In my opinion happiness isn’t something that you are born with. Happiness is something that happens through a series of experiences, habits and realizations over the course of your life. This isn’t a guide to try and fix people who are clinically depressed, but a series of things I have learned over my life that have shaped the way I look at life and the world. It is my experience that the more positive habits you have in your life, the more emotional happiness you will experience. Instead of telling you things you should do to increase your emotional satisfaction, I’ve created a list of bad habits you should try to correct. Not only will they make you happier, they will also make you a better person.
1. Chronic Complaining
The one thing that happy, successful people don’t do a lot of is complaining. While it is psychologically beneficial to vent when you are under stress, there is a difference between small venting sessions and being a chronic complainer. The chronic complainer tends to always have something wrong in their life, their issues are more important than everybody elses, and when you have something to vent about yourself, they aren’t very interested in listening. Everybody gets dealt a hand in life. Some get dealt better hands than others, but at the end of the day this is the hand of cards that is yours. Chronic complainers tend to complain about their job, their significant other, how little money they make or how something wasn’t fair. I have news for you, anybody anywhere has hundreds of things they could complain about at any given time. If you are a chronic complainer, quit whining and talk about the things that are positive in your life and focus on what is good. If you have a problem, sit down and work out a solution. Constant complaining does nothing but push your friends away and keep you in that dark unhappy place. You have good in your life, find it, and share it.
2. Retail Therapy
Life is about experiences, however so many people get caught up in materialistic items that they forget what truly makes us happy. Sure the latest gadget may make you feel good for the evening, but that high is temporary, and you will be back chasing that retail high shortly after. Get out and experience the world. If you can’t afford to get away, become a tourist in your own city. Skydive, bungee jump, go to the beach alone, take a hike on an unknown trail, go up to a complete stranger and invite them for coffee, hell… read a book; there are so many things you could be doing that will enrich your life that doesn’t involve buying things.
3. Worrying About the Future
No matter what you do, you only have so much impact on what the future has in store for you. Could you get laid off? Maybe. Could you catch a life threatening disease? Yup. The thing is, you have very little control over whether or not these things happen, so why spend your time worrying about it. As long as you have a reasonable game plan and are living responsibly you should be focused on what is going on in your life now. Focus on what you are doing this second, if you hate it, do something else. Right now I’m looking outside, it is sunny and my cat is rubbing up against my leg. I couldn’t be happier.
4. Waiting for the Future
Much like worrying about the future, many people focus on future events instead of what is going on right now. The chain of thought usually starts like this:
When you are in high school, you think you will be happy when you graduate. Once you’ve graduated, you think you will be happy once you land a good job. Once you have the dream job, you think you will be happy when you are married. Next you think you will be happy when you have kids. Once you have kids, you think you will be happy when they move out of the house. Next it will be when they have kids. Before you know it you will have spent your entire life waiting for events to bring you happiness just to realize life (and happiness) has passed you by.
5. Lack of Hobbies
Before I even get started, your job, house cleaning and watching TV are NOT hobbies. Hobbies are activities that you can become passionate about. Hobbies are something that you can do when you have three hours of free time on a Thursday night. Hobbies are skills that could potentially earn you money if you become good enough at them. Happy people tend to have hobbies, whether your hobby is kick boxing, playing the guitar, or even basket weaving. Hobbies give you something to do with your free time and give you some time for YOU. This is time you are investing in yourself. Group hobbies also have the added benefit of giving you additional socializing time.
6. Eating Poorly
Making bad food choices or eating too much is not only bad for your health, it can make you feel lethargic, guilty, depressed and when done for extended periods of time typically results in gained weight. Unfortunately eating poorly is a vicious cycle. Often times people eat to self medicate when they are feeling down. They feel great for a few minutes while they eat their delicious treats, but then feel guilt afterwards, followed by lack of energy and reduced productivity. Eating healthy not only makes you have more energy, it also makes you look better, which makes you feel better about yourself. Contrary to what the millions of fitness magazines out there will tell you, 90% of how you look is determined by what and how much food you put in your body, not how much time you spend running on a treadmill. Eat right, look great, and feel great.
7. Talking Poorly of Others
“Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things, and small people talk about wine.” ~Fran Lebowitz
Next time you go out, listen to what people talk about. Are you spending your time gossiping or talking about other people. Unhappy people get caught up talking about other people instead of talking about things such as ideas or current events.
Unhappy people also have a tendency to judge others. “Look what that idiot is doing!. “Can you believe what she is wearing”. If you catch yourself judging somebody you don’t know, bite your tongue. Trashing somebody else might make you feel better for a moment, but all you are doing is masking your insecurities by trying to put them beneath you. Instead, try complimenting others, at first it might be hard, but it will make you feel good and will make you a much more desirable person to be around.
8. Holding Grudges
Harbouring animosity towards somebody is like carrying around a backpack full of rocks. You don’t have a problem carrying it, but it is a load on your back, and life sure would be easier if you could just take it off. Do yourself a favour, forgive. This doesn’t mean you need to become best buds with whomever has done you wrong, but come to terms with what has happened and understand that people make mistakes. Forgiving will help free you of anxiety, stress and depression and allow you to have happier relationships. Free yourself of the hate, and move on.
9. Stop Learning
“The moment you stop learning, you stop leading.” – Rick Warren
It isn’t hard to become complacent in life. You’ve spent so much time going to school to eventually get a job that learning sometimes takes a backseat to life. Learning doesn’t need to be a chore. Just like hobbies, get out there and learn about something you are passionate about. Like Mexican food? Sweet, start reading about it and practice making five star restaurant quality Mexican food. Learning new things not only gives you things to talk about in social environments, it also helps improve your self worth, which leads to happiness.
10. Not Following Through
It is easy to sit on the couch and make a list of things you want or plan to do. Actually getting up off the couch and doing them takes a lot more energy. They say that taking the first step is always the hardest part with any plan. Quit making excuses and walk the walk, nobody is going to do it for you. Want to go back to school? Pick up the phone and register. Want to lose 10 lbs? Get in your car and drive to the gym. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Quit letting the first step hold you back.
11. Hating Your Job
Fact: Most people have to work to survive.
Fact: The average full time work week is 40 hours. With two weeks vacation most people work 1920 hours per year.
If you are going to spend 1920 hours per year working, please make an attempt to like your job. Since you will be spending 22.4% of your entire year (yes that includes sleeping hours) you better like what you are doing. Now, before you jump to conclusions that you hate your job, think to yourself, “Do I really hate my job, or have i just complained about it to others so much that I think I do?”.
So many people love their job when they first start. As time goes on, co-workers start to complain about things, and then you start to find little things that bother you, then soon enough everybody’s complaining has amalgamated into this giant ball of hate. Next thing you know you are blaming your job for your unhappiness. If this is your situation, you can either A) Start telling yourself something you love about your job daily, and make sure you relay this to your co-workers in an attempt to learn to re-love your job or B) If it is too late, and the damage is done, move on to a similar job elsewhere and do everything you can to keep things positive from the get go.
In the event you genuinely hate your job and doing it another day is going to cause you endless grief, simply take the plunge, and move on. Being unhappy for close to a quarter or your life just isn’t worth it.
12. Loneliness (How you Choose to Socialize)
One of the biggest causes of unhappiness is loneliness. I’m not referring to having somebody special in your life; having a significant other doesn’t mean you won’t be lonely. Being lonely generally stems from lack of social stimulation. The technology age is definitely perpetuating this by means of text messaging, Facebook, Twitter and other ‘Social Networks’. People are so addicted to these forms of social technology that they forget humans require real genuine human interaction. Socially insecure people tend to gravitate to online socializing because they have more control over the amount and timing of their interactions. Reducing face to face interactions tends to reduce social anxiety for less extroverted individuals. Unfortunately staying within your comfort zone, limits personal growth, and prevents the development of valuable face to face relationships.
Don’t have something to do tonight? Instead of commenting on everybody’s Facebook statuses, give somebody a call and go out, you would be surprised how much better it feels to talk to a real life physical human being.
If you are single and feel like you need a significant other to be happy, I am going to be blunt, YOU ARE WRONG. You can’t be in a healthy relationship until you are happy independently. Using somebody else as a crutch for your happiness is a one way trip to an unhealthy relationship. If you are struggling to find a companion, stop looking in bad places and stop looking online. Consider joining activity clubs for singles or participate in a group activity that encourages socialization. You will meet like-minded people who share more in common with you than Facebook friends.
If you really struggle with making friends, read Dale Carnegie’s classic book “How to Win Friends and Influence People“. This book was written in 1937 and still stands true to this day. It will supply you with the tools needed to form amazing relationships.
13. Letting Negative Thoughts Enter Your Mind
In the past I had this problem. Negative thoughts would enter my mind and I would let them stick around. They would then sit there, fester and take control of my emotions and my happiness. This got to the point I actually spoke to my doctor about it and he gave me this advice. When these thoughts enter your head, immediately think of something else. You choose what you think about, and the longer you entertain a negative thought, the more it is going to stay in focus. We are all human, and bad thoughts will enter our heads from time to time, but by being conscious of what you thinking about you can push them out of your head before they take you over.
14. Jumping to Conclusions
Jumping to conclusions is a huge source of not only unhappiness but also anxiety for people. Jumping to conclusions usually comes in one of two forms; Fortune telling and mind reading.
Fortune Telling is when a situation arises and you automatically predict that things are going to turn our poorly. Because of this fortune telling, you often take yourself out of these situations, which for the most part would end in a great experience. You lose out by having jumped to conclusions and predicting an unsatisfactory outcome.
Mind reading is when you automatically assume that others are negatively reacting to you or something you’ve done when there is no definite evidence. This can and will make you feel like a victim and can result in unfounded resentment towards these imaginary reactions.
Often times unhappy people have a tendency to blow small things out of proportion. Take a step back before you deal with an issue and try to look at it objectively. Often times if you try to take yourself and your emotions out of the equation and think it through you will realize that you are making a big deal out of nothing. If you still aren’t sure, ask somebody you trust what they would do in this situation before losing sleep over it.
The exact opposite of magnification is minimization. Minimization is when you take real problems and instead of dealing with them, tell yourself they are insignificant. Unfortunately you can only sweep your problems under the rug for so long before they explode. People tend to ignore problems like debt, infidelity, obesity amongst other things. If this sounds like you, stop ignoring your ongoing problems, become actionable and take steps to fix them. Much like grudges, you will feel much better once these problems have been resolved.
17. Self Labelling
How you talk to yourself can seriously affect your self image. When you make a mistake, tell yourself “You made a mistake, next time you will do better”. Saying things like “You are an idiot”, or “You are a piece of crap” does nothing but lower your self worth. This might sound insignificant, but you need to believe in yourself to be happy, and calling yourself names prevents you from moving on after you’ve made a mistake.
18. Not Having a Goal
One of the most exciting things in life is setting a goal and accomplishing it. Happy people have a tendency to make both short and long term goals. Short term goals give you mini accomplishments that build self confidence and keep you motivated for the big picture. These goals can be related to anything that is important to you. Fitness, finance and hobby related goals are examples of goals you can set immediately. Successful people are constantly setting and accomplishing goals.
While lack of ambition has a tendency to lead to mediocracy and limited emotional satisfaction, unhappy people often set goals too. The problem with unhappy people’s goals, is they tend to be unachievable. One study shows that people suffering from depression often set goals that they are incapable of accomplishing When these goals don’t come to fruition, negative self reflection begins. For this reason, incremental goals are extremely important to build self confidence and positive reinforcement for the goal setter. Start small, and build up steam, you are the only thing that stands in the way.
19. Worrying What Others Think
So many people spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to please others. This generally stems from the insecurity that other people are judging them. People do their hair a certain way, dress a certain way, and act a certain way in an attempt to fit in. All these things take so much energy yet in most circumstances the people you are friends with would like you regardless if you did the things you do to try and impress them. Stop doing things for other people and do things that make you happy. Go out with your hair a mess, wear a pair of torn up sweat pants in public and do it with a smile on your face. Your friends will like you regardless and if you don’t know somebody, why do you care what they think.
20. Let Strangers Affect Your Mood
The world is a scary place. There are lots of angry people and people who want to drag you down to their level. If somebody gives you the middle finger while driving, smile back at them and let them spend their energy being cranky. Don’t let somebody else’s bad day control the outcome of yours. If you have to deal with a grumpy person, kill them with kindness. Often times your unfounded happiness will make them realize how big of a jerk they are being.
21. Wanting more Money
Money, everybody wants it, nobody seems to have enough of it; Or do they? Most people think that if they had more money, their happiness would increase accordingly. Unfortunately, much like “Waiting for the future” above, the illusion that more money will solve all your problems and make you happy is nothing more than just that, an illusion. According to a Princeton University study, emotional well-being and happiness does rise with income, but only to an annual household income of $75,000.. If your household income is already over $75,000 it might be time to reevaluate your happiness, more money is probably not going to make you that much happier.