Happiness comes in so many different
forms that it can be hard to define.
Unhappiness, on the other hand, is easy
to identify; you know it when you see it,
and you definitely know when it’s taken
ahold of you.
Unhappiness is lethal to everyone
around you, just like second-hand
smoke. The famous Terman Study from
Stanford followed subjects for eight
decades and found that being around
unhappy people is linked to poorer
health and a shorter life span.
Happiness has much less to do with life
circumstances than you might think. A
University of Illinois study found that
people who earn the most (more than
$10 million annually) are only a smidge
happier than the average Joes and
Janes who work for them.
Life circumstances have little to do with
happiness because much happiness is
under your control—the product of your
habits and your outlook on life.
Psychologists from the University of
California who study happiness found
that genetics and life circumstances
only account for about 50% of a
person’s happiness. The rest is up to
When people are unhappy, it’s much
more difficult to be around them, let
alone work with them. Unhappiness
drives people away, creating a vicious
cycle that holds you back from
achieving everything that you’re capable
Unhappiness can catch you by surprise.
So much of your happiness is
determined by your habits (in thought
and deed) that you have to monitor
them closely to make certain that they
don’t drag you down into the abyss.
Some habits lead to unhappiness more
than others do. You should be
especially wary of the ten habits that
follow as they are the worst offenders.
Watch yourself carefully to make certain
that these habits are not your own.
1. Waiting for the future. Telling
yourself, “I’ll be happy when …” is one
of the easiest unhappy habits to fall
into. How you end the statement
doesn’t really matter (it might be a
promotion, more pay, or a new
relationship) because it puts too much
emphasis on circumstances, and
improved circumstances don’t lead to
happiness. Don’t spend your time
waiting for something that’s proven to
have no effect on your mood. Instead
focus on being happy right now, in the
present moment, because there’s no
guarantee of the future.
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2. Spending too much time and effort
acquiring “things.” People living in
extreme poverty experience a significant
increase in happiness when their
financial circumstances improve, but it
drops off quickly above $20,000 in
annual income. There’s an ocean of
research that shows that material
things don’t make you happy. When you
make a habit of chasing things, you are
likely to become unhappy because,
beyond the disappointment you
experience once you get them, you
discover that you’ve gained them at the
expense of the real things that can
make you happy, such as friends,
family, and hobbies.
3. Staying home. When you feel
unhappy, it’s tempting to avoid other
people. This is a huge mistake as
socializing, even when you don’t enjoy
it, is great for your mood. We all have
those days when we just want to pull
the covers over our heads and refuse to
talk to anybody, but understand that the
moment this becomes a tendency, it
destroys your mood. Recognize when
unhappiness is making you antisocial,
force yourself to get out there and
mingle, and you’ll notice the difference
4. Seeing yourself as a victim.
Unhappy people tend to operate from
the default position that life is both hard
and out of their control. In other words,
“Life is out to get me, and there’s
nothing I can do about it.” The problem
with that philosophy is that it fosters a
feeling of helplessness, and people who
feel helpless aren’t likely to take action
to make things better. While everyone is
certainly entitled to feel down every
once in a while, it’s important to
recognize when you’re letting this affect
your outlook on life. You’re not the only
person that bad things happen to, and
you do have control over your future as
long as you’re willing to take action.
5. Pessimism. Nothing fuels
unhappiness quite like pessimism. The
problem with a pessimistic attitude,
beyond it being hard on your mood, is
that it becomes a self-fulfilling
prophecy: If you expect bad things,
you’re more likely to get bad things.
Pessimistic thoughts are hard to shake
off until you recognize how illogical
they are. Force yourself to look at the
facts, and you’ll see that things are not
nearly as bad as they seem.
6. Complaining. Complaining itself is
troubling as well as the attitude that
precedes it. Complaining is a self-
reinforcing behavior. By constantly
talking—and therefore thinking—about
how bad things are, you reaffirm your
negative beliefs. While talking about
what bothers you can help you feel
better, there’s a fine line between
complaining being therapeutic and it
fueling unhappiness. Beyond making
you unhappy, complaining drives other
7. Blowing things out of proportion.
Bad things happen to everybody. The
difference is that happy people see them
for what they are—a temporary bummer
—whereas unhappy people see anything
negative as further evidence that life is
out to get them. A happy person is
upset if they have a fender bender on
the way to work, but they keep things in
perspective: “What a hassle, but at least
it wasn’t more serious.” An unhappy
person, on the other hand, uses it as
proof that the day, the week, the month,
maybe even their whole life, is doomed.
8. Sweeping problems under the rug.
Happy people are accountable for their
actions. When they make a mistake,
they own it. Unhappy people, on the
other hand, find problems and mistakes
to be threatening, so they try to hide
them. Problems tend to get bigger when
they’re ignored. The more you don’t do
anything about a problem, the more it
starts to feel as though you can’t do
anything about it, and then you’re right
back to feeling like a victim.
9. Not improving. Because unhappy
people are pessimists and feel a lack of
control over their lives, they tend to sit
back and wait for life to happen to
them. Instead of setting goals, learning,
and improving themselves, they just
keep plodding along, and then they
wonder why things never change.
10. Trying to keep up with the Joneses.
Jealousy and envy are incompatible
with happiness, so if you’re constantly
comparing yourself with others, it’s
time to stop. In one study, most
subjects said that they’d be okay with
making less money, but only if
everybody else did too. Be wary of this
kind of thinking as it won’t make you
happy and, more often than not, has the
Bringing It All Together
Changing your habits in the name of
greater happiness is one of the best
things that you can do for yourself. But
it’s also important for another reason—
taking control of your happiness makes
everyone around you happier too.