28 Ways We Sabotage Our Happiness (And How to Stop)

Happy People

“The simplest things in life are the most extraordinary.” ~Paul Coelho

Life can be frustrating. Things don’t always go according to plan.

People let you down, your loved ones seem insufficiently appreciative, the future seems uncertain, demands pile up, and stress invades your life.

You start to beat yourself up over mistakes. You might even start to question if you are worthy of love. Life loses its shine.

You’re not alone. Hundreds of millions of people feel this way. But pause for a little while to consider this story.

A personable young man approached me at a gathering and introduced himself. I had known his father professionally. Some weeks later, to my surprise, I was invited to participate in a benefit concert for this same young man.

He had been in a sports accident only weeks after we met. In an instant, he was paralyzed from the neck down. He was flown to a leading center for such severe injuries.

I was doubly horrified, as a parent, because our own children were not much younger than he was. Such an accident might crush anyone’s spirit, I thought.

I recalled my own childhood. Sometimes my parents would speak words of appreciation, but more often they would criticize me. For years, I remained eager to win their approval and feel worthy.

After years of driving myself hard to win accolades, I eventually adopted a more self-assured way of living. This brought me more fulfilment, joy, and peace of mind. But this youngster’s wings were cruelly clipped just as he was on the verge of adulthood.

I then lost track of him for a few years. One day I opened a glossy magazine and found him smiling out at me, sitting in a wheelchair and looking radiant in his tuxedo. He’s now happily married and a champion of better opportunities for people with disabilities.

A culture that worships status and wealth can tend to disrespect or patronize people with disabilities. But if abilities, achievements, and wealth are what make us worthy of respect and love, then our own worth remains precarious. That’s why this young man, with his invincible spirit, is such an inspiration.

His attitudes gave him wings to transcend his predicament, even though he was permanently paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. My past attitudes had been like a ball and chain to me, weighing me down inwardly despite my outward success. It made me reflect on the importance of our inner attitude.

Here are twenty-eight unhelpful beliefs and behaviors that hinder happiness. Don’t let them be a ball and chain in your life.

1. Stop thinking that you have to be just like someone else, or to match their apparent success.

Instead, recognize that you are unique. Form your own personalized criteria of success.

2. Stop thinking that wealth, looks, intelligence, talent, and status equate to fulfillment.

Instead, make room for criteria such as peace of mind, joy, family happiness, love, and self-actualization.

3. Stop thinking that you need to be perfect in order to be lovable.

Instead, accept your faults and mistakes but believe they cannot rob you of your intrinsic dignity. Think of a mother pouring all her love into her little baby. That love is not dependent on the baby being perfect. It is a profound, unshakable love based on the baby simply existing.

Each of us is like that baby, a child of the Universe, fashioned by love and inherently worthy of love. Affirm that to yourself regularly and you will start to rejoice in your humanity, warts and all.

4. Stop judging yourself harshly.

Instead, recognize that all human beings stumble. Become a more forgiving and sympathetic friend to yourself; learn from your mistakes but move on.

5. Stop being hungry for approval.

Instead, recognize your own power, as a human being, to appreciate, encourage, and build up others.

Once you accept that you are inherently and unshakably lovable, your hunger for approval will be tamed. This confidence will allow you to look beyond yourself. You will become a dispenser of approval more than a seeker of it.

6. Stop thinking that your happiness depends on how others feel about you.

Instead, cultivate your own stable inner source of peace and joy. Take up some absorbing creative activity that fits your talents, pray or meditate, find something that reliably engages you and recharges you.

7. Stop thinking that achievements are a measure of your worth.

Don’t chase too many “rabbits” at one time (the many little things that bring more worry than fulfillment). As the proverb says, “Anyone who chases too many rabbits won’t catch any.”

Instead, focus on the few “elephants” that will contribute most to your personalized criteria of success (the few goals that fit in best with what you value).

8. Stop rehashing past mistakes or fearing future failures.

Instead, be more fully present in each moment.

Don’t burden yourself with trying to work it all out from moment to moment. Set apart planning time regularly, where you can solve problems and translate your cherished values into simple steps. If, for example, peace of mind is important to you, then a simple step might be to practice prayer or meditation for a few minutes each day.

Throw yourself into your simple next steps, without rumination over the past or worry over the future. That’s how you can build a fulfilling, enjoyable life.

9. Stop obsessing over outcomes.

Instead, do whatever needs to be done, with all your heart. You’ll live more calmly, courageously, and vigorously, with outcomes that surprise you.

Immerse yourself in the process and trust that you’ll be okay whatever happens.

10. Stop thinking that every small risk will lead to disaster.

Instead, reach courageously for more fulfillment. Don’t imprison yourself or curb your potential.

11. Stop thinking that failure in an endeavor means that you’re a failure as a person.

Instead, congratulate yourself for stretching beyond your comfort zone. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose; that’s okay.

12. Stop ruminating about what can’t be changed.

Whenever discouraged, try to remember people who suffer sudden, permanent paralysis—and still find ways to create a fulfilling life.

13. Stop pretending that you’re just a machine.

Instead, make some time regularly to be still, and experience the joy of spirituality. This will enhance your capacity to respect, befriend, and love others.

14. Stop thinking that being alone means being unhappy.

Instead, cultivate a richer inner life that can sustain you whether or not you happen to be alone.

Your leisure time is a good place to start. Devote some of it to developing the life of the mind and soul: read some classics, challenge yourself to learn something new, absorb lessons from great teachers through the ages, open your eyes to the beauty of nature, your ears to the beauty of great music. Find sources of joy and drink deeply.

15. Stop pretending that other people own your time.

Instead, live more intentionally—in your work, play, voluntary service, socialization, and relaxation. Allocate your time instead of drifting.

16. Stop thinking that you have to say “yes” to every request.

Instead, establish your own policies and be more confidently picky. Just say “I don’t do that,” or simply “No,” whenever required.

17. Stop acting as if your romantic partner is completely fused with you.

Instead, nurture your self-respect and individuality. It will help keep the electricity of romance alive.

18. Stop clinging to resentment.

It will eat you up inside. Instead, be more eager to understand and forgive.

Whenever it seems difficult to forgive, remember that our actions and omissions have deep roots. They spring partly from our genes, our upbringing, our opportunities or lack thereof, our successes and failures, our past wounds, and so much more. If we were to exchange places with the offender, who can be sure that we would behave any better?

19. Stop thinking you can lash out when angry and still get what you want.

Instead, take time out and speak once you’re calmer. You’ll get more of what you really value.

20. Stop pretending that you have no self-control.

Instead, take up regular exercise, work at a skill, or take up some other disciplined yet intrinsically rewarding activity. This will help build your self-control in all areas of life.

21. Stop thinking it’s a sign of weakness to reach out for help.

Instead, recognize that vulnerability often elicits compassion, friendship, and support.

22. Stop mistaking disagreement by others as a sign of them disliking you.

Instead, cultivate mutual respect and cultivate confidence in your own worth. This can withstand differences of opinion.

23. Stop acting as if the world will end if you miss a deadline.

Instead, decline or ignore unrealistic demands. Keep progressing toward important goals, but without sacrificing your well-being.

24. Stop thinking that you have to navigate office politics on your own.

If you’re pursuing career goals, try to identify and cultivate a powerful mentor. They can help steer you through minefields.

25. Stop pretending your current job is your only option.

Instead, keep an eye open for more fulfilling opportunities. That will help you to avoid being swamped by work.

26. Stop thinking you’re incapable of creativity.

When you create anything (an essay, a drawing, a crafted object, music, etc.), you affirm that you can rise above the chaos of life. Instead of being a piece of driftwood in the water, you become, for a while, the surfer who rides the breakers.

27. Stop pretending you have no time to enjoy healthy meals.

Make mealtimes pleasant and nourishing so that you can more easily avoid unhealthy snacks. Be good to your brain and body, and they will be good to you.

28. Stop thinking your education has ended, no matter how old you are.

Those who keep learning, informally or formally, boost their sense of purpose in life.

You don’t have to tackle all these things at once. Make a start with whatever speaks the most to you. Life will soon become less frustrating and more fulfilling.

Remember you are worthy of respect, love, and joy, whatever your shortcomings and mistakes. Choose your thoughts and actions wisely and feel the difference.

Happy people silhouette via Shutterstock

About Joel Almeida

Joel Almeida PhD mentors busy doctors and other professionals to protect the one thing that makes all of life better: their brain. His science-based Brain Care guide reveals 10 one-minute practices for better brain health at any age, with more peace and joy now and lowered risk of Alzheimer’s. Now you, too, can get the guide (free today).

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