Recently, I published an article talking about five personality traits that happy people exhibit.
But what kind of habits contribute to unhappiness?
I know that I sound like a broken record at this point, but the quality of your life is determined by the quality of your habits.
Everyone feels unhappy sometimes.
However, when unhappiness and dread seem to fill most of the hours in your day, it’s usually a problem that traces right back to your daily habits.
Here’s a list of seven habits that contribute to unhappiness along with a few action-based strategies for fixing them.
#1 — Comparing Yourself To Others
In the word we live in today, it’s incredibly easy for us to look around at our peers and feel underwhelmed with our own lives.
Our lives are now online, and this comes with pros and cons. Regardless of the platform – whether it’s Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter – everyone is trying to convey themselves in the best possible light.
As a result, we tend to only see the bright spots of other’s people lives. We compare salaries, jobs, popularity, vacations, houses, and down the rabbit hole we go. We internalize our own struggles and develop the mindset that everyone has it better than us.
Wesley Snipes had some profound wisdom about this phenomenon when he said, “Don’t let the internet rush you. No one is posting their failures.”
The problem with constantly comparing ourselves to other people is two-fold. If we don’t stack up, we start to feel guilt and shame. When we start to feel guilt and shame, we become less motivated to go after things we want.
Here’s some truth for you: someone is always going to have it better than you in some aspect of life.
There’s always going to be someone with a more expensive car. There’s always going to be someone with a fancier house. And unless you’re Jeff Bezos, there’s always going to be someone richer than you.
Instead of spending useless energy concentrating on the achievements of others, focus on yourself. Think about the challenges you’ve overcome to get to where you are now, and realize that everyone is struggling with something. You’re not special.
You can’t control the strengths and weaknesses of other people, but you can improve upon the person you were yesterday.
#2 — Constant Procrastination
One of the most destructive habits that people have is the act of putting off the things that are important to them.
When you procrastinate, what you’re really doing is prioritizing your desires for short-term pleasure over long-term gain. The consequences of this are disastrous, because procrastination often becomes a habit that spills over into other areas of our life.
The reason why procrastination makes us so miserable is because a majority of the things that we procrastinate will actually help us feel fulfilled in the long-term. You can choose to feel short-term happiness by binging your favorite Netflix show instead of working on that presentation you need to get done, but you’re going to hate yourself for it in a few hours.
Furthermore, procrastinators often struggle to improve other aspects of their lives too, such as relationships, mental health, sleep habits, and much more Luckily, the five minute rule has been extremely helpful for me in my own struggle with procrastination.
Here’s how it works. Whenever you feel yourself putting off a certain task, sit down and work on it for five minutes. After the five minutes are up, you’re free to stop working. Studies have shown that simply starting to work for a brief period of time means that there’s an 80% chance you’ll keep going.
#3 — Not Sleeping Enough
Many people underestimate how many negative side effects come from not consistently getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Both psychologists and psychiatrists have been preaching for years that one of the most overlooked health problems in the U.S is that many Americans are chronically sleep-deprived.
Just how much does lack of sleep impact our day to day life? Lack of sleep has been scientifically proven to cause:
- impaired memory
- decreased motivation
- increased stress
- reduced concentration
You didn’t click on this article to read a sleep journal, so I’ll spare you the pain of listing every single side effect, but trust me when I say that the list gets a lot longer.
We simply aren’t operating at our peak level when we don’t get enough sleep. We’re not ourselves. We get stressed out more easily. We can’t focus as well. We have less control over our emotions. It’s just a recipe for disaster, especially if your sleep schedule has been erratic for quite some time.
Researchers at the University of Michigan even concluded during a study that making an extra $60,000 a year has less of an impact on your daily happiness than getting an extra hour of sleep each night. If you want to be happier and have more energy, it’s imperative that you start to get your body on some sort of schedule.
In a perfect world, you should fall asleep and wake up in the same one hour window every day.
However, we don’t live in a perfect world. Sometimes shit happens. You have a late night at the office. You enjoy yourself a little too much on a Saturday night.
At the end of the day, sleep is important, but it shouldn’t stop you from having some fun and living your life.
If you can’t get to bed at the same time consistently, you should at least aim to wake up around the same time every day. This will still be sufficient enough to get your body acclimated to a proper sleep schedule as long as your bed time isn’t wildly erratic.
#4 — Obsessing Over The Past
Occasionally reliving the past isn’t a big deal. Every second of every day, our brain is thinking about something, so it’s only natural that some of these thoughts will be about our previous mistakes/shortcomings. However, there are two different ways that we think about the past.
These two ways are often referred to as rumination and introspection.
Introspection is about analyzing your past with an attitude of curiosity. When you are being introspective, you are looking at your previous experiences and drawing conclusions from them, either about yourself or other people. Introspection causes you to learn more about yourself and arms you with the knowledge to fix your life.
Rumination is quite different. Rumination is about focusing on the regrets that we have. At those times, we are thinking about the past and beating ourselves up because we didn’t do things a certain way.
Rumination doesn’t teach us anything about ourselves, all it does is bring feelings of shame and guilt to the forefront of our mind.
The solution here is to be mindful of your thoughts and notice whether you are ruminating or being introspective. How do you know the difference? It mainly comes down to what you are gaining from thinking about the past.
If you are enjoying the past or drawing lessons from it, then you are being introspective. However, if your thoughts about the past are causing you to feel bitter, or you repeatedly think about the same negative experiences, you are ruminating.
The key to being introspective is to observe your past actions as if you were observing the actions of a stranger. Start asking yourself the question — “What can I learn from this experience, and how can I apply that lesson to my future actions?”
When you adopt this mindset instead of wallowing in your regrets, your past becomes full of valuable lessons that can be used to create a brighter future where you don’t repeat the same mistakes.
# 5 — Not Taking Ownerships of Your Failures
When I was a sophomore in high school, I was the last person cut from the JV basketball team. Even though I was the hardest worker on the team off the court, I failed to impress the coaches with my play on the court. After I was cut, I came up with a million different reasons why my name wasn’t included on the final roster. Most of these reasons put only a fraction of the blame on myself.
There’s an interesting phenomenon that happens inside our brain when we experience failure. You have to understand that your brain’s primary goal is to make you feel good in the present moment. Experiencing failure isn’t pleasant, so our brain automatically starts manufacturing a story to explain the failure. Due to the fact that our brain wants us to feel good, it will often latch onto the story that puts the least amount of blame on ourselves. It feels good to know that we did everything we could to prevent failure, whether it’s true or not.
Here’s the fatal problem with latching onto the story that makes us feel good in the present moment: If you blame your failure on someone or something else, you have zero reason to change.
Failure is about learning. Failure is about acquiring real-time feedback so that you don’t repeat the same mistakes in the future. However, all of this potential knowledge goes out the window when you fail to accept responsibility for your failures. You don’t have any reason to alter your future actions because you’ve ingrained the belief that you weren’t the one responsible.
The most powerful mindset you can adopt in life is that everything is your fault. The good things in your life? You did that. You either put yourself in a position to deserve it, or took action and were rewarded for it. However, if you’re going to take responsibility for the good, you have to take responsibility for the bad. Everything in your life that isn’t up to your satisfaction is your fault too.
If you want to be happier, you first need to feel some discomfort by placing all of the weight of your previous failures strictly on your shoulders. Not your teacher. Not your coach. Not your parents. You.
Because when you decide that you are the only person responsible for the outcome of your life, you no longer are a prisoner of external circumstances, which means you’re back in control of your life.
# 6 — Waiting For the Future
Oftentimes, we tend to suffer from “I’ll Be Happy When Syndrome.”
- I’ll be happy when…I get a promotion
- I’ll be happy when..I lose 20 pounds
- I’ll be happy when…I find the right person
But the truth is that happiness is not an effect, it’s a cause.
Unfortunately, most people screw themselves over by tying their future happiness to a specific event that will make them feel happy, fulfilled, proud, etc.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be constantly looking for ways to improve yourself, but you shouldn’t let ambition deter you from appreciating how far you’ve already come.
Let’s say that you have a goal of losing 50 pounds. In order to achieve this goal, you start a rigorous workout routine and muster up the self-control to stick with it for six months.
After six months, you step on scale and see that you’ve lost 50 pounds. How awesome!
You feel a huge surge of motivation and joy, but how long does this feeling typically last?
Almost immediately, you’re going to start gradually falling back to earth. You might feel happy for a few days, or even a few weeks, but the initial high will wear off at some point.
When that happens, you’re going to start chasing the next accomplishment that you believe will lead to lasting happiness.
So you tell yourself, “I’ll be happy when I get a promotion.”
By now, you can see where this is going. Because you are tying your happiness to a future event, you will constantly be searching for it in the “next” frontier of accomplishment.
The bottom line is that you are always going to want more out of life. If you make a million dollars, you’ll want to make ten million more. If you lose twenty pounds, you’ll want to lose twenty more. If you buy a Lamborghini, you’ll want a Ferrari or a McLaren to go along with it.
Happiness is a journey, not a destination. The key is to be happy with what you have while working for what you want. You need to be grateful and ambitious. You need to strive and be appreciative.
If you’re solely focused on the future, you’ll neglect the things you should feel grateful for right now.
Every morning, try to write down just three things that you are grateful for, no matter how small they might be. This will help you recognize the blessings you already have and keep you grounded as you continue to strive towards success.
# 7– Seeking Approval
First off, breathe. It’s completely natural to want to belong.
As humans, we’ve evolved to seek validation from the people we encounter in our lives. In many cases, it’s actually beneficial to seek approval from other people, especially those we respect.
Wanting to please your boss helps you advance in your career. Wanting to please your parents helps strengthen your relationship with them.
The problem with wanting to feel accepted is when we focus too much of our energy on seeking validation instead of being our true selves. Being accepted by other people causes our brain to release chemicals that make us feel good.
If we get hooked by this feeling, it can become addictive to the point where we derive most of our happiness from how others perceive us.
Ultimately, the need for external approval is not a sustainable formula for happiness – and it can often leave us feeling rejected and alienated from the people we want to have close relationships with.
Because the need for acceptance has been hard wired into our brains over thousands of years of evolution, it’s an instinct that is impossible to get rid of.
However, you can take small steps in order to feel content with who you are regardless of how others perceive you:
Speak your mind. One of the most common behaviors of people who seek too much external validation is agreeing with everything even if it’s something they don’t believe in. When you engage in this behavior, you’re devaluing yourself and developing a rigid belief system that changes based on who you’re talking to. True self-esteem comes from having firm beliefs and not being afraid to speak your mind even if there’s a chance of sparking conflict.
Get comfortable with rejection. Being afraid of rejection is a direct result of the need for approval. Oftentimes, we avoid uncomfortable situations because we’re afraid that someone will form a negative opinion of us. We don’t ask our boss for a promotion because we’re afraid he’ll say no. We tell a friend what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear because we want them to like us. All of these behaviors are manifestations of the need for approval. If you can gradually expose yourself to situations where you might get rejected, you’ll start to become more of your authentic self as opposed acting in a way that pleases others.
Learn how to self-validate. The best way to build authentic self-esteem that isn’t contingent on external approval is to get to know yourself and act in accordance with your values. A great way to accomplish this is to analyze what drives your actions by asking yourself why you do the things that you do. Why are you working a particular job? Why are certain friends in your life? What are you naturally interested in and why are you interested in those things? Answering these questions will help you get a sense of who you actually are and what you value about life. And when you can match your actions with your values, that’s a recipe for happiness.