Happiness is something we all want. We make choices and do things in hopes of attaining it but without realizing, we also undermine our chances of being happy. Read on to discover 30 unexpected ways you are self-sabotaging your happiness and what you can do to stop being your worst enemy when it comes to finding joy in life.
Neglecting the benefits of your commute
No doubt a long commute during the crowded hours of the morning can leave you depleted of energy, according to research conducted in 2014 at the University of Waterloo. But let’s look on the bright side! There are many pleasant things you can do during your commute to improve your well-being.
“If you find yourself becoming cranky in rush hour traffic, make sure you have music you love to provide a private concert in your ears,” suggests Milana Perepyolkina, author of Gypsy Energy Secrets. “You can also listen to audio-books or even learn a new language.”
Allowing the little things to affect you
Don’t let one bad moment ruin your entire day. Instead of taking life’s small mishaps too seriously, focus on the big picture and allow yourself to be happy. “When little misfortunes do happen, accept them,” Perepyolkina says. “In some cultures, it is considered good luck to find a hair in your soup or to break a cup. A little ‘bad’ thing is believed to keep the larger ones away in the way a small earthquake can release tension in the earth so that a big one may become less likely.”
Defining success by getting what you want
The definition of success is not the same for everyone. In order to be successful, you need to understand what it means for you. But if you success is exclusively defined by getting what you want, then instead of setting yourself up for success, you’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment. “Our happiness is sabotaged when we believe we can only be happy if we get what we want,” explains Alex Lickerman, MD, and Ash ElDifrawi, PsyD, authors of The Ten Worlds: The New Psychology of Happiness.
“If we don’t get what we want—which happens often—we’ll remain decidedly unhappy. Even if we do get what we want, our happiness will then depend on our keeping it. And when we lose it, as inevitably we always will, what was once the source of our greatest happiness then becomes the source of our greatest misery.”
Avoiding emotional pain, no matter what
It’s normal to want to avoid emotional pain and reduce your suffering but avoiding it altogether will prevent you from learning from your experience, healing and growing into a better, happier person. “Seeking at all times to avoid pain turns out only to make us good at not feeling pleasure,” according to Lickerman and ElDifrawi. “Further, pain stimulates growth and is often necessary for us to break through obstacles that are making us unhappy.”
Turning pleasure into a priority above all else
It might be tempting to focus solely on the pleasures of life, thinking that’s what will make you happy. For a while, maybe it will, but in the long run, you’re only going to sabotage your happiness. “Believing that a life devoted to the pursuit of pleasure will make you happy will sabotage your happiness,” warns Lickerman and ElDifrawi. “While it’s obvious why so many of us believe pleasure, in general, does engender happiness, it’s also obvious that a life devoted to the unbridled pursuit of pleasure is decidedly unhappy.”
Pursuing someone in a committed relationship
“Most people won’t leave their partner for you, despite how many promises they might make, or the sentiments they express in wanting to be with you,” warns Carissa Coulston, PsyD, relationship expert at The Eternity Rose. “If you fear rejection and being abandoned, you may find yourself drawn to someone who is unavailable, as this type of relationship may feel more ‘safe’ since your married or otherwise committed lover can never truly commit to you.” In the end, not only will you not end up with the person you are pursuing but this obsession will also cause a lot of pain and suffering to everyone involved.
Expecting perfection in a partner
There’s no such thing as a perfect relationship. The sooner you understand this, the better for you, your significant other and your relationship.
“Searching for your soulmate according to a perfect scenario with unrealistic expectations—like the idea that you will never have any problems—leads to relationship failure,” says Coulston. “You’ll build someone up in your mind, go out with them, only to find they have imperfections that drive you crazy. This will surely kill any relationship hopes you may have held for this person and lead you to believe they are not the one you have been looking for.” If you want to live a long, happy life together with your partner, accept his/her flaws and imperfections and take him/her as he/she is.
Needing constant validation from your partner
If you constantly find yourself seeking approval from your partner, it’s time to stop. Not only does it make you feel vulnerable and not good enough without his/her validation, but it will also have negative consequences for your partner and your relationship.
“If you do not like yourself, you probably come to rely on your partner’s approval and admiration to feel OK, but any reassurance that comes your way is only short-lived,” explains Coulston. “Within moments of the last compliment or romantic deed that your partner expresses, you are doubting yourself again, and your need to be loved and admired becomes insatiable—this leads to problems and arguments in the relationship, as your insecurities slowly wear it down.”
Distancing yourself from your friends
If you’ve had unpleasant experiences in the past, “being treated with respect can actually be the thing that causes internal distress,” says Gray. “When people are used to being hurt in relationships or have become accustomed to connecting to emotionally unavailable partners or friends, when someone is attentive, kind, and respectful of boundaries, that can be really uncomfortable.”
In some situations, people don’t trust a healthy relationship, expecting something bad to happen at any moment. “As a result, they’ll test a well-intentioned person,” Gray says. “They might be brief or distant in an exchange, cancel plans, ‘ghost,’ or be otherwise irritable. In doing this, they’re operating under the internal assumption that there’s a catch to someone’s kindness, so they’re trying to either uncover it or test the limits of someone’s willingness to be unconditional in their regard of them.”
Expecting the worst from yourself
“To some, it is better to control their own failure rather than having it come by surprise,” says Estes. “In this way, it’s easier to say that they knew it wouldn’t work out and not try to make it better. This is because, if they fail, they have to actually confront their failure.” It’s a way to cushion themselves emotionally but in the long run, they end up believing it also and hating themselves. More than that, repeating it constantly will also make others see you the way you see yourself.
Not seeing the positives
Constantly complaining and focusing on the negative things in your life can turn you into a sad, frustrated person that people avoid. Tricia Wolanin, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and author of The Fragrance of Wanderlust, says she had a friend who couldn’t get past the negatives in his life and enjoy the good things.
“He refused to see his amazing promotion that very few people achieve in his field, the raise, positive people in his life, the travels, and intimacy he experienced during the year. What he chose to focus on were the negative aspects that occurred. This was the medical illness, break-ups, debt, or people that have pushed him away.”
Letting education limit your career opportunities
Of course, education is extremely important and can shape much of your future, especially career-wise. But a piece of paper is not the only thing that can help you achieve your career goals. “People may succumb to remaining in the same job or income level because this is what their degree is in,” says Wolanin. “They do not realize the numerous doors that are open if they only took the first step by taking a chance. All of this is fear-based. We don’t think we will succeed, so we don’t even try, therefore sabotaging our happiness.”
Working too much
Work helps us grow, learn new things and achieve our financial goals. But this does not mean we should devote our entire time to our jobs and forget how to be happy and have a life outside the office. Overworking might bring you more money, but it will also sabotage your happiness in other ways.
“Feeling bogged down and overworked at the office can lead to anxiety and depression,” says Bryan Bruno, MD, medical director at Mid City TMS, a New York City-based medical center focused on treating depression. “To prevent burnout at work, section off your daily tasks and realize that not everything has to be done immediately. Taking adequate time off to keep you sharp and productive is also important.”
Putting your career on hold
Sometimes, things take such a sudden turn that people are totally unprepared for that. They’ve dreamed their entire life to hit it big and when something like that happens, they get scared and run in the other direction.
“They might feel uncomfortable with success or with the expectations that come with success,” says Gray. “That unconscious internal struggle will kick in and they might try to sell their product with less ambition if they own a business, they might keep an idea they have to themselves after getting praise from a boss. They might have a sales call where they know they nailed it, but they’ll avoid following up and getting the prospect to sign on the dotted line.”
Eating an unbalanced diet
What you eat can have a major impact for your overall health and well-being. Most of us forget that our bodies, as well as our brains, need to receive proper vitamins and nutrients to perform their functions properly. The right foods can boost our mood and make us feel happier. “Vitamins B12, B6, and B3 facilitate the communication between neurons and the transport of neurotransmitters,” Bruno explains. “A healthy brain means better chemical balance, and ultimately a better mood.”
Discover 7 awesome foods that will uplift your mood in no time!
Not exercising enough
Apart from adopting a healthy diet to boost your mood and improve your overall quality of life, exercising regularly can also help you see life, and yourself, with different eyes. “Exercising at least a few times a week is just as important as eating well,” Bruno says. “Not only will exercise improve your confidence and body image, but it will also release endorphins in the brain, which [can] enhance your mood.”
Having extra high expectations
Having high standards can sometimes be a good thing. It can lead to better businesses, better relationships. On the other hand, setting your goals too high and having unrealistic expectations will only make you feel deflated and disappointed when things don’t go the way you expected.
“If we hold on too tightly to perfection, our creativity becomes stifled and we are never able to truly enjoy the process,” says G. Brian Benson, life coach and author of Habits for Success: Inspired Ideas to Help You Soar. “For some, the pressure of having something be perfect keeps them from even starting. And for others, it never allows them to finish because it will never be ‘perfect.'”
Always comparing yourself to others
If you compare everything you do and have with what other people do and have, you’ll always find a reason to come second place. “Society certainly isn’t doing us any favors with all of the body image advertising coming at us—advertising that can make us feel less than whole and send messages that we need to buy their product to become worthy and lovable,” Benson says. “Social media has also trained us to see only the best of others, while we, unfortunately, compare that with the worst of ourselves.”
Underestimating your abilities
According to Steven Rosenberg, PhD, a psychotherapist and behavioral specialist, many people have “self-limiting beliefs” that affect their happiness and well-being. “As an example, if you want to lose weight, you avoid going on a diet,” he says. “The reason you choose is simple: ‘Why should I lose weight? I always gain it back anyway!’ These are self-limiting beliefs.” This usually happens because people think low of themselves and try to find a mechanism to help them cope with their failure.
Believing you are an imposter
“Many times, as a person advances in life, they become afraid of being found out as an imposter,” explains Rosenberg. “This is the imposter complex: ‘I don’t deserve to be in this high-capacity position in life.'” It is a sneaky and overwhelming feeling that is constantly chipping away at your happiness if you don’t do something about it.
Instead of dealing with their problems head-on, many people try to by-pass them by self-medicating with drinks, cigarettes, food, or anything else that activates the pleasure centers in their brain. What they don’t realize is that self-medication may work in the short-term but can cause real damage in the long run.
“Many people self-medicate with either alcohol or drugs to cope with these feelings of low self-esteem,” says Rosenberg. “A drug of choice might even be food. We can overeat through stress. These things can be dangerous because they are subtle. ‘Just one more drink or one more cookie…'”.
Overdoing it with online dating
Today’s technological advancements have simplified and improved many aspects of our lives. The love department makes no exception. You can meet your significant other on social media or with the help of dating apps. But overdoing it on the swipe-left-right option to find love and happiness can ultimately turn against you.
“We’ve made people a commodity when it comes to dating,” says Trish McDermott, a dating expert and relationship coach at the dating portal Meetopolis. “With a mindset that there are thousands out there waiting for us, we swipe people away for trivial reasons—his hair color, her neck, his eyebrows, the shape of her ears—none of which has anything to do with what makes a healthy, happy relationship possible. Or we instantly reject people simply because we think there’s someone just a little bit better, taller, thinner, or possessing some other quality we’re searching for coming up next in the queue.”
Not focusing on the things you like about yourself
Nobody is perfect. Make that your mantra and start focusing on the things you like about yourself, instead of on your flaws. If you don’t do that, you’ll never be able to feel good about yourself and be happy for who you are. Certified mindful lifestyle and stress management coach Susan Petang, author of The Quiet Zone, recommends writing down the things you love about yourself every day. “It can be as simple as, ‘I have beautiful hands,’ to, ‘I am an outstanding problem solver,'” she says.
Not appreciating the moment
One thing happy people have in common is their ability to stop and appreciate the positives in their life. It doesn’t matter if it’s lunch with a close friend or a beautiful view from their office window. “Find wonder, amazement, and gratitude for that particular moment,” says Petang. “It’s not helpful to remember past mistakes and trauma since it’s in the past; it’s not helpful to worry about the future since it isn’t here yet.”
Not trying to understand yourself
“People sabotage their happiness because they don’t know their own story,” says Mike Ensley, MA, LPCC, a counselor based in Loveland, Colorado. “They are not aware of the false beliefs that color how they experience events and relationships, or of the inner wounds that drive unhelpful avoidance and self-protection.” People who try more to understand themselves and their reasons to act in certain ways have better chances to find happiness and peace.
Having unrealistic expectations for other people
“One of the biggest ways I see people sabotage their own happiness is by holding unrealistic expectations of others and the world around them,” says James Killian, LPC, principal therapist and owner of Arcadian Counseling. From practical strangers to people closest to us, our unrealistic expectations of how these people should behave will only make us unhappy when things don’t go the way we expected them to.
Comparing your current self to your previous self
“I often hear people in my life comparing themselves to the body type they had 10 years ago, or who they were before they had children,” says Melissa Coats, licensed professional counselor with Coats Counseling. “Many times, we hold this as the standard for what we ‘should’ be in life, and we spend an exorbitant amount of energy trying to ‘get back to’ who we think we really are. The reality is that we cannot go through life without change.”
The past is in the past. Learn from your previous experiences but acknowledge that it’s normal to change and adjust to circumstances and present times instead of comparing yourself to your former self.
Projecting your feelings onto someone else
Projecting negative feelings onto another person will only prevent you from seeing the bigger picture and moving on from your unhappiness. For instance, saying things like, “My spouse is ruining my life,” or “If that co-worker wouldn’t have gotten that promotion in my place, I wouldn’t be late all the time for work” is just a way to find excuses and feel miserable instead of actually doing something that could make you happier.
“Usually this involves waiting for someone else or a circumstance to change in order to feel better,” she says. “But what actually happens is that other person changes or the circumstance changes and we end up still feeling the same way. The common denominator here then is our own feelings and our response to them.”
Disregarding your blind spots
“We all have blind spots,” says Coats, according to whom they are “areas in our life that operate on a subconscious level and have the potential to be very damaging if we don’t notice them.” These may include work-related habits, things you do in your relationship with your partner, friends, family etc.
“Looking at a situation from only one perspective does not serve us well in the long run,” says Coats. “It may be more comfortable to rely on our own perspective, but we might miss something big. The beauty about blind spots is that when they are pointed out, we can correct the course.”
Not asking for help
You don’t have to be alone in life. There’s nothing wrong with relying on others from time to time and asking for help if you need it. “I still see many people with a deeply rooted belief that asking for help is weakness,” says Coats. “We only have so much time and energy to spend in a day. So many of us are used to overdrawing that account. If we were to ask for help in seeing our blind spots, talk to someone about how we are really doing, see a therapist, or delegate some tasks to others, we would have much more time and energy in the emotional account for the things that bring joy to our lives.”