18 Ways to Avoid Sabotaging Your Happiness: A New Guide
Welcome to the ultimate happiness guide!
I’m going to teach you how to be happy by focusing on everyday habits that may be hurting you more than you realize. I tend to be concrete in my approach to helping people overcome obstacles preventing happiness from shining through. In fact, there’s usually an easy solution to every habit that harms your happiness. It’s just a matter of taking the time to look inward and think about your everyday behavior. Most habits are on autopilot, but they can be switched to manual if you’re motivated to make small but consistent changes to the way you conduct your day.
A Bit About Why We Sabotage Our Happiness
Happiness is something you have to learn how to accept. Otherwise, you will self-sabotage. You default sense of self dictates whether or not you believe you deserve happiness. At your psychological epicenter you maintain core beliefs about your worth, and for many of us these beliefs are distorted so badly that we reject anything good that happens because they’re not in sync with how we feel about ourselves.
Modern technological advances don’t help matters either. The lightning-fast availability of our phones further warps our relationship with happiness. Think about it — your phone allows you to feel like you can escape psychological pain on a moment’s notice and control your world by directing all of your focus to a tiny little, satisfying screen. You jump around your apps looking for anything that sufficiently satisfies your need for stimulation or escape. This habit, repeated 100 times a day, makes life outside of your phone less satisfying.
A Fix for 18 Happiness-Stealing Habits
Below are 18 problems and fixes. Tweaking the ones you relate to can skyrocket your happiness potential.
1. You’re afraid to make a big change that’s weighing on your conscience.
There’s so many directions I can go here. It all depends on what you fear would happen if you actually pursued what you REALLY want. What are you fearing will happen if you make the change you crave? Do you have an accurate view of your ability to cope with the psychological pain that this change will bring? Yes, you can survive for many years like this, but do you really want to? As far as your relationship is concerned, there’s always room for improvement if you want to be with him or her long term.
Your next move toward happiness: Start by working on overcoming resentment toward your partner, listening with (and modeling) a higher quality of attention and promoting open communication about the state of the union. If your job totally sucks, can you self-educate via online courses to build additional skills that will appeal to potential, new employers? Set a timeline for yourself with a commitment to making a switch if your job doesn’t improve. Are you even in the right career that matches your strengths and personality. Consider a few sessions with a career counselor and pick the brain of a professor, headhunter, or a person with knowledge of a field that speaks to you.
2. You think about money way too often. (In the pandemic this is less applicable)
Who doesn’t want more money? We all do, but some people are completely preoccupied with the pursuit of material wealth. An obsession with money detracts steals your life force from most areas of life that require your investment…your ability to value your relationships, the simple joys in life and so much more. But the real problem with constantly wanting more money is how it impacts your fantasy world and your interpretation of your everyday reality.
Your daydreams about what you’ll do with more money create an idealized state of existence that can never actually be experienced. In other words, frequent fantasies about money create a huge discrepancy between what you expect life will be like with more money and the ACTUAL experience of wealth should you gain greater wealth. Even worse, your current reality is steadily downgraded every time you dream of some other financial reality. You’re essentially feeding yourself the idea that life sucks now.
Your next move toward happiness: So what’s the cure, Doc? It’s not a cliche that the best happiness boosters cost nothing. Force yourself to cut back on fantasies about wealth. Think of good times with friends. Dream of your hobbies. Focus more on having a healthy mind and body. One more important point: Your view of money is usually a product of your upbringing. Consider therapy to examine your relationship with money and any unhealthy family influences. The Bottom line: The less you fantasize about money, the more it will buy you happiness.
3. You’re too obsessed with changing yourself, which is making you stay the same.
Ok, now this might seem to contradict what I said about the importance of committing to personal growth, but I mean something different here. Happiness becomes severely limited when you’re preoccupied with changing something about yourself. The most common type of change addiction has to do with weight loss. People who diet constantly are highly prone to limiting happiness because they have trouble celebrating the reality of their existence. Change addiction actually keeps you the same. To make a change you usually have to come from a place of love or fear. If change is generated by self-loathing or low self-esteem, then you will inevitably undo whatever efforts you make to change. Your mind and body need a break from change, and self-acceptance is that place of peace and strength.
Your next move toward happiness: A desire to change requires self-love. You can love your body AND want to lose weight. If you’re trying to cut back on alcohol consumption, you can treat yourself nicely in other ways during the process. If you’re trying to stop smoking, you can work on creating other self-loving habits that promote health and wellness. Work on your self-talk. What do you say in your head that’s mean and degrading? For every three moments of wanting something else, force yourself to think about the things you currently love about yourself with regard to the quality you want to change. Don’t wait for some horrible event to be the motivating force behind change. You’ll regret it.
4. Too many things make you feel guilty.
Guilt is a dangerous emotion. It’s the equivalent of two opposing forces acting upon you at the same time, with the net effect being that you suffer in a powerless and painful state of non-action. One side of you says, “I should really do this.” I have news for you. Most thoughts that start with the phrase “I should” do much more harm than good. Should-thoughts are paralyzing and they RARELY lead to action. (See Albert Ellis, an amazing psychologist who perfected the theory around the shoulds.) If the shouldsrepresent one force that destroy your ability to act to resolve a problem, the other side of the equation is the shame and disgust that you feel about not doing what you think needs to get done. You ruminate about the potential consquences of what you’ve done or failed to deal with and it freezes you. The end result is obsessing about what you should do while feeling terrible about yourself, which hurts you on so many levels because ultimately, you’re stuck feeling the psychological weight of something unfinished and messy. Why? Here’s the answer….
Your next move toward happiness: Feeling guilty implies that you owe a debt to yourself or someone else before you can authorize yourself to be happy. Ask yourself (or a few well-respected people) if you truly owe a debt. Examples of a debt unpaid are usually either about (1) avoidance, such as ignoring the texts of someone you need to apologize to or avoiding checking your bank account for any unwanted recurring subscriptions or (2) breaking a commitment, such as neglecting your need for “me time” when you have children who depend on you. Maybe you’ve already payed your debt and never fully acknowledged it to yourself. If you think you’re still in debt, pay it! But if you can conclude that no owe nuttin’ to no one, then you’re having what’s considered “false guilt,” which necessitates that you tell yourself 30 times that you have no reason to feel guilt and act accordingly. New mothers are at high risk for this problem.
5. You’ve forgotten how to sit with your own thoughts.
If you can’t be with yourself — uncomfortable thoughts and all — why would someone want to be around you? Do you jump from one vice to another? One app to another? One news site to another? Do you have the patience to sit for five minutes away from your phone? Can you avoid TV for a night?
Your next move toward happiness: Commit to a longer process of developing your spiritual side, which promotes patience and self-acceptance. Read or listen to books by Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chodron. Essentially, you’re probably having difficulty sitting with your thoughts for a long enough period of time. The goal is to recognize that just because you think you need something right now doesn’t mean you have to have it. Interference that prevents you from constantly satisfying your needs can be helpful over the long run. Spend time with someone who can inspire you to figure out which slower-to-develop, longer-lasting happiness generators you can invest in.
6. You can’t shake the nasty habit of procrastination.
If you can relate to this, I’m going to venture a guess and say that you fear failure…and possibly even success (getting what you actually want). Add bad habits to a fear of failure and you have the recipe for avoidance. Think of procrastination as a crafty way to make sure that life verifies your negative qualities.
Your next move toward happiness: First some practical advice. Have you ever heard of functional procrastination? It means doing something not directly related to what needs to get done, but an action that will make you feel like you’re taking care of some other task in the spirit of gaining a sense of personal control. For example, if you need to send an important work email but you just can’t bring yourself to do it, try cleaning the kitchen counter, starting your laundry or cleaning off the top layer of mess on your desk. This allows you to feel more productive and reduces the shame and self-doubt associated with avoidance.
If that doesn’t help, do the task you’re avoiding in your head while engaging in functional procrastination. As far as the email example is concerned, you would construct the email in your head while you’re making basketballs out of useless mail cluttering your desk. Trust me. You’ll feel better about yourself and it will make the dreaded email feel less dreadful.
On a psychological and internal level, strive to have the humility to accept that you need outside help to create better habits and dispel your irrational beliefs about failure. Therapy can be helpful. The risk is that you’ll actually achieve the change you’ve always wanted. Ultimately, you must face what you’re constantly trying to avoid. Keep a log of new events that you want to avoid. Write down all of your beliefs about why you want to avoid. Dispute each belief with or without a mental health professional. Time how long it takes you to face what you’re running from and try to repeat your successes in future scenarios.
7. You believe you should only do what you love.
Ahh. I love the Millennial-esque “DO WHAT YOU LOVE” mentality. It’s a sexy idea, but if you organize too much of your belief system around this purist notion, you’re in big trouble. Why? Because life is not that easy. You will frequently have to do things you DON’T want to do. That’s life! It all boils down to expectations. If you set your expectations too high in the wrong places, it’s a huge setup for disappointment.
Your next move toward happiness: Manage your expectations for how much you’re supposed to love working. I’m not saying you should self-handicap to avoid letdowns. Of course, it’s healthy to aim for a career trajectory in which you’ll eventuallycall the shots and have other people do what you can’t stand. Life becomes so much easier if you train yourself to find value in facing adversity and you push yourself to go one extra step into the land of mental discomfort just to train your mind and body to be stronger.
Learn to love a good challenge even if the task isn’t your favorite. And know that success brings new expectations and obligations that will inevitably take you further from the work tasks you’ve enjoyed the most.
8. You don’t allow yourself to celebrate the little things that make you happier.
What do you consider a reason to celebrate? Are your expectations too high? Your long term health and happiness depends on your ability to shift out of a serious mentality and laugh at life…and celebrate.
Your next move toward happiness: Begin by searching for the smallest increments of happiness — any sign. Create a dance, sing your favorite song, shadow box, karate kick the air…do anything physical or dramatic, even if no one else sees, that celebrates mini-successes. Even more importantly, create a note in your phone that lists every single accomplishment or victory, small or large. Keep adding to it and rereading it. Let yourself re-experience your successes and pat yourself on the back no matter what it is. I don’t care if it’s about not picking your cuticles on the subway or only eating half of a muffin you don’t want to be eating. Just celebrate ANYTHING! Please note that I’m not promoting finding any reason to drink alcohol. I’m referring to healthy forms of celebration.
9. You’re a “yes, but” happiness minimizer.
Some people can acknowledge it when their mood improves but they’re hellbent on protecting themselves from fully embracing it. If you often say, “Yes, but” when you have reason to be happy, the feeling is probably not sticking around long enough to register in your mind and body. Deep down you believe there are risks to being happy. The “Debbie Downer” in you is addicted to shooting down and flattening happiness.
Your next move toward happiness: The fix here is simple. Challenge yourself not to put into language the “but” part of the sentence. Don’t let that thought enter the atmosphere. Sometimes avoiding giving bad thoughts life helps you to avoid investing in them. Follow the celebratory advice from #5.
10. You’re constantly shopping online.
I love buying stuff on Amazon as much as you do, but if we don’t have a system of checks and balances, then it rarely feels like we have what we need to be happy.
Your next move toward happiness: Pay attention to how often you think about buying things you don’t have right now. Regulate the amount of time you shop online. I’m positive that if you’re shopping online on a daily basis, it’s covering up some wildly neglected or avoided aspect of your life. Are you delaying sending your resume to potential employers? Is your relationship in dire need of more honest communication that would lead to a more powerful connection? The key is to tell yourself 10 times a day, “I’m rich because I have everything I need.” Live it. Breathe it. Believe it. Life will feel more “full” if what you have is celebrated more often.
11. Your phone has hijacked your happiness.
As I mentioned above, your phone may be making you miserable on multiple levels. Often times, its impact is indirect. Phones teach you to value immediate gratification over waiting for something good. They promote “bonding” with your friends via text rather than in person, which deprives you of true human bonding that serves as a protective factor against depression. A phone’s worst crime is that it makes you forget how to simply exist in your own head with your own thoughts, which is a major requirement for happiness. Do you need your phone to be part of every segment of the day?
Your next move toward happiness: If you’re in a relationship, it’s important to assess whether or not you’re choosing to be on your phone at night when your relationship is in desperate need of quality time minus screens. What is the quality of attention you and your partner pay to each other? Do you try to listen while you’re looking at your phone? Commit to time with the people you love and put your phone away. Here’s the challenge:Turn off your phone or keep your it in another room for 30-minute segments of time, even once a day. When you transition from one place to another, such as walking to the train after work, see if you can avoid your phone until you’ sit down. Good luck.
12. You undervalue the importance of personal growth and goals.
I’ll be blunt. If you don’t believe in the importance of doing things to better yourself, then you’ll never be happy. You’re lying to yourself if you disagree with me.
Your next move toward happiness: Focus on who you are for people. What do people get when they spend time with you? What is your gift to the world? Ask someone close to you if you’re not sure. Commit to offering the world something and strive to make corrections when you’re not providing the world this gift. Aside from who you want to BE, what do you want to accomplish in life that isn’t about money, power or titles? Do you nurture your spiritual self or do you avoid anything labeled “spiritual?” Ask a friend to set goals together and hold each other accountable. Create short and long-term goals. Make sure some goals involve hobbies and fun interests.
13. You think you can predict the future and it’s always a grim forecast.
When anxiety meets negativity it compels you to predict that bad things will happen. Negative forecasting makes you grieve painful outcomes before they occur, which leaves almost no room for positivity and hope. This is a devastating form of self-sabotage. It makes people risk averse and less mindful in the present moment. Psychologically speaking, forecasting negative events is way to protect yourself from potentially negative emotional states in case something bad happens. In truth, you’re no more prepared to deal with disappointment just because you guessed something bad might happen. Ruminating about future pain or disappointment is meant to give you a sense of control or mastery…but it doesn’t!
Your next move toward happiness: There are many ways to overcome negative forecasting. The most easily applicable one is to vow to keep all negativity to yourself. Even if you think something bad will happen, don’t put it in language. You’re messing up your life just to be able to say, “I told you so.” Just don’t say it. Well, maybe to your therapist. Another thing to work on is telling yourself that you’ll be able to handle anything that happens. This is hardiness, an implicit knowing that things will still work out fine even if something bad happens.
14. You haven’t yet learned how to overcome resentment.
Do you hold onto resentment from your past? Do you ruminate about things that happened to you long ago? If so, then you’re happiness potential is drastically limited. Resenting someone hurts you exponentially more than the target of your negative thoughts and feelings. It actually eats away at your cells and can cause an early death for you. There are countless reasons to let go.
Your next move toward happiness: First, understand that all of the world is a mirror. What you can’t accept about someone else is what you can’t accept about yourself. This is especially true for family resentment since family members generally share a lot of the same traits and behaviors. Some are learned, some are biologically influenced. If you take a sober look in the mirror, you’ll probably find that you exhibit some of the same behaviors as the person you resent. When you reach adulthood, you have a choice to change your ways. Nothing holds you back from choosing to do things differently, but resentment locks you in place, making it very, very difficult to change. Take responsibility for your part in things. How are you perpetuating the issues you have with someone? What can you own? You MUST own it, accept it. Stop blaming someone else for your problems or you’ll never grow and you’ll never reach your happiness potential.
Second, it’s a fact that you lose when you resent. Whatever you think you gain by holding on tightly to resentment is really your loss. The psychological and physical protection you think you get from refusing to forgive is usually an illusion. You don’t have to get close with someone just because you forgive them. It can be a remote act. If you’re saying to yourself something like, “My father/mother/brother/uncle/____ hurt me. They don’t deserve my forgiveness.” Well, maybe they don’t deserve to get the benefits of your awesomeness, but that’s like punching yourself in the head because you can’t stand someone. Talk with a religious figure or someone close to you who is better at forgiveness than you are. Let yourself be inspired. It will lengthen your life.
15. You take before you give in conversation.
Entitlement and habit makes people take before they give. Do you think the world owes you something? Did your parents raise you to believe you don’t have to put in the hard work to get what you want? Are you a poor listener who cuts people off before they finish what they’re saying? Do you hold resentment toward your caretakers? Do the concepts of gratitude and thankfulness sound like spiritual bullshit or something you do on only on holidays? If your answer is yes to any of these questions, then you can unlock a huge amount of happiness by learning to give before you take. I don’t just mean volunteering or donating. I mean giving in the micro-moments of life.
Your next move toward happiness: First, when you’re communicating in person or via messaging, make it about the other person before you make it about you. Wait for someone else to speak. Then respond to what they say before making it about you. Stay focused on them. This is giving. This will make you happier. For example, your friend texts you….”I can’t stand my boss. How are you?” Don’t answer that question until you’ve thoroughly addressed their feelings about their boss. Give before taking.
Second, commit to improving your listening skills. Listen for what someone really wants from the conversation. You can even ask them, “What do you need from me right now? I want to be as helpful as possible.” If you’re waiting for a chance to speak, then you’re making it about you. Give and then take.
16. You’d rather get a laugh from gossipping than be inspired by sharing great ideas.
Do you find yourself saying to friends, “Did you hear that….?” If you love to be the first one to spread new information about someone in your community, it has to stop here. Otherwise, you have to accept a life of shallowness and unhappiness. A little gossip is fun and can temporarily help you manage boredom and a lack of deep and meaningful relationships, but a habit of gossiping reveals a character flaw in need of fixing.
Gossip is a sign of insecurity and a lack of sophistication. Unhappy people gossip, but you’d only know that if you look beyond false appearances. People who love to gossip are the most invested in keeping up the appearance of being happy. Just check their Facebook or Instagram feed. They’re the ones who look like they’re living a dream life, but whose social media presence lacks depth and meaning. A love of gossip reflects neglect of important areas of your life that could potentially be a source of greater happiness. For example, are you gossiping about the clothing someone wore or a neighbor’s recent divorce? If so, it’s time to commit to focusing on other topics.
Your next move toward happiness: Challenge yourself to only say nice things about people. Nothing negative. Period. But for enhanced happiness, come up with theories and ideas about the world that don’t involve specific people. Find like-minded people who would be interested in thinking big. Gossip is for small-minded people stuck in a smaller world devoid of humility and intellectual stimulation…both happiness stimulators. If you love to gossip, you probably need to look deep within and refocus on what really matters in life. You should finally address whichever facet of your life you’re so actively neglecting, which forces you to focus on your own affairs rather than that of others. Notice that I’m not referring to consuming gossip, a less damaging habit.
17. You never fully grieved the loss of someone important to you.
Did you lose someone important to you in the past few years? If so, have you sufficiently grieved their departure? Has your mood been suppressed or your behavior changed since the loss?
Everyone grieves differently. The way you grieve is influenced by many factors, including culture, religious and family norms. Some people refuse to accept the loss of a loved one, which can delay working through the grief for years. Other people grieve “half way.”
Your next move toward happiness: While it may feel like an impossible task, try to search inside yourself for what you need to move on. I would recommend short-term work with a grief counselor if you feel stuck in perpetual grief or avoidance mode. Sometimes it’s hard to see how the loss of a loved one influences us. Some people don’t feel like they deserve happiness after someone dies. Other people struggle to find hope for the future even after life is rebuilt. Are you honoring this person’s wishes or what he or she stood for? Commit to some act of honor. It will help you to move on and maybe even feel more hopeful.
18. Your word means very little.
It’s time to worship and practice integrity. Do your words match your deeds? Do you practice what you preach? Do you often cancel plans with friends? Can people rely on you? Trust you? Or do they say, “Yeah right” when you vow to do something?
Your next move toward happiness: Be the one who people can depend on. Don’t bail on plans when you already said you’d go. Don’t promise more than you can deliver. Be realistic and predictable in a positive way. Integrity feels wonderful. It makes you happy even if you don’t realize it. Being a person of your word is one of the healthiest habits to strive toward. Why does integrity make you happy? Integrity makes you feel productive and in control of your life. It makes life clean and satisfying, and it draws people toward you because they know they can rely on you, which ultimately expands your support network when you’re in a state of need. Integrity fuels the boomerang of intention and action. Once you’ve acted on your word, you’re more likely to keep it up.
If you break your word, clean it up. Apologize. Take responsibility. Make a new commitment and ACT. Don’t dwell on it. Replaying your integrity failures is one of the most unhealthy, unproductive happiness killers.
Integrity is also about keeping your actions and words in line with your values and morals. Don’t just preach about how others have it wrong. Do something healthy and productive about it. In order to have integrity in this way, you must decide what you believe in. What matters to you? Do you take REAL action or are you just the social media morality police?
Worship and practice integrity. You’ll notice a significant difference in your baseline levels of happiness. In fact, this last habit might be the biggest secret to happiness…that is, being your word.It makes life feel organized and you have a solid guideline for how to act when you’re unsure or when the future feels uncertain.
I hope you found this helpful. May you connect with all of the happiness in the world and find your own.
Which of the 18 habits do you relate to the most?