We often blame external factors for our lack of happiness, including our jobs, friends, family, love life (of lack of), living situation, etc. In reality, however, we all have the capacity to feel happiness on any given day, and most of the time the biggest obstacle to happiness is us getting in our own way.
1. Involving yourself in drama
Drama is the antithesis of happiness, yet if we’re caught unawares it can be easy to get caught up in it. Some people thrive on drama; being a victim or a rescuer gives them a sense of purpose. If you want to be happy, however, you need to become aware of any victim/rescuer tendencies you might have yourself, and be wary of relationships with other people who fall into these roles too.
2. Pursuing unrealistic expectations
We’re taught from a very young age that we’re special and can do anything with our lives. The truth is that, while most of us have wonderful qualities, gifts, and skills, we’re all still human. If you want to be happy, focus on accepting where you are right now rather than pursuing unrealistic expectations, and you might find that what you’ve been looking for was right here all along.
3. Settling for less than what you really want
Settling for less than you really want might feel like a good compromise in the moment, but it will breed resentment in the long-term. If you want to be happy, practice communicating what you want and need to others.
4. Always saying yes
Whenever we say “yes” to something, we’re saying “no” to something else. Make sure you’re saying yes only to the things that align with your priorities and values.
5. Always saying no
As with saying yes, the art of saying no in a way that serves us is about finding balance. Feel free to say no when it feels right, but make sure you’re not closing yourself off to new experiences and opportunities that might enhance your life in the future.
6. Living in the past
When we spend most of our time living in the past, we end up feeling out of control of our lives, stuck in a victim mentality, and missing out on opportunities in the present. If you find yourself drifting into the past, practice shifting your focus to your breathing and reorient yourself in the present.
7. Comparing yourself to others
As humans, we thrive in communities and want to feel a sense of belonging, so a level of comparison is natural. If you find yourself beating yourself up for not matching up to other people’s achievements, however, it’s time to rethink what role comparison is playing in your life. Instead of focusing on what you envy, focus on what you admire and use that to inspire yourself in the future.
8. Criticising yourself
As a coach, I repeatedly hear clients saying “But I need to be hard on myself, otherwise how will I get anything done?” In reality, self-criticising doesn’t help, because what we focus on grows. When we criticise ourselves, we focus on what’s wrong, we find more and more evidence of our flaws and defects, and we get stuck in a self-defeating cycle. When we’re compassionate and kind to ourselves, however, we’re more likely to expand and grow.
9. Focusing on material possessions
We equate material possessions with wealth and success, but it’s experiences that lead to happiness. Material possessions provide a fleeting high, then act as more of a distraction than anything else. Try downsizing just one room and notice how liberating it feels.
10. Putting other people first all the time
We’re raised to believe that putting other people first is the right thing to do. In reality, we need to put on our own oxygen mask before we can help other people. If we keep putting other people first without attending to our own needs, we’ll end up burned out and unhappy.
11. Focusing on what you “should” do
The word “should” is always a warning sign that you’re trying to squeeze yourself into a box that doesn’t fit you. Instead, ask yourself “Do I reallywant to do this?” and listen for your internal answer.
12. Attaching false meaning to situations and conversations
It’s a natural human tendency to fill in the gaps in situations in order to make sense of them. The downside of this, however, is that we often attach meaning to conversations and interactions where there is none. Instead of jumping to conclusions, try keeping an open, objective mind.
13. Waiting for inspiration/motivation/courage
Many of us have big dreams of writing a novel, running a marathon, taking up painting, and so on. Yet, we don’t do these things because we’re waiting for inspiration, motivation, and/or courage. The truth is that these feelings only come if we take action first. Instead of waiting to feel a certain way, just do the thing you really want to do, and you’ll find that you feel inspired, motivated, and encouraged in no time.
14. Living in the future
Just as living in the past hampers our happiness, so does living in an imaginary future. Practice refocusing on the present and noticing all there is to enjoy in the here and now.
15. Falling for the “When I have X, I’ll be happy” myth
We’ve all had thoughts like “When I lose that last 10 pounds, then I’ll be happy”, or “When I get that raise, then I’ll be happy”, or “When I live in the countryside, then I’ll be happy”, only to find that we lose the weight, get the raise, or move to the countryside and our goalposts have shifted to a new “When I have X, then I’ll be happy” equation. Rather than getting stuck in a hypothetical future, take time each day to make a list of things you feel happy about right here, right now.
16. Depending on other people to make you happy
We are responsible for our own happiness. Putting that burden on other people is unfair and ruins relationships. If you want to be happy, you need to take ownership of your feelings and start figuring out what you can do to deepen your satisfaction with life.
17. Focusing on what you don’t have, rather than what you do
As I mentioned earlier, what we focus on grows. If we’re constantly focusing on what we don’t have, we’re more likely to overlook what we do and feel more despondent and dissatisfied as a result. If we focus on what we do have, however, we’re more likely to overlook the things we don’t have, and feel more content and happy.
18. Focusing on what you’re against, rather than what you’re for
Using a similar principle as no. 17, if we spend our time focusing on what we’re against, we’re going to end up looking at the world through darkened glasses. If we focus on what we’re for, however, we’re more likely to feel a sense of optimism and possibility.
19. Trying to be someone you’re not
Although people-pleasing is born out of wanting to be accepted and fit in, it’s one of the most common barriers to happiness. When we change ourselves to gain validation from other people, we will never feel happy and fulfilled. Even if we get that validation, we know deep down that it’s not usthe person is validating, it’s the person we’re pretending to be. Instead of focusing on how you think other people might want you to be, focus on showing up as you really are.
20. Believing that happiness is a destination
Happiness is a process rather than a state of being. It’s something we can foster each and every day, rather than being a destination we arrive at. What this means is that we don’t need to wait for everything to fall into place to feel happy; if we make time to use these suggestions, make subtle shifts in the way we view our lives, and focus on what’s going well rather than what’s not, we’ll start to notice a difference from day one. What have you stopped doing in order to be happy? Leave a comment and let us know.
By Hannah Braime
Hannah Braime is the founder of Becoming Who You Are, where you can find tools and resources that will calm your inner critic and nourish your inner cheerleader. She is a self-relationship coach and author of two books on journaling and self-care.