We recently talked about happiness in this blog: what it is, how we can increase it. While we know a lot about what makes people happy, what about what makes people unhappy? It turns out that a lot of the things that make us miserable are the result of bad habits we’ve let ourselves fall into. The good news? By identifying the habits that are dragging you down, you can begin to change them. Here are seven unhappiness habits and a few ideas on how to break them.
- Waiting for the future: Telling yourself, “I’ll be happy when …” is one of the most common unhappiness traps. When you create prerequisites for happiness – thinking you’ll be happy when you hit a sales goal, buy a home, get out of debt or start a new relationship – you deny yourself the ability to be happy in the present moment. By choosing to wait for happiness to arrive, it will always remain slightly out of your grasp. Instead, try to focus on being happy right now, in the present moment, because there’s no guarantee of the future.
- Not forgiving others: Sometimes people believe they’ve forgiven someone who has wronged them, when in reality they’re still dwelling on the incident and continuing to let resentment eat away at their emotional well-being. By accepting that you’ve been wronged, you can let go of your resentment about it, and move on with a lighter heart. Forgiving someone doesn’t minimize the wrongness of their actions, but it allows you to no longer be hurt by them. It’s about being kind to yourself, not doing a favor for someone else.
- Not forgiving yourself: An even kinder gesture is allowing yourself to move on from your own mistakes. Regret, embarrassment, shame, or guilt from a mistake can cause years of unhappiness. And the subsequent negative thoughts and pessimistic outlook can create a dynamic in which you view the world in a bitter way. In order to forgive yourself, you first have to admit that you blew it. You have to take ownership and acknowledge the mistake, even if it feels counterintuitive. Remember that mistakes, failures, and even flat-out stupid acts are part of being human. It’s how we learn and grow. Appreciate your missteps for what they are: stepping stones on your path.
- Comparing yourself to others: Another destructive daily habit is to constantly compare yourself and your life to other people and their lives. It’s the “keeping up with the Joneses” pitfall. You compare vacations, houses, jobs, salaries, relationships, popularity, and on and on. And at the end of the day, your self-esteem is in the tank and you’re feeling miserable. So instead of comparing yourself to others, try comparing yourself to yourself. Think about the obstacles you’ve overcome and the goals you’ve reached and you’ll feel more satisfied with yourself and the people in your world.
- Avoiding company: When you’re feeling down, it’s tempting to isolate yourself from social interactions. This is a big mistake, because even when you don’t enjoy it, socializing is great for your mood. Our ability to connect with others and have meaningful relationships is essential to our happiness. Of course we have days when we just want to pull the covers over our heads and stay in bed, but the moment this becomes your go-to solution, it becomes an unhappiness trigger. When unhappiness is making you feel antisocial, force yourself to get out and mingle: you’ll feel happier right away.
- Seeing yourself as a victim: Unhappy people tend to operate from the default position that life is both hard and out of their control. In other words, “Life is out to get me, and there’s nothing I can do about it.” The problem with that outlook is that it fosters a feeling of helplessness, and people who feel helpless aren’t likely to take action to make things better. While everyone is certainly entitled to feel down every once in a while, it’s important to recognize when you’re letting this attitude affect your outlook on life. Remember: you’re not the only person bad things happen to and you do have control over your life – as long as you’re willing to stop blaming others and take action.
- Complaining: Ah, good old complaining! Moaning and groaning about everything, from the insignificant to the admittedly annoying, is a self-reinforcing behavior. By constantly talking – and therefore thinking – about how awful things are, you reaffirm your negative beliefs. Although talking about what bothers you might help you feel better, it drives other people away. What to do? Accept the fact that life is just plain messy. Nothing is or can be “perfect”. Try to see situations for what they are – a little bit negative, but mostly positive – and keep moving forward. And when you inevitably experience set-backs, remember that everyone else experiences them too.