"Revolutionary Road" and Filling the Hole of Unhappiness

Dr. LeslieBeth (LB) Wish, Ed.D.


A few days ago, I saw the movie “Revolutionary Road,” starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. The film, based on Richard Yates’ novel, is a story of a husband and wife’s suburban discontent in Connecticut in the 1950’s. Not too far into the movie, my yawn began and lasted long after the credits rolled—even though the directing and acting are superb.

See, I’m a psychotherapist and have seen many times over many decades this kind of marital joylessness that doesn’t relent, that grows deeper, wilder, more painful and frightening. The anguish of the film couple the Wheelers made me think about people’s wrongheaded attempts today to fill the hole of unhappiness with failed efforts to calm the roaring beast of dissatisfaction.

The news is filled with more foreclosures, rising unemployment, lay-offs and stock market plunges. These events are worthy of worry and unhappiness. I’m talking about the motor of melancholy that won’t shut off because it can never be satisfied.

Lately, we’ve seen evidence of this unhappiness in the form of psychological bankruptcy in the Bernard Madoff ponzi scheme, Arthur Nadel’s alleged 350 million dollar fiasco and the greed of the head honchos of several of the bailed-out banks and investment firms. I don’t think the U.S. government had in mind footing the bill for expensive dinners, business suits, private jets and over-the-top re-decoration of offices.

What’s going on? Is it really just greed? Or, in the case of real couples like the fictional Wheelers of the movie “Revolutionary Road,” just unrealistic and unrealized hopes. What drives people to want more, more, more, the best, the most?

Now there’s nothing wrong with having hopes and dreams. And it’s not that you shouldn’t have or want nice things. Trouble comes, however, when you feel compelled to shop, want, spend, long, impress and reach to a star not in our galaxy—and still end up feeling emptiness and nothingness. Oh, that motor is still running, and it seems that only the next big-time investment, the fanciest car or jet, the biggest diamond, the highest paycheck or an affair will stop the engine.

Everyone’s unhappiness is unique, but it usually consists of a personal bouquet of unrest, low self-esteem, irrational decisions and unrealistic expectations. The scent of the malcontent taints the air like smoke clouds of forest fires miles away.

The stems of that bouquet originate—yes, you know this already—in our personal histories of unhappy childhoods, bad luck, ill-health, poverty and other misfortunes. So, how do you overcome a painful past? Well, you may never totally lessen your psychological pain, but you can lessen its frequency, duration, intensity and therefore its impact on you. Here are some tips for happiness that derive from my research and the findings of other respected professionals.

  1. Make a list of all the negative messages your parents sent you. Make a list of all the things your parents’ behavior taught you about life, love, happiness, trust and the world. Now say this to yourself many times: “Their remarks and behaviors were about them—not me. I don’t have to buy into them.”
  2. Say the following: “It’s important to have hopes and dreams, but I have to add a dollop of reality. The sky is not the limit. We all have things that are out of reach. Wisdom is knowing which things to pursue or pass on.” (I longed to be an astrophysicist or neurologist—but my math abilities were not up to it.)
  3. Persevere, don’t give up—and develop Plan B, C and even Z if necessary. Get flexible in how to reach your goals and be willing to tweak your goals. And, oh yes, root for yourself. Lasso some optimism.
  4. Whenever you feel that motor of unhappiness running, identify your personal trigger that started up that motor. Did someone criticize you? Misunderstand, underestimate or reject you? Did you make mistake? Get left out? Feel controlled, unloved or unsafe? Being able to withstand self-examination is one of the hallmarks of success.
  5. Stay in learning mode. Keep your mind and heart open. There’s no shame in making mistakes. Fault lies only in not learning from your actions and then redressing them. Life is learned through trial and error.
  6. Don’t fall for the trap of believing “it’s too late.” You are not dead yet. Maybe you can’t have a do-over for everything, but don’t cross out other things that you can do. Many people, for example, graduated from college when they were over 70 years old.
  7. Measure your accomplishments with yourself—not others. No one else knows what you’ve had to overcome.
  8. Smile and laugh a lot.
  9. Develop and maintain social connections to friends and family who support you.
  10. Take reasonable chances. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. And don’t forget, doubt and anxiety accompany all important changes and decisions in life. Those feelings won’t hurt you. Yes, they’re unpleasant, but develop positive self-talk to lessen their impact—a tip that takes you right back to tip number one!

*** For Women Only: If you would like to be part of Dr. Wish’s research for her next book on women’s love relationships and get one hour of FREE counseling, go to her website and click in the Research box in the upper right and take the online research survey. Be sure to include you contact information and the word SELFGROWTH so that Dr. Wish can contact you.

Author's Bio: 

LeslieBeth Wish is a Psychologist, Clinical Social Worker and author who is nationally recognized for her contributions to women, love, relationships, family, career, workplace, and organizations.

Additional Resources covering Family can be found at:
Website Directory for Family
Articles on Family
Products for Family
Discussion Board
Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, the Official Guide To Family