While you might love the idea of being in charge of your emotions—in charge of your own happiness—you may find that the opposite is true (at least some of the time): your emotions seem like they’re in charge of YOU. Something good happens, and BAM! You’re filled with happy feelings. The next minute, everything can change, and down you go—feeling unhappy again. Life is a roller coaster, and then you die. So, why bother trying to “be happy” more often? Aren’t some folks just “naturally” unhappy people much of the time?
Not so fast… as much as being “unhappy” (or happy) is about you, it’s not just about you. If you’ve got a family, co-workers, friends, or even occasional acquaintances, when you’re unhappy, you aren’t the only one who suffers. You see, it turns out that unhappiness is like second-hand smoke—it negatively affects everyone around you. And along those lines, you could easily make the argument that generally unhappy people are metaphorically cancerous—just like second-hand smoke—albeit in a very different way.
For example, no matter your personal level of happiness, you’ve likely experienced first-hand that unhappy people are more difficult to spend time with—much less live or work with. Unhappy people can:
- Drive people away
- Decrease work productivity
- Make people less likely to accomplish their goals (or as much as they’re capable of)
- Cause others to be unhappy people
While unhappiness can catch you by surprise, it’s more often the result of your own thinking, behavior, and habits. (Before moving on, let’s make something abundantly clear: Unhappiness is not the same thing as depression. Unhappiness can be thought of as your disposition based on how you see your life circumstances.) Most of us think about the habits we want to develop to enhance our lives. Yet habits can also hold us back and prevent us from being as happy as we can and want to be.
14 Habits Unhappy People Have in Common
Here are 14 habits unhappy people tend to have in common. Unhappy people…
1) Put off happiness. In pursuit of our goals, some of us keep happiness out in front of us somewhere. Many (including Emily Fletcher) call this the “I’ll be happy when” syndrome. For example, I’ll be happy when… I lose the weight… when I am a size 8… when I’m able to climb that mountain… when I get that raise… when I find that perfect someone… when I get that new car/house. But once you get there, you soon realize that’s not the gatekeeper to happiness, and you’re just as unhappy as before. So, you move onto the next “I’ll be happy when…” pushing happiness out even further.
Circumstances, even when improved, don’t necessarily lead to happiness. Stop putting off your happiness until “after” (after I get out of school, after a pay raise, after I’m in a new relationship, after I buy a new home, etc.), and focus on how to be happy with what you have right now. After all, the future is never guaranteed.
2) Are material girls and boys. We’re constantly being bombarded with advertisements telling us we’ll be so much happier with the latest car, computer, smart phone, clothing, etc. All we need is more money to buy the latest and greatest. Don’t you believe it!
If you are deeply poor, then improving your financial situation may lead to a happier set of circumstances, but for the overwhelming majority of folks, your income doesn’t have to get much higher than just above the poverty line before your income has minimal (if any) effects on your happiness.
And if you think that getting what you want will make you happy, then once you have it and it doesn’t make you happier, you actually feel even worse.
As the saying goes, “The most important things in life aren’t things.” Stop chasing material “things” to find happiness. While the latest gadget, toy, or outfit may give a momentary rush, those feelings are fleeting, and simply put, those “things” don’t have any lasting impact on your happiness.
3) Spend too much time alone. As an introvert who works from home, I know the appeal of being alone and often revel in it. Yet when it comes to happiness, it’s those connections with family, friends, and even pets that are so important to happiness.
Social connections improve health, well-being, and even longevity! And loneliness is becoming epidemic, leading to horrendous symptoms from isolation to depression to alcohol or drug dependence to death. You can enjoy your time alone but also avoid isolating yourself—so you can nurture these life-giving connections.
4) Stay in. Speaking of alone time, unhappy people tend to want to avoid spending time with others. Yet socializing, even if you don’t think you’re “good at it” or don’t necessarily want to, can be great for your mood.
Even if it’s just a walk to the park or around the neighborhood, getting outdoors and immersing yourself in nature can be a great way to improve your mood—as can socializing, even if just a little bit!
5) Play the victim. Many unhappy people believe their lives are both difficult and out of control. Life is out to get them, and there’s nothing they can do about it. Sadly, even if something horrible has happened, this philosophy can spiral into helplessness, preventing you from getting off that roller coaster.
Bad things can happen out of the blue, but that doesn’t prevent you from taking some sort of action. Look at these incidents as a temporary bummer, hassle, or interruption rather than believing the world is against you. The ability to see how the world works for you can help you regain some of that control to find your own happiness.
6) Constantly complain. Sometimes it feels good to “vent” and get things off your chest. But make no mistake, complaining can become a bad habit that reinforces your negative views and beliefs. You may have noticed that one of the most striking (and unattractive) features of unhappy people is that they can find something negative to say about just about anything—even when everyone else around them is happy.
Complaining is also a great way to drive others away. Likewise, complaining and gossiping about others has no benefits and typically makes everyone involved feel smaller, less effective, and unhappier. This judgmental type of behavior tends to stem from our own negative thoughts about ourselves; along those lines, complaining often says a lot more about the complainer than it does the people they’re complaining about.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that happy, successful people tend to avoid complaining. If you want to be happier, seek solutions and common ground instead of the complaints department.
7) Play the blame game. We all make mistakes! So, when you do, own it, accept it, learn from it, and move on. Remember you’re accountable for your actions. Hiding your problems, or worse, blaming them on others, prevents you from taking positive actions that can lead you to future improvements and greater long-term happiness.
Even when you have been wronged, one way to increase your happiness is to let go, forgive, and move on. Long-term grudges for slights—both real and perceived—are incompatible with happiness.
Forgiveness does not mean remaining in a toxic relationship, it doesn’t mean forgetting the past, and it doesn’t mean giving someone a free pass. It simply means controlling what you can (your own thoughts and actions), letting go, and moving on. One question worth asking is, “Would I rather be right, or would I rather be happy?”
8) Have a fixed mindset. People with a “fixed mindset” believe things like “I was just born this way,” “this is the way I’ve always been,” and “I’ll never change.” Frankly, this is the easy way out. That is, the easy way out of feeling happy and allowing yourself to grow and change. Instead of learning, growing, and improving, you can just sit back and let life (and misery) come and happen to you (instead of for you).
On the other hand, embracing a “growth mindset” (that is, understanding that “talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching, and persistence”) can be life-changing and life-reaffirming, leading to happiness you never knew possible.
9) Regret past choices. For unhappy people, there’s at least one life choice that they regret, which is not only useless, it can also be quite harmful, leading to chronic stress and depression. Instead of looping through negative thoughts about past mistakes, you can better cope by
- learning from them
- letting them go
- reframing them to be more positive
If you find yourself in a negative memory feedback loop (reliving a bad choice over and over again), instead of staying stuck in the past, try to remember something happy to help lead you back to feeling more positive.
And consider this life-changing quote, often credited to the courageous, revolutionary leader Nelson Mandela, “You never lose. You either win or you learn.”
10) Worry. As Michel de Montaigne said more than 500 years ago, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.” We can’t predict the future, much less control it, so worrying about what’s next is not only useless, it robs you from basking in the happiness of the present.
Research bears this out. In one study, people were asked to write down what worried them, and then at a later time, the participants revisited the list and identified the misfortunates that never actually happened. Turns out, 85% of the things they worried about didn’t happen. And even when their worries did manifest—a paltry 15% of the time mind you—79% of them found that they were better able to handle the difficulty than they had expected or that they learned a meaningful lesson from the experience.
As Leo F. Buscaglia said, “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.”
11) Stay inactive. Exercise can be a big boost to not only mood but to self-esteem, and generally speaking, people who exercise regularly are happier than folks who don’t. Said differently, unhappy people don’t move as much as they should. Researchers from Penn State, for example, found that the people who were the most physically active reported “greater general feels of excitement and enthusiasm” compared to their less-active counterparts.
If you find yourself sitting at your desk for most of the day only to finish the day sitting on the couch for the rest of the evening, you’re more likely to be unhappy while setting yourself up for a laundry list of negative health consequences. After all, they say sitting is the new smoking. Get up, move your body, and get active!
12) Eat crappy food. While you may think “comfort foods” and junk foods make you happy, according to research, they offer no more comfort than other foods or even no food at all. In fact, moments after they’ve passed your lips, you’re likely to feel worse—bloated, tired, guilty, ashamed, or you guessed it, unhappy.
Having said that, what you eat (or don’t eat) can have a strong effect on mood, so if you want to be happy, skip the traditional cheat foods and go with those that nourish your body instead.
13) Lack gratitude. Generally speaking, unhappy people tend to be unable to (or better said, choose not to) see all of the blessings they currently have in their lives. Taking the time to not just smell the roses but to be thankful for finding them on the path is an easy way to increase your level of happiness. Consider this quote from transformational leader and icon Oprah Winfrey: “If you look at what you have in life, you will always have more. If you look at what you don’t have in life, you will never have enough.”
14) Put off goals and dreams. One of the best ways we can become happier is to take actions to reach our goals. It’s easy to get caught up in our everyday routines—working, sleeping, eating—yet taking time to dream and actively taking the steps to move closer to them creates purpose—and with purpose comes true happiness. It opens up a world of possibility, gets the heart pumping with excitement, and makes everything that much better. Go for your dreams!
Habits Unhappy People Have in Common: A Recap
Virtually all of us strive to become happier. Life is short, yet happiness can make the journey from start to finish not only better, easier, and more enjoyable—for you and those who you choose to surround yourself with.
In addition to the habits shared above, other behaviors that make people happier include being kind, losing oneself in the moment, getting out of their comfort zone, getting enough sleep, paying it forward, and even a degree of self-sacrifice—serving others (and giving of yourself) rather than making everything about you.
While no one is happy 100% of the time and we can’t control everything in our lives, according to Psychology Today, “40+% of our capacity for happiness is within our power to change.” Sure, changing habits takes practice and work, but when it comes to happiness, it’s definitely worth the effort.
Why not take one action right now to start building your own happiness habits?