While most people will say that they genuinely want to be happy, many nonetheless accidentally maintain self-undermining habits that actually promote low moods and a negative perspective. The good news is that leading psychologists say that as much as 40% of the human capacity for happiness is within our power to change. Here are nine of the most common thinking patterns and behaviors exhibited by unhappy people, along with some quick tips for changing these habits.
While you’re bound to end up disappointed if you believe that everything you want will just land in your lap, it’s equally ill-advised to assume that life will offer nothing but difficulty. The latter perspective is often accompanied by feelings of helplessness and a sense of being a victim. Instead, try to accept that life will be hard at times, but strive to remain motivated to engage in the type of active problem-solving that leads to overcoming challenges.
Unhappy people are often jealous and resentful, believing that the successes of others are undeserved. They may find themselves making constant comparisons and feel melancholy or spiteful because they don’t have as much money or as “good” a job as their neighbor. A better path involves allowing other people’s achievements to inspire you and buoy you up, seeing them as reassuring reminders of what is possible. Happiness isn’t a limited commodity—there is enough out there for everyone.
As noted above, it’s great to believe that you are not just a passive victim of fate. However, be careful not to go so far that you end up adopting another problematic habit that lies at the opposite end of the spectrum—a need for constant control. You’ll be happier if you take action to get what you want while consistently being mindful of the fact that luck can always intervene. Accepting that setbacks and abrupt changes of plan are a core part of life enables you to develop the skills needed to adapt and remain resilient in the face of the unexpected.
Of course, not everyone has your best interests in mind or can be relied upon. However, a default assumption that people are trustworthy until proven otherwise promotes better relationships and a happier perspective. Unhappy people tend to assume that everyone is out to use them or get one over on them, creating feelings of tension, anxiety and isolation.
Surprisingly, living to please others is a prime cause of happiness that is often seen alongside a refusal to trust. It makes your self-esteem conditional, as you can’t feel good unless others are responding positively to your attempts to please them, and it also prevents you from properly identifying and addressing your own needs. Far from being selfish, caring for yourself is actually mandatory for happiness and helps to provide you with the resources to continue being empathetic and compassionate.
It is undeniable that there’s room for improvement when it comes to how people treat each other and their environment. However, these failings are all that unhappy people see, and such individuals believe that the bad in humanity dramatically outweighs the good. To find more satisfaction in life, you don’t need to stop reading the news—in fact, optimistic people often take direct action to try and help when disaster strikes. However, you do need to stay connected to what’s going right in the world. Acts of bravery, self-sacrifice and genius are all over the news as well—you sometimes just need to look a little harder to find them.
Do you berate yourself on a daily basis, thinking that you’re perceived negatively by others and aren’t talented enough to achieve your goals? If so, you’re engaging in a key habit of unhappy people, who are often trapped in a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you constantly talk down to yourself, you actually undermine your chances of being successful, which in turn makes you think you were right to believe the worst of yourself. Try to think kinder, more positive thoughts—replace “I can’t” with “I can if I work hard enough.”
Another aspect of the unhappy person’s tendency to focus on the negative involves entertaining terrifying images of what could go wrong. It’s much healthier to daydream about how things might go right, albeit while accepting that life might throw a spanner in the works. While it’s unrealistic to claim that happy people don’t get anxious or fear the future, they have a better idea of what to do with those scary feelings. They look to see if there is anything they can do to prevent undesirable outcomes from coming to pass, then take those actions if they’re possible.
Finally, most of the habits on this list are psychological, but one of the most common physical habits of unhappy people is maintaining a sedentary lifestyle. Studies consistently show that people who take the time to exercise at least a few times a week (even just by walking around a pleasant green space) are happier than those who stay confined to their favorite comfy chair. If nothing else, raising your heart rate will promote endorphin production and automatically put you in a better mood.