Saying “no” might sound counterintuitive for anyone looking to be happy.
Being agreeable and saying “yes” to many things is a huge part of being happy, but so is knowing what to turn down.
It actually makes sense when you think about how much we waste our precious time and energy on.
In fact, knowing what to say “no” to is incredibly empowering. It’s one of the best investments you’ll make for a fulfilling life.
Here are 9 things you’d do well to say “no” to:
1) Overcommitting yourself
Let’s start by taking a look at your calendar. Is it packed with commitments, tasks, and events to attend?
Many of us have FOMO; we feel inadequate when we miss out on stuff. The modern world has glorified busyness to the point that we all seem like hamsters on a wheel.
We equate being busy with being successful and productive. But is that really the case?
See, time and energy are limited resources. And if we keep spending them on unnecessary things, there’s one destination we can be sure of – burnout.
Overcommitting is just not sustainable. It’s stressful in the moment, and it’s just not going to make us happier in the long run.
Remember – not all tasks are created equal. Some things deserve our attention, and others, not so much.
So once again, take a look at your calendar. Do you really have to be part of that nth committee you’ve been invited to? Do you really need to be at that gender reveal party for an old coworker you no longer talk to so much?
I’m pretty sure you’ll find something you could say no to if you were really honest!
2) Trying to please everyone
Actually, overcommitting is also largely due to this need to please everyone.
I used to be a people-pleaser myself, so I know how hard it is to say no when someone asks me to do a favor for them or invites me to an event.
I’m not saying you should start being stingy and turning down every single favor. Just be more discerning, is all.
Because that’s how you get to a healthy balance where you help people to the best of your abilities while allowing yourself room to live life on your own terms.
3) The idea of perfection
Speaking of living life on your own terms, do those terms include the idea of perfection?
The perfect partner. The perfect job. The perfect life. The perfect version of you.
News flash: none of those exist.
In my 20s, I was a slave to perfectionism. I’d spend hours writing the perfect report. I’d twist myself into knots trying to be the perfect partner. And I’d be full of frustration because the man I married turned out to be all kinds of imperfect.
It all sounds ridiculous now. Sometimes I think back to those days full of self-imposed pressure and feel a tinge of regret over the time and energy I wasted.
4) Unrealistic expectations
Expecting perfection is an example of unrealistic expectations. But even though you might not expect perfection every time, you might still be struggling with certain ideas that aren’t exactly doable and practical.
I’m talking about things like:
- Complete control over situations (and even people)
- Buying a dress and expecting to look like the model wearing it
- Expecting your partner to read your mind
- Believing you can handle multiple tasks
- Getting your way every single time
- Instant success
According to researcher Robb Rutledge in the Greater Good Magazine, expecting too much of your future experiences gets in the way of happiness.
He further says, “In general, we want to have realistic expectations, because accurate expectations are useful for making good choices.”
5) Toxic people
Making good choices includes saying no to toxic people.
You know the ones I mean – the Debbie Downers, the drama queens and kings, the gossip mongers, the manipulators…
I’m a firm believer in two things:
First, energy is contagious. You will absorb the negativity around you, despite:
- Your best intentions
- Arming yourself with an imaginary shield made of positive thoughts and hopes and dreams
- Repeated efforts to cleanse yourself with a sage stick
And second, we become the average of the five people we surround ourselves with. Which means, there’s always the chance that you’ll become more like them without you noticing!
Neither of those two things will make you happier in the long run, so just be ruthless, say “no”, and walk away.
6) Your negative inner voice
While we’re on the topic of negativity, don’t forget to examine yourself, too. The damage might be coming from within!
How many times have you torn yourself down upon making a mistake? Or whispered, “You’re so stupid” or “Give it up, you can’t handle this job”?
The critical inner voice can be our own worst enemy. I’ve lost count of the times I listened to mine, not realizing that it wasn’t necessarily the truth.
If you want to be happier in the long run, that’s what you’ve got to understand – just because your inner critic says something doesn’t mean it’s true.
Of course, it’s not that simple. The reality is, the inner critic will never go away. So aside from saying no, what I’ve found helpful is to befriend it.
Psychologist Ruth Baer says in the Washington Post, when the inner critic speaks up, it’s better to “notice it, recognize it, thank it for trying to help, remind ourselves that we would never say things like that to someone we care about and see if we can be a little more kind to ourselves.”
7) Fear of failure or rejection
This is something that the inner critic largely contributes to.
Since it comes as a result of our life experiences, societal expectations, and past traumas, we often have that voice that holds us back when faced with something new.
“Why try? You’re just going to fail. And it will be so embarrassing!”
“Don’t bother asking her for a date, she’ll probably laugh you out of the room!”
So again, I invite you to say no to these fears. I know that fear is the brain’s way of protecting us against perceived threats, but the thing is, sometimes, it goes overboard and sees monsters where there aren’t.
I’m no stranger to these fears myself; after all, none of us are immune to it (except perhaps for the truly adventurous ones).
It might sound silly, but I started conquering those fears by weighing it against the heaviest threat there could be – “Will I die?”
Will I die if I don’t get this job? Will I die if my boss hates my presentation?
That puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? My silly trick may or may not work for you, but the point is to look at your fear from a different perspective.
8) Grudges and ill will
Nursing a grudge can feel good – it’s so satisfying sometimes to just hate on someone, doesn’t it? Sometimes that anger can even be energizing.
I once felt that way about an ex I had. After we broke up, I kept replaying all those times he’d hurt me, all the words he’d said that stung.
I’d hold imaginary confrontations where I’d say everything I really wanted to say and he’d be left speechless and ashamed.
Believe me, I loved stoking that fire, long after he’d moved on and had a new girlfriend.
And where did that leave me? Still stewing and stuck in the same place.
Essentially, I was giving away my energy, which kept me farther from my present and future happiness. All for someone who was no longer in my life.
Say no to the heaviness of the grudges you hold in your heart. Let them go and travel light!
9) Instant gratification
Finally, I’d like to talk about something that has become so much more relevant today, now that we’ve got everything practically at our fingertips.
Need attention? Post something on social media.
Feeling hungry? Go tap a food delivery app.
Sad? Get a pick-me-up from Amazon.
Bored? You can’t be – there’s Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime Video, and more!
I mean, I love how it’s all so easy these days myself. But – does easy mean happy?
Don’t be confused by that dopamine hit. By that instantaneous pleasure. Because it’s fleeting. It’s not designed to bring you long-term happiness.
I’m not saying instant gratification by itself is bad. It’s perfectly fine to reward yourself from time to time.
But it becomes a problem when you rely on it for happiness. That is what you say no to.
On the flip side, delaying gratification can lead to more prolonged, sustained pleasure.
You see, when we talk about happiness, we can’t deny that patience plays a big role in it.
The anticipation and process of working towards something makes our life more meaningful and ultimately, more satisfying.
A 2007 study found that patient people can cope better with upsetting situations, which renders them less prone to depression and negative emotions.
Not only that, but they’re also more mindful, grateful, and more connected to other people. A recipe for happiness!
The path to happiness need not be a twisted, complicated one. Sometimes, it’s a matter of saying “no” to certain things that don’t add value in the long run.
How do you know what adds value then? This list is a good start. But if you’re still in the dark, you can’t go wrong with a little self-reflection.
Take a moment to reflect on what genuinely lights you up and makes you feel at peace. From there, you can spot and weed out what doesn’t, and get living a more intentional life.