17 Ways You're Unwittingly Making Yourself Unhappy
It's time to stop shooting yourself in the foot.
"The ultimate goal of human life is, simply, happiness," wrote the Greek philosopher Aristotle, roughly 23 centuries ago. "Which means finding a purpose in order to realize your potential and working on your behavior to become the best version of yourself." Let's face it: No life coach or meditation guru in 2019 could put it any better.
But here's the thing: If you're not taking the right steps to "work on your behavior" to be happier, there's a good chance you're doing the opposite. So the first step on your road to blissful enlightenment is to spot all of the ways you're making yourself unhappy—and then pumping the brakes on those habits immediately.
So, to that end, we put together an expert panel—of life coaches, therapists, and psychologists—to shed light on all the ways you're your own worst enemy. Purge this behavior and you'll live a fuller, happier, more all-around content life than you ever thought possible.
You conflate perfectionism with high achievement
Yes, there's a difference between the two. "A perfectionist believes that her work increases her self worth. A high achiever knows she has self worth whether or not she completes her work," explains licensed marriage and family therapist Ibinye Osibodu-Onyali. Setting goals for yourself is a great way to achieve and enjoy productivity, but using this as your sole source of self worth can be toxic.
Remember: You're more than the tasks you complete, and it's important not to lose sight of this. A healthy balance can be struck when you keep goals in mind but don't beat yourself up too much if they aren't accomplished. Oh, and be sure to allow yourself to take a break and enjoy your success when you do reach a milestone.
You vent—all the time
Getting something off your chest might not be as healthy as you think. In fact, it may be causing you agony. Venting to someone without any goal other than having someone indulge you in your dinged feelings isn't enough to make you content afterwards.
"Constant venting is complaining with no action or resolve to the concern at hand. In order for venting to be effective, healthy, helpful or beneficial, it is connected to one's desire to resolve with actual action steps," says Sharon J. Lawrence, a mental health and relationship therapist, and certified life coach.
You're solely focused on positivity
"Accepting things as they are, even when they're imperfect or hard, is important," says psychologist Dina Wirick, PhD. We're told to always think positively, and while doing so can certainly shine a light on a dark spot, it can also put on a lot of pressure. Life includes hardships, and sometimes it's necessary to give yourself the space to mourn and feel unhappy. That way, you pave the way for moments of organic happiness.
You try diet trends for the wrong reasons
The human relationship with food is incredibly important and directly relates to happiness, yet it's often misunderstood—and mismanaged. Case in point: those diet trends that promise an exulted life and catch on like wildfire. Of course, eating healthy is never bad. But if you're in it solely because you think losing a few pounds will make you happier, you're in for a sorry surprise.
"If you're unhappy after you eat something, then you were probably unhappy before you ate it. The food is not the problem—it's a clue," says Jessica Setnick, an eating disorder expert and the author of The Eating Disorders Clinical Pocket Guide. In other words, using a diet as a one-way ticket to fulfillment won't work.
You constantly surround yourself with friends
Surrounding yourself with the people you love seems like a simple and obvious fix for unhappiness. However, doing so constantly can have the opposite effect. A lack of time spent alone with yourself can chip away at your happiness by preventing you from learning the value of relying on yourself.
"One of the best secrets to happiness involves learning how to be one's own friend. Increased self-respect, along with the acknowledgement and understanding of one's own worth, supersedes the need for the validation of others to make you happy," says Lawrence. Remember to first seek out bliss from one person: You.
You're a "yes" man or woman
"It's nice to be able to say 'yes' when your colleagues, friends, and family members need you. However, the thing about people who say 'yes' all the time is that the favor is seldom returned," says Osibodu-Onyali. Giving yourself the reputation of someone who is always down to hang out or help out may bring temporary satisfaction, but in the end it will burn you out.
You read the news every day
There's nothing wrong with staying informed, but doing so without taking any days off will only lead to more anxiety and depression. The news cycle these days is relentless, and forcing yourself to read all of the day's headlines, seven days a week, is a lot to take on. Try dedicating certain days to escapism: stick to reading (or watching!) things that have nothing to do with the news.
You don't self reflect
A busy schedule is often perceived as a sign of success—doubly so in a society where 6:00 a.m. spin classes exist (and are often booked full). Staying active certainly has its benefits. The key is to make sure you don't overwork yourself. What's the point of living life to the fullest if that prevents you from taking the time to reflect on, well, living life to the fullest? After all, self-reflection only takes a few minutes. "Just thinking or writing about three things you are grateful for each day can increase your happiness," says Wirick.
You beat yourself up at any sign of failure
As previously mentioned, a goals-oriented mindset requires a certain amount of flexibility if you want to avoid overwhelming yourself. Goals are meant to be something to work toward, not something to master right away. Look at it like this: If you want to shave your average mile time down from 8:00 to 6:00 in six weeks, but two months have passed and you're clocking 6:45, you're not a failure. You're simply on the path to success. Scolding yourself for small mistakes along the way will only discourage you. Give yourself a break!
You obsess over "self care"
"The notion of 'self care' now causes stress because we obsess about the fact that we need to find time in our schedule to go to the spa or have a bubble bath while reading a book to manage our stress. Self care, while important, is the latest wellness buzz word, so we feel the need to add it to our long list of things to do, and it becomes another pressure in our already busy lives," says wellness and lifestyle coach Stephani Laing. Turning self care into a chore counteracts its original meaning, and will make you feel less content than you did before you dropped an ungodly sum on sheet masks.
You don't listen to your body
"We live in the age of the expert, and we're told to listen to what others know we need to do. However, it is a radical act to listen to your own desires, and one that will ultimately lead to better health as well as more success and happiness," says Alegra Loewenstein, a best-selling author, speaker, and coach. It's okay to look to others for advice when you are unsure, just make sure to listen to yourself as well. Learning to trust your intuition will make you feel more at peace with yourself, and you'll feel more content and confident when making decisions.
You keep a rigid schedule
Expecting yourself to strictly follow a schedule without any room for change will lead to nothing but stress. Now, that doesn't mean a consistent routine is bad. You just need to find a happy medium where you can rely on certain daily habits while still allowing some wiggle room for spontaneity. "Practice pressure-free happiness by letting go of all expectations as to how happiness has to show up for you," says mindful and happiness coach Jacqueline Pirtle.
You only drink water when you're thirsty
Never underestimate the power of good ole H2O. Every doctor under the sun recommends drinking eight full glasses of stuff a day, but who really takes that seriously?
Well, as it turns out, everyone should. "Even mild dehydration can alter a person's mood to the point of mirroring depression. The problem is most people don't drink water until they are thirsty. By then, the negative effects of dehydration can already be put in motion," says Wayne Anthony, founder of Water Filter Data, an advocacy group dedicated to increasing access to clean water. You heard the man—go fill up your glass.
You compare yourself to others
Thanks to social media, you legitimately have the ability to look at other people's lives through their own lenses. And if you're even remotely human, it's endlessly tempting to see how you stack up to their experiences and milestones. But doing so is extremely counterproductive.
"Comparison ensures that you're never content with your own accomplishments. When you compare yourself to someone else, they set the benchmark for your happiness. It means you're happy as long as you're doing better than them, but once they surpass you, you lose your joy," says Osibodu-Onyali.
You don't allow yourself to ever be uncomfortable
Thanks to the smartphone, the days of getting caught in an awkward silence or stuck in an unhealthy thought spiral are long gone. Just whip out your phone and scroll. For the most part, this feels like a blessing, but the reality is that saturating your brain with distractions is deeply unhealthy.
So dedicate some time to looking away from your screen and experiencing the world around you, no matter what's going on. It might make you feel uneasy or anxious at first, but knowing how to be present is a huge part of being mindful and happy. Plus, the amount of likes your latest post got will always be there for you to check on later.
You don't prioritize sleep
"One secret to both health and happiness that is continually ignored and pushed aside is getting abundant sleep," says Alegra Loewenstein, a best-selling author, speaker, and life coach. A lack of sleep can lead to high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, weight gain, a lack of libido, mood swings, and paranoia—none of which are conducive to happy living.
The good news is that a fix is simple: it only requires a touch of discipline. Instead of watching just one more episode, power down your screens, and go to bed. The Office will be there in the morning.
You view things as black-and-white
"If you are thinking in terms of either/or, this reduces your choices in many areas of your life. It keeps you thinking that your way is the only way, and that anything that exists in the grey must be wrong." says Evanye Lawson, a self love coach and teacher, author, and licensed psychotherapist. Limiting yourself to binaries will obstruct you from seeking out options that have the potential to bring you joy. Opening your mind can turn the key to happiness. It just takes a little practice.
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