7 signs you’re trying too hard to be happy (and it’s making you miserable)

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It’s often reported that when asked as a child what he wanted to be when he grew up, John Lennon told his teacher “to be happy”.

When the teacher replied that he didn’t understand the assignment, he retorted that they didn’t understand life.

Sorry to disappoint, but it’s very unlikely this ever happened. Yet it still makes for a great story.

Because it strikes to the heart of one universal fact:

We all want happiness, more than anything else in life.

Usually, all the external things we seek are just an attempt for us to grasp at it — whether that’s money, fame, success, etc.

But often it’s our very grasping that makes it slip through our fingers.

Here are some signs you are trying a little bit too hard to be happy, and it is doing you no favors. 

1) Self-improvement becomes a stick you use to beat yourself up with

I’m a huge fan of personal development. I think it can be a wonderful tool to try to understand ourselves better.

You can never have too much self-awareness. It’s admirable to want to learn, grow and improve.

But if we’re not careful, it can make us feel not good enough as we are.

Getting stuck in a constant self-critique is going to be detrimental to your mental health and self-esteem.

Striving to be better is wonderful, just as long as you’re not constantly getting down on yourself in the process.

You become intently focused on your perceived flaws and make yourself feel bad about them. That’s mentally exhausting and makes life more of a struggle.

Bottom line: You don’t need to be perfect to be happy.

2) You are always looking for the next thing to make you feel good

Abiding happiness is not the same as fleeting pleasure.

But we can become junkies for the hedonistic desires that life offers us with.

They feed our yearning for joy, but they are always all too short-lived.

We get comfort from indulging in overeating, having one too many drinks, or going on that shopping spree.

It gives us a warm glow that feels a lot like happiness.

The dopamine hit is pretty much indistinguishable anyway, so who cares, right?!

The problem is that it never lasts. We need more and more to feed this insatiable thirst.

On top of that, what starts as a high can quickly have us thudding back down to earth when it wears off.

When we obsess about our happiness, we can end up chasing fools’ gold. Although it looks the same from the outside, it’s not the real thing.

3) You sometimes fall into toxic positivity

This happens a lot in the spiritual world.

We think we are becoming enlightened, but really, we swap one ego mask for another.

This one makes us feel superior about ourselves because we are more positive and therefore wiser than those around us.

We spout off cliched expressions like:

“Everything happens for a reason” or “Just think positively.”

Toxic positivity makes you feel guilty for feeling bad.

So rather than improving our mental health, it actually harms us (and those around us).


Because it denies the other side of life. One that no matter how much we wished didn’t exist, it does.

And as we’ll see next, happiness has to involve both the light and shade of life.

4) You deny and repress negative emotions 

It’s true that optimism and positive thinking have been scientifically proven to be beneficial outlooks to take in life.

Not only do they help to protect us against stress and make us more resilient, they offer a boost to our wellbeing, making us generally healthier and happier.

Whilst they do provide a defense against life’s setbacks, we shouldn’t use them to try to hide from the negative feelings we cannot avoid in life.

Otherwise, our positivity just becomes denial.

We need to be able to express and release perfectly natural human emotions like anger, sadness, disappointment, and frustration.

Turning away from them and pretending we are fine and all is rosy will not make us happier.

It just puts intense pressure on us to sit on certain feelings which then start to stagnate inside of us.

5) You won’t let yourself be happy right now in this moment

The problem with seeking happiness is that in the process of searching for it, we can overlook it.

We are so busy expecting to find it somewhere else, in another time and place. We ignore the fact that the potential for it exists right now in this very moment.

Instead, we’re telling ourselves we will be happy “when”.

When we have a better job, when we find the man of our dreams, when we lose some weight, when we have earned the respect of our partners, etc.

By the time we’ve achieved certain things we thought we wanted, we’re disappointed to realize it hasn’t made us any happier after all.

So we set new goals for ourselves and start the process all over again.

When you pin your happiness on future requirements you always delay it, because tomorrow never comes. 

Happiness can only ever take place right now, so that’s where we should seek it.

6) You’re setting unrealistic expectations of what happiness looks like

No one is happy all the time.

If that is your end game, then you are setting yourself up for failure.

Because as we’ve already seen, life is a rich tapestry of experiences and emotions — the good, the bad, and the ugly.

We cannot try to sieve out all the yucky and uncomfortable parts. It just doesn’t work like that.

Plus, they can be actually quite useful if we’re honest. Both negative experiences and emotions provide valuable lessons and offer important perspectives.

The fact remains that happiness has always, and will always be a fleeting emotion.

Check a thesaurus and one of the first words that pops up to describe happiness is contentment.

When you think about it, this feels like a far more realistic aim. Because it conjures up more of a sense of acceptance and overall satisfaction with life.

It doesn’t demand that we’re doing cartwheels of excitement every damn day about how joyously giddy we feel.

7) You feel a sense of urgency about becoming happier, as though time is slipping away

This points to the fact that you are seeing happiness as a tangible goal, and not a fluid emotion. And research has proved that’s not good for us.

We pile on the pressure and it gives us this stressful sense of time urgency.

Quick, everyone panic, we need to be much happier, and we need it yesterday!

One study noted that the more we try to be happy, the more we feel like we don’t have enough time to achieve it.

And the more we feel like time is running out, the more unhappy we get.

The authors of the research explained:

“Time seems to vanish amid the pursuit of happiness, but only when seen as a goal requiring continued pursuit,”

So that’s the real kicker it’s the pursuit itself that creates this effect.

Final thoughts: Why we should stop chasing happiness

I think our pursuit of happiness is similar to our pursuit of purpose and meaning.

We strive to find it, thinking it is something waiting to be discovered “out there” somewhere. But we’re oddly overcomplicating things.

It’s not something we must find, we just apply it to our lives. And we do so by paying better attention to what is in front of us.

Maybe the point of life isn’t to achieve, it’s just to experience.

What a relief that is because it takes away all our forceful striving.

The more we focus on our experiences and immerse ourselves in them, the more we can appreciate every single moment with awareness.

When we do that, without even needing to chase it, we may just realize that happiness and purpose have found us.

Louise Jackson

My passion in life is communication in all its many forms. I enjoy nothing more than deep chats about life, love and the Universe. With a masters degree in Journalism, I’m a former BBC news reporter and newsreader. But around 8 years ago I swapped the studio for a life on the open road. Lisbon, Portugal is currently where I call home. My personal development articles have featured in Huffington Post, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, Thrive Global and more.

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