What does it take to be genuinely happy? Is there even such a thing in this chaotic world?
There are thousands of “how to be happy” books and articles out there telling us what we need to do to reach that elusive state of true happiness.
But just as what to do is important, so is what not to do. Because the truth is, we all have little habits that may not seem impactful but actually pull us down without us realizing it.
In this article, I’ll discuss 10 habits to say goodbye to if you want to be genuinely happy in life. Hopefully, it will help get your happiness meter up to the ideal state.
1) Focusing only on the negative
Did you know that our brains are hardwired to focus on the negative? It goes back to our prehistoric days when the primitive man had to be able to detect threats to survive.
That remains true to this day, but unfortunately, it also makes us more prone to looking for and expecting the worst in people and situations.
And if we don’t know how to balance it with a more positive outlook, it has the power of making us miserable.
Genuine happiness requires a mindset where you can acknowledge the negatives without letting them overshadow the positives.
2) Overthinking every tiny thing
One of my closest friends has this habit of analyzing every single word and gesture someone expresses. And she is quite the expert in concocting what-if scenarios in her head.
In fact, we’ve taken to calling her “Miss What-If” because whenever we give her advice, she immediately thinks of rebutting it with a “But what if…?”
I totally understand, though, because I used to be a “what-if-er” myself. Until I realized that rarely do those what-if scenarios I’ve imagined come true anyway. And all it did was make me feel drained and exhausted.
The truth is, going over a situation a thousand times over won’t change the outcome. Things will unfold the way they will, and your energy will be best spent on more productive tasks.
What helped me break out of the overthinking cycle is to be mindful of my thoughts. Meditative practices helped – and still do – to ground me and train me to be aware of when I was spiraling into worrying and fears.
Because that’s what’s at the core of overthinking – fear. Which brings me to my next point…
3) Avoiding change out of fear
Fear can truly hold us back from being genuinely happy. You know why? Because it keeps us stuck.
Not only that, but it makes us more unwilling to adapt to whatever curveball life throws at us.
The thing is, fear can be sneaky. It often creeps in when we become too set in our ways. When our daily routine becomes, well, too routine, we get comfortable. Too comfortable.
And the more we fall into the same patterns day in and out, the scarier it feels to step out of that comfort zone.
That’s why even simple tweaks to your routine can help. Baby steps help to nudge you to break down those invisible walls you’ve built around yourself.
So, instead of seeing change as this ginormous mountain to overcome, get ready with small shifts like:
- Taking a different route to work or when running errands
- Waking up 15 minutes earlier instead of rushing to work
- Striking up a conversation with a stranger
- Experiment with new hobbies/recipes/workout ideas
Not only do these little steps help you embrace change better, but they also make your life more exciting!
4) Seeking external validation
Another habit that’s sure to lead you down the unhappiness trap is wanting approval from other people.
It’s absolutely normal; of course it feels great when someone compliments us or acknowledges our efforts.
But make sure it stops there. Because if you use other people’s opinions to measure your self-worth, you’re in for a lifetime of angst and self-doubt.
More importantly, you might lose sight of who you are. Constantly trying to please others has the tendency to do that.
And when it comes to happiness, that strong sense of confidence and self-worth is a crucial element. Because, as you’ve probably heard before, happiness is an inside job.
When your confidence comes from within, your happiness won’t so easily be shaken by outside forces.
5) Comparing yourself to others
Speaking of angst and self-doubt, a surefire way to get all of that is to compare your life with other people.
This habit isn’t a new concept; humans have been doing it for as long as we’ve existed on earth. However, it has been given a power-up with the advent of social media.
Now, instead of comparing ourselves to just our neighbors or friends, we’re seeing the curated, picture-perfect lives of strangers across the globe. And wondering why ours looks vastly different.
Simply put, we’re holding ourselves up to unrealistic standards, and that’s a real recipe for unhappiness and discontentment.
6) Holding onto grudges
I don’t think you need me to tell you that nursing a grudge is a real barrier to genuine happiness. But I’m including this here because we all need a gentle reminder every now and then.
As ironic as it sounds, it does feel good sometimes to hold onto anger, doesn’t it? There’s a twisted sense of validation in nurturing that bitterness, like it somehow justifies our hurt feelings or validates our stance.
No judgment here, I’m pretty sure we’ve all fallen into this trap before; we’re not unfeeling robots, after all.
But – while it may indeed feel good for a while, it’s bound to feel heavier the longer it goes. And while your life might be going well overall, as long as you carry a grudge, you’re not entirely free.
Practice letting go. It’s a gift you give to yourself. The other person might not deserve it, but you certainly do.
7) Keeping toxic relationships
While we’re on the topic of anger and negativity, let’s talk about relationships. Do you have anyone who drags you down? Makes you feel less than?
The people we surround ourselves with have an impact on our happiness. In fact, research shows that negative behavior like insults and offensive statements trigger brain activity five times more than compliments.
As a result, we tend to think about insults longer than we do compliments and neutral comments. (Remember what I said about how we tend to focus on the negative? That applies here, too.)
And what’s even more interesting is that the result is the same, whether the insult is directed at us or at other people.
Whew. Negativity holds a lot of power over us, doesn’t it? That’s why it’s essential to say goodbye to our toxic relationships. It’s the only way to get the upper hand on such negative forces.
Don’t be surprised when you suddenly feel light and energized after doing so. You’ll definitely realize just how big a toll that toxic relationship was taking on you.
8) Not setting clear boundaries
Sometimes, we allow toxic people into our lives because we’ve neglected to set clear boundaries with them.
Most people find it hard to do this because it requires a certain degree of confrontation. And not everyone will receive it well.
Some people would push back and constantly test those boundaries. Others would accept those boundaries but grumble and say, “You’ve changed”, or “Oh, that’s so selfish of you!”
But boundaries aren’t there to push people away; they’re there to protect you. To preserve your mental peace and well-being.
I like to think of it as a filter – if someone can’t respect my boundaries, that’s someone who doesn’t truly respect me. And therefore, shouldn’t be in my life.
Finding your voice takes some practice but believe me, it’s worth it. It will feel uncomfortable at first, but long-term-wise, you’ll feel genuinely happy.
9) Procrastinating important tasks
What else would feel initially uncomfortable but brings long-term benefits? Saying goodbye to procrastination.
I’m pretty sure every one of us has done this at one point or another. Back in my 20s, I used to be a master procrastinator myself.
It’s a rather strange habit when you think about it. Because we’re merely prolonging the agony – we aren’t getting anything done, yet the thought of the task hangs over our head, right?
We trick ourselves into believing that we’re giving ourselves a break or waiting for the “perfect time.” But in reality, every moment we delay, we’re also accumulating stress, guilt, and anxiety.
These days, I’m all about tackling tasks quickly instead of letting them pile up on my to-do list (and my mental load).
And you know what? It really is more satisfying – I get a sense of accomplishment every time I tick off those tasks. My mind is then free to engage in whatever gives me joy. No guilt, no dread, no anxiety.
Do that every single day, and you’ll feel an overall sense of happiness.
10) Ignoring self-care
Finally, we get to self-care. Are you the type who rushes through your day, gets things done, and in the process, rarely has time for yourself?
You might think you’re getting more done, and maybe you are indeed. But don’t be mistaken; that comes at a cost – your happiness.
Look, taking time for yourself isn’t selfish. It’s necessary. No matter how many self-help or inspirational messages you read, it won’t do a lot of good if you keep running on empty.
Again, I’ll stress this – you’re a living, breathing human being, not a robot on autopilot. Actually, even robots need recharging, so that should tell you how much you need it yourself!
So set aside time for whatever makes your heart skip with joy or feel at peace. Your happiness depends on it.