Health & Wellness

6 Subtle Habits That Are Sabotaging Your Happiness

By Nick Wignall | Jul 2, 2020
Nick Wignall | ACHNET

Everybody wants to know what they can do to be happier. We crave some combination of lessons, tricks, inspiration, goals, strategies, life-hacks, pills, or even apps that will add more happiness and wellbeing to our lives.

But what if finding happiness is less about what we should add and more about what we should subtract?

What if the smarter way to find your happiness is to focus on removing the things that make you unhappy?

In my work as a psychologist and therapist, I have the privilege of getting to know people on a uniquely intimate level so that I can help them figure out what will really make them happy in the long run. And the more I do this work, the more I realize the key to finding happiness is often less, not more.

It’s about discovering the things that are making you miserable and doing your best to eliminate them.

And more often than not, those things that make us miserable are habits: subtle but powerful patterns we’ve fallen into—maybe since childhood—that gnaw away at our happiness, day after day, month after month, year after year.

Here are 6 of the most common habits I’ve seen that sabotage our happiness and some brief thoughts on how to eliminate them.

1. Worrying about the future and other people’s opinions of you

Worrying is the mental habit of trying to solve a problem that either can’t be solved or isn’t really a problem.

It’s easy to fall into because it feels productive, like we’re at least doing something. It staves off the feeling we hate most of all: helplessness.

Worry gives us the illusion of control.

But here’s the thing: sometimes we are helpless.

Sometimes things are bad, or painful, or terrifying and there’s nothing we can do about it.

  • Yes, something terrible could happen to you or people you care about in the future.
  • Yes, some people really, truly, deep-down don’t like you very much.

Worrying about it is denial of reality. It’s a demand that everything be the way you want it. It’s an attempt to control what is fundamentally outside your control. It’s expectations gone wild.

Shit happens. People are jerks.

Worrying about it won’t change things. But it will lead to a lot of anxiety.

Work to become more aware of your habit of worry. Then question it:

  • Am I productively solving a genuine problem, or doing mental hand wringing?
  • What function does my worry really serve?
  • What benefit does it really give me?

Learn to accept the pain of what is or what might be and let go of your habit of worry and all the anxiety it generates.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. — Reinhold Niebuhr

2. Isolating yourself when you’re feeling down

I always think it’s strange that my therapy clients say “sorry” when they tear up or cry during therapy sessions.

Why would you apologize for feeling and expressing sadness?

(I mean, I know the answer. Because it’s socially unacceptable to be sad in public, unless it’s a funeral, then you can cry a little… but God help you if you start blubbering or “lose control!” And we’ve all been trained since we were kids to control ourselves and mask our emotions because they’re unseemly in public).

But still, even though I know why, it doesn’t stop feeling strange to me—that we’re ashamed of our emotions and how we feel and try to hide them from others, even the people we’re closest to.

As a therapist, my clients’ tears are actually really helpful to me. They’re a sign that something we’re talking about is important and valuable. That helps me do my job better because I understand the person across from me a little better.

But that’s not just true in the therapy office. That’s true for all of us!

Visibly painful emotions like sadness and fear and frustration help signal to people around us that we’re struggling and could use some help or support.

You don’t need coping strategies when you’re sad, or discouraged, or feeling lonely, paralyzed, or helpless. You need people. You need support. You need someone to give you a hug, listen carefully to your story, share a pint of Haagen Dazs with.

When we hide our pain and isolate ourselves, we throw away the most powerful antidepressant known to man—loving support from people who care about us.

So, while it’s totally natural to hide yourself away and isolate when you’re in pain or suffering, just do the opposite. Reach out. Ask for support. Connect.

We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep. ― William James

3. Keeping quiet and “going with the flow”

It’s a truism that most people dislike conflict. But that’s just because most people don’t know that there’s a good way to do conflict.

Most of us hesitate to push back and stand up for ourselves because we’re afraid of being perceived as aggressive, pushy, conniving, or rude. And so we default to being passive, accepting, quiet, and generally just “going with the flow” (which is usually just a euphemism for being a doormat).

But there’s a middle road between being a passive doormat and an aggressive (or passive-aggressive) bully: You can be assertive.

Assertiveness means standing up for your own wants, needs, and values. It means asking for what you want and saying no to what you don’t want in a way that’s clear, respectful, and honest.

And assertiveness is a skill anyone can learn.

The road to genuine self-esteem,