Happiness can seem like a shining beacon, a lighthouse in the night that you’re struggling to reach.
But the truth is that lasting happiness is often already much closer than you think.
Instead of being far-off or requiring you to do many new things, it often requires that you stop bad habits and behaviors that are getting in the way.
Self-sabotage is the most common reason why people are chronically depressed and unhappy.
Here’s a look at the top behaviors that are keeping you from being truly happy in life.
1) The need to be right all the time
It’s nice to be right.
But focusing too much on it can lead to isolation and unhappiness.
There are situations where being right can make a huge difference and you need to insist.
For example, if you’re in an emergency situation and you have a medical background and know that a sick person needs a certain medicine and not the one somebody else is recommending.
But in more easy-going cases where being right is more about knowing who won last year’s World Series or the correct number of elements on the periodic table, it’s often best to just relax on needing to prove you’re right to somebody who’s wrong.
You’ll be happier.
2) The need to control everything
Most of life is outside our control.
We can’t control physics or the weather tomorrow. We can’t control the health or decisions of friends and family, or whether we’re liked by somebody.
By focusing on what is in our control (our own decisions, actions and priorities) we begin to shift away from worrying and obsessing over how much of life isn’t ours to command.
This isn’t giving up, it’s just making the logical decision.
This relates to the next issue…
3) Resisting and denying change
Change is the only constant in life.
You don’t have to like it, but you do have to accept it.
The starting fact of life is that we all exist within mortal time, which means we’re all going to age and eventually not exist physically.
Change happens in the seasons around us, the relationships we engage in, our careers, our appearance and our own beliefs and feelings.
It’s just part of life, in fact it’s the essence of life.
As Taoism founder Lao Tzu said:
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality.”
4) Focusing on who’s to blame
There are often people or forces to blame for things that have gone wrong in your life or which are currently holding you back.
Whatever the nature of these obstacles, there’s generally one thing that self-improvement gurus advise:
Think positive! Just ignore the obstacle and power through it!
This can actually be bad advice, and leave you grappling with a problem you didn’t face realistically.
Instead, it is important to recognize a problem and deal with it:
However, the focus shouldn’t be on who or what is to blame, but rather on how you can address and deal with the problem.
Don’t make it personal. And if it is personal, try your best to make it about your own success rather than the ways you’ve been treated unfairly or dishonestly.
5) Buying into limiting beliefs
Many of us have limiting beliefs about ourselves.
We believe strongly in a version of ourselves, life or other people which holds us back and keeps us from pursuing our goals.
These strongly limiting beliefs tend to be at the foundational, primal level.
“Nobody will ever understand me.”
“I’ll always be alone.”
“I’m a bad person.”
“Life’s a bitch.”
Anorexia survivor and author Elly Roselle puts it well:
“A belief is not an idea held by the mind; it is an idea that holds the mind.”
6) Making excuses why you can’t do something
Limiting beliefs often lead directly to excuses:
These are reasons why we can’t do something or it’s not worth doing.
They can be very convincing (both to yourself and those around you).
When you focus on what’s holding you back from doing something, you end up creating a disempowering feedback loop.
In some cases it really is impossible for you to do something or highly unlikely or inadvisable.
But focusing too much on this or using it to focus on being victimized or held back will make you distinctly unhappy and reinforce an image of yourself that hides from life.
This ties directly into the next point…
7) Believing your inner critic
Many of us have an inner critic which focuses on our flaws and shortcomings.
This inner critic doesn’t really care about what you accomplish:
It just focuses on this idea that you’re not good enough, that you’ve fallen short, that you’re ugly, flawed, or doomed.
For those who had a strong critical parent in childhood or especially traumatic experiences, the negative inner critic and inner monolog can be especially fierce.
Learning not to believe this inner critic as well as learning to prioritize your actions and real life over the stories in your mind is a key to becoming happier.
It’s important to leave this negative voice in the dust and cease to live so much in our mind and mental narratives.
As spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle says:
“The mind is a superb instrument, if used correctly. Used in the wrong way, however, it becomes very destructive.”
8) Complaining about what’s wrong
There are many situations in life that deserve to be complained about.
But a funny thing happens when you complain a lot:
- You feel worse;
- The problem doesn’t go away.
Identifying something wrong and being upset about it is fine, especially when you’re working to solve it.
But complaining for the sake of complaining is a disempowering loop that feeds into a victim mindset and ends up making you utterly miserable.
9) Minimize your criticisms and judgments
There’s plenty out there to judge, from the way people dress to the things they say and believe.
But when you focus a lot on criticizing what you don’t like, you forget to pay attention to what you do like.
This was my problem for many years, and I still struggle with it:
I get so focused on things, people, places that I dislike, that I forget all the many people, places and things I do like.
I get so caught up in labeling and categorizing my experiences and opinions that I forget to just live.
Happiness happens when you get out of your judging, labeling mind and just live a little.
10) Trying to impress people around you
The desire to belong and be liked by others is a natural part of our evolution.
We have a brain reward structure that responds to validation, approval and being wanted.
But when you center your actions and decisions around trying to impress and gain the affection of others, you devalue yourself.
You put yourself second after “other people.”
These others, who may be your colleagues, partner, friends or family, take precedence in your life, not you.
The question is: why?
You’re worth more than enough to put yourself first and make decisions and moves in life that prioritize what you want and value first and foremost.
It’s also important to keep an open mind where possible and keep open to the idea of being friends and connecting with people you wouldn’t expect.
As the late great Wayne Dyer said:
“The most extreme form of ignorance is when you reject something you know nothing about.”
This relates to the next point, too…
11) Living life to meet other people’s expectations
The expectations of others are always changing.
There may be advice or pressure that ends up being beneficial to your growth and authenticity.
But that isn’t always the case.
It’s crucial to make up your own mind and to live life on your own terms.
Doing so in order to please others will just lead to disappointment and disillusionment.
12) Living in stuck in the past or dependent on the future
The past is over and the future is a mystery.
Living in the past in a pleasant nostalgic way or a regretful, traumatized way, or living in the future in daydreams or anxiety is a bad idea.
It draws your energy away from the present moment and makes you focused on “would have / should have” and “maybe” or “I hope.”
Focusing instead on I am.
Focus on what you’re doing right now and your daily actions in service to a longer term goal.
13) Relying on desired outcomes for your well-being
This ties into the previous point in that hoping for a future outcome shouldn’t be the anchor of your life.
You can and should work towards a goal.
But don’t hinge your happiness and wellbeing on it.
Find joy in the process and learn from the journey.
You win some, you lose some: but just make sure you keep growing.