my own emotional and spiritual healing, I focused on hobbies. I learned that knitting can be incredibly meditative. I also improved my yoga practice.

Carrying for a loved one or a pet, tackling a challenging project (cluttered closets, rejoice!), working for a social/community cause, or learning a new skill are other positive ways of diverting energy away from unhappiness.

Taking the first step toward using your energy differently can sometimes be a challenge. Finding the motivation to pull yourself away from your own “stuff” to use your energy elsewhere can require some ingenuity.

It helps to get in the habit of seeking that motivation to invest yourself in something new. In each day there is always at least one opportunity to be inspired. At least one chance to be reminded that you are not alone and that you matter.

It may be subtle. It may be fleeting. But it is important to seize that moment and use it to leverage the energy you have at your disposal. Once you start looking, it becomes easier and easier to find those moments.

Today I was feeling a bit melancholy. But I noticed the sky was an exquisite shade of blue and the sun was warm and bright. I was grateful to have witnessed that beauty.

I held that moment in my mind and used it to channel the energy of my sadness toward a more useful purpose. In this case, it was my writing goals for the day. I felt much better for accomplishing something.

Look at unhappiness and despair as opportunities. Start by revising your understanding of energy and know that it’s a free agent. Then, look for a beautiful moment in each day to serve as a reminder, and direct your energy toward doing something with purpose.

Don’t forget to plant that roadside billboard in your mind. YOU MATTER—let it become your reminder!

Photo by Crysis Rubel

About Stephanie Dyke

Stephanie is a skeptic on a spiritual journey. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland, USA and - when she’s not herding her wise-cracking teenager and bossy cat - she can be found helping other people solve life’s challenges by unsticking their stuckness.

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  • Penny

    Thank you for sharing this story! I find myself sometimes letting a bad mood mow over the flowers of potential for the rest of my day. I agree that redirecting your energy is the best solution!

  • Tushar Joneja

    A powerful thought, simply put. I’ve experienced this in my own life, wherein I escaped a period of extreme dispair through consistent distraction towards my own self – my capabilities, availabilities and opportunities. As you can see, I have redefined distraction into a positive word 🙂

    A wonderful metaphor – “Think of emotional energy like an electrical wire. If a live wire is broken and lying in the street it is useless at best, and quite dangerous at worst. But when it is properly connected it provides us with power to make our lives easier.”

    Appreciate your courage in sharing your experience.

  • Arthur Kendall

    Stephanie, you’ve hit on something I wish everyone were aware of: that everything and everyone is made up of energy, which, as you say, is neither good nor bad, it just is. After all a tree doesn’t choose to be blown over just as you’re driving towards it!

    Lifting the weight of negative thinking and low self-esteem and learning instead to harness that energy in positive ways as you have so openly described is truly liberating as I well know myself. It is hugely challenging but it needn’t be complicated – it’s really just a matter of choice. When I realised this, it was such a revelation I decided to start writing a book on my experience and the simple tool I began to develop to help me do this.

    The choice can be as simple as “Do you want to be happy?” Most people will answer yes, and if we can suspend disbelief and stop worring about the how, simply answering “yes” can change your perspective and so your life.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Arthur Kendall

    Incidentally, I would also point out that we only really appreciate happiness if we have felt sad. So while happiness is a state of mind most of us want to live in, we should also remember that our sad times are part of who we are and can make us more grateful for the reasons we have to be happy.

    This should also somewhat placate those who feel melancholy can be good, and I am increasingly inclined to agree with them. I didn’t like to read about your moment of melancholy today, but your experience of the beauty of nature (always an inspiration for me) is made all the more powerful by the contrast of how you were feeling. These sparks can make us far more productive than a “normal day at the office”.

  • growthguided

    I really like the idea of we needing to seek that motivation each day!
    Far too often we can just stand still but by having that extra boost in motivation makes all the difference!

  • Stephanie Dyke

    I agree with you! Seeking “the beautiful moment” each day has become somewhat of a habit for me…. maybe a little like brushing my teeth before bed. I genuinely feel like it’s those tiny little efforts that have the greatest cumulative affect on our lives.

  • Stephanie Dyke

    well said, Arthur! It’s hard to have a frame of reference about anything if you haven’t experienced its opposite to some degree. A little gloominess every now and then makes me appreciate good days. And walking outside whenever I can to stick my feet in the grass, watch the clouds go by or investigate what my local wildlife is up to makes all the difference in the world.

  • Stephanie Dyke

    I think your question “Do you want to be happy?” is an interesting one. I agree that most people will answer yes. But in reality, many of us have something to gain from being sad, moody or negative, even if we don’t realize it. Whether it’s attention from others, sympathy or something else, some folks will keep choosing the path of unhappiness for fear of losing what they’ve come to accept as comfortable.

    I’ve come to see that sometimes it takes guts to say “I’m going to be happy today, even if I feel crummy!” I guess we fear taking the risk that happiness won’t come easily and we may have to work for it a little bit.

  • Stephanie Dyke

    Thanks, Tushar! Distraction can be a great thing! I always think of how we try to distract babies and children when they are upset. Show them a toy or something interesting and they often forget their discomfort for a bit. There is nothing wrong with diverting your attention for the time it takes your wounds to heal.

    It’s a shame that we sometimes look down on people who invest their energy in interests and pursuits that we don’t share. I think a healthy distraction that makes us happy is a good thing indeed.

  • Stephanie Dyke

    Thanks so much Penny! It really is easy to let a bad mood take over and wreck the day. (I love how you say it! “mow[ing] over the flowers of potential” – that’s great!) Sometimes it can be challenging, but acknowledging that you’re having a bad day and then making a genuine effort to redirect the energy really can pay off.

  • thank! if can change, i will so want

  • lv2terp

    Great post! 🙂 Great perspective on energy, and using it in a better way by being distracted, doing things that cause joy or gratitude, etc…”energy being a free agent”, love it! 🙂

  • Alexey Sunly

    I think you started well with your premises, but got a little lost on the way to the finish. Unhappiness can be a great motivator, because it shows us that things can be better. But you start to matter only when you actually take charge of your life and start changing those things so that none else has to experience the very same unhappiness you have, that’s where real purpose comes from 🙂 Everything else is just an illusion or, the way lv2terp so well put it, a distraction.

  • David Goettsch

    I love this principle Stephanie! I can’t tell you how many times someone has come to me for advise and I’ve told them “everything is just energy, it’s how you channel it that determines how you feel and what you do.” It’s always amazing to see the light bulb go off when they hear it! It’s such a powerful principle when you learn to apply it, thanks for your article, it was a good reminder!


  • Arthur Kendall

    You are so right, Stephanie. I think most of us have been in that place where it’s more comfortable to feel sorry for ourselves than face up to what’s troubling us – and decide to be happy regardless of whether we succeed that day. Yes, we may well have to work for it, as you say, but the times when we do serve to remind us of the rewards.

    I’m so glad I commented here, I feel I’m finally joining a community of like-minded people with whom I can share and receive wonderful insights as I have today from you, Stephanie.

  • Stephanie Dyke

    Thanks, Dave! It’s definitely an on-going process, but I do believe we can change our lives when we make adjustments to how we use our energy and efforts.

  • Stephanie Dyke

    Hi Alexey, thanks for your feedback! Existence in our modern world is often complicated and our efforts and actions become a constant work-in-progress. It’s important for me to believe that we all matter, even when when we can’t see through the illusions, or our efforts amount to no more than stutter steps. I strongly feel that knowing we all have a purpose is what gives us the strength to make a difference in ourselves and subsequently the lives of others. But it might be a chicken or the egg kind of thing, you know? 🙂

  • Stephanie Dyke

    Thanks so much! 🙂 Viewing energy as a “free agent” makes the choice to seek a positive outlook so much easier, at least from my experience.

  • Stephanie Dyke

    I’m glad you commented, too, Arthur. Every time I curse my laptop or become annoyed with my cell phone, I have to also remind myself that glorious technology is allowing us to come together in communities like this. 🙂

  • Alexey Sunly

    I understand the sentiment 🙂 And even though I think it’s a very fragile strategy to focus on the beliefs as oppose to the actions to address the source of discomfort, acquiring such belief could be one of the necessary steps to be taken in order to discover eventual fulfillment with real purpose as oppose to temporary relief with a make-believe one. In a material world as it is right now, even though all things and beings matter, some appear to matter more to people around them than others, because these people are able overcome the distractions and focus their energy on what matters to them and the people around then the most 🙂

  • Stephanie Dyke

    I very much understand what you are saying. I agree that ultimate freedom comes from finding true purpose and not in illusions. But for some of us, we need to take baby steps. Depression and other emotional challenges can be quite overwhelming. In order to reach our ultimate goal, we may require the stop-gap of temporary relief. Just like a cast provides support for a broken leg to fully heal, finding a safe/positive diversion for the energy that fuels our unhappiness or negative obsessions can give us the support to transition to true purpose.

  • Alexey Sunly

    True, as long as the cast does not stay for longer than it should, it can be very necessary sometimes, I agree 🙂