Want to be happier? Self-help books often recommend doing the things that happy people tend to do—happy people generally do a lot of socializing and helping others, for example.
But just as important is not doing the 9 things that happy people tend not to do…
- Happy people DON’T blame other people for their problems. They take personal responsibility when things go wrong—even when those problems truly are largely someone else’s responsibility. This might seem counterintuitive. Taking responsibility for problems can lead to feelings of shame, guilt and inadequacy. But it turns out that blaming other people is even more likely to lead to unhappiness, because it is psychologically disempowering. If someone else is responsible for our problems, then our happiness is outside our control and we are victims.
Better: If we take responsibility for our problems, then we take responsibility for solving those problems. We are more likely to effectively manage our lives and our happiness—and see that we have the power to set things right.
- Happy people DON’T overreact to the present moment. Many unhappy people are prone to thinking, This is horrible or My life is ruined, when something bad happens to them—even if it’s really just a run-of-the-mill unpleasant event that mostly will have faded from their consciousness in a few months. Happy people typically do a better job of remembering that unhappiness usually mitigates over time. That reduces the odds that the unhappy moment will snowball into a long-term funk.Better: If you catch yourself fearing that a recent negative event is devastating or permanent, ask yourself, What can I learn from this? and How can I become wiser and/or stronger from this? These questions encourage the mind to consider a time when we will have moved past the problem.
- Happy people DON’T use negative language. They rarely chastise themselves or insult other people, either out loud or in their internal self-talk.
Better: When you catch yourself using negative language toward yourself or others, mentally rewrite the story you’re telling. Make it about how you have evolved past this problem or challenge, learned a valuable lesson or otherwise improved.
Example:If you think “you look awful” each time you notice your wrinkles, you might rewrite this story so that it’s about how you came to respect those wrinkles as signs of hard-earned experience and wisdom.
- Happy people DON’T feel trapped. They focus on the options that remain, even when outside forces greatly restrict the paths open to them. That keeps them from feeling like helpless victims, a common source of unhappiness.
Better: When you feel trapped by circumstances, ask yourself, How can I manage myself better?
- Happy people DON’T focus on a single passion or relationship. They usually have multiple hobbies, belong to multiple clubs and organizations and socialize with a broad range of different friends and acquaintances. This diversification of interests reduces the risk that their happiness will suffer a catastrophic loss, much as diversifying an investment portfolio reduces the risk for catastrophic financial losses. Should something go wrong with one of their interests or relationships, they still have plenty of sources of happiness to fall back on.
Better: Continue trying new activities, joining new groups and building additional friendships even if you already have things and people you know that make you happy.
Example:If golf is the only hobby that makes you happy, a shoulder injury that forces you to give up the sport could be a devastating blow. It wouldn’t feel as crushing if you also had been pursuing, say, woodworking and bird watching.
- Happy people DON’T dwell on past failures. Unhappy people tend to be very failure conscious—they kick themselves endlessly for old mistakes. Happy people tend not to do this. They, too, remember their missteps—they just tend to remember them as times when they learned important lessons or as small steps on the larger journey of life, not as disasters to lament.
Better: When an old failure comes to mind, think about how you rebounded from it, what you learned from it or what you could learn from it.
- Happy people DON’T spend more time than necessary around unhappy people. Naysayers, can’t-do types and other chronically unhappy people can make the people around them less happy, too.Better:Avoid unhappy people. When you must spend time among them, treat it as a learning opportunity. Try to discover what makes these miserable people so miserable, then see if you can identify and manage any similar tendencies in yourself.
- Happy people DON’T gossip. If they are told something in confidence, they keep the secret. If they have something critical to say about someone else, they either say it directly to that person or they don’t say it at all—they don’t complain to a third party.
Better:If you feel the urge to talk about someone behind his/her back, ask yourself, How could I instead use this time to improve my own life? If you are gossiping about someone because you are upset with that person, consider whether discussing the underlying issues directly with this individual would lead to a more constructive result. If so, do that. If not, let the matter drop.
- Happy people DON’T procrastinate. They usually get unpleasant tasks over with so that they can move on to happier things. They understand that putting off an unpleasant task doesn’t make the task any less unpleasant—it just leaves the task hanging over their heads longer than necessary.
Better:To spur the process, set your own deadlines well in advance of an unpleasant task’s actual deadline. Break big unpleasant tasks down into more manageable segments. Promise yourself that you will do something that makes you happy as soon as you complete the unpleasant task.
Sometimes people put off difficult tasks because they are afraid that they will fail. Remind yourself that putting off difficult tasks means that you will probably have to do them in a mad rush as the deadlines near, which only increases the odds of failure.