A happy and healthy life is the dream for us all: all of us are, in some way or the other, trying to achieve a happier life for ourselves. Happiness is critical for your success in various spheres of life, and individuals who are happy also experience good mental and physical health. This means that happiness doesn’t just feel good, it also does a lot of good for your life.
Yet, many of us, despite our best efforts and intentions, find ourselves feeling unhappy. Let’s take a look at some unhelpful behaviours that could be contributing to unhappiness along with suggestions for what can be done to feel happier instead.
“My colleague just doesn’t respond on time. They are so irritating!”
When you are unhappy about something, you might find yourself complaining about it. However, such behaviour can be quite unhelpful, as research suggests that complaining about a situation can make you feel helpless – and when you feel like you don’t have control, you end up feeling unhappier.
What you can do about it: When the going gets tough, take a moment to pause, and breathe. Instead of cribbing or complaining about the situation, try channelling your attention to deal with the difficulty or address the problem.
“Maybe I can have a conversation with them about how it is difficult for me to work when they don’t reply quickly. I can also ask them if they are facing certain challenges, especially since work-from-home is difficult for us all.”
Having Unrealistic Demands
“My evaluation was not too positive. This is unfair – I deserve better than this!”
Believing that what you’ve gotten is “not enough” can put you at risk of being unhappy, because no matter what you have, you are likely to feel disappointed. It’s likely that you will feel that you are being treated unfairly, which can make you agitated, angry, and irritable.
What you can do about it: Realise and accept that you don’t have control over everything that happens to you. Try making the best of any situation by thinking about it differently. You can even spend some time to identify any negative thinking patterns that could be leading to these unrealistic expectations and then work on them to feel happier.
“My evaluation was not too positive. While I expected better results, it’s possible my supervisors had valid reasons. Maybe I can ask for detailed feedback. I will work harder and perform better next time.”
“I just bought a second-hand phone with my own money, but my friend bought themselves a brand new iPhone. Everyone has it easier than me.”
For many of us, happiness might depend on how we evaluate ourselves and our life in comparison to that of others. You might probably find yourself comparing your accomplishments with those of others. If you think you’re doing better than them, you will feel happy. On the other hand, thinking that others are better off than you can set the stage for unhappiness. However, happiness is a subjective experience – what it means for you might be very different from what it means for someone else. While it may be natural to compare yourself with others, realise that it is not always healthy.
What you can do about it: Try looking at yourself – and your accomplishments – in isolation. Be mindful of your context and remind yourself that your life and journey is yours alone. Avoid using the term ‘but’ when you speak or think of the good things in your life; instead use the term ‘and’.
“I just bought a second-hand phone, and I’m really proud of myself for getting myself something nice with my own salary.”
“My partner said some pretty mean things to me during a fight. They’re saying sorry now, but I’ll always resent them. How dare they!”
When you forgive someone, you help not only the other person but also yourself. Holding a grudge can take a lot of your energy and attention, such that you may no longer have the resources to engage in more helpful and positive behaviours. Instead, forgiving and letting go of someone’s mistakes can be quite empowering, as it helps clear your mind for more productive thoughts and feelings.
What you can do about it: Forgive. Realise that forgiveness is not a matter of pride or ego. It is something you do for yourself – and so, while it might be hard and painstaking, in the long run, it will actually help you feel happier and calmer.
“When one is angry, they often tend to say harsh things that they might not mean. I forgive my partner – after all, they are truly sorry – but I will let them know that they hurt me and ask them to refrain from doing this again in the future.”
Investing in Possessions
“I think I’ll spend my money on a brand new watch and some clothes. I can take that hobby class some other time.”
“The new laptop I got just over 6 months ago has started to act up! I regret this so much!”
When you spend your money on buying ‘things’, you might feel happy – but studies show that this happiness is short-lived and can wear off easily. On the other hand, investing in new experiences can make you happier in the long run. This is because experiences are quite subjective in nature, and it’s hard to compare them with those of others. This means that you evaluate your experiences independently, feeling happier and regretting such spending less. Even waiting for an experience can make you happy.
What you can do about it: Wondering if you should go for the trip you’ve been planning for a few months? Or if you should spend some money on a concert ticket? Don’t hesitate to invest in these experiences – you are less likely to regret these expenses later. This experience could be something as simple as dining out or watching a much-awaited movie in the theatre.
“I think I should finally go for the trip I’ve been planning for months now. I feel excited already!”
Avoiding unhappiness is not the road to experiencing joy and happiness. Yet, in order to be happy, you have to first take steps to address the behaviours you might be engaging in that result in distress or negative emotions. When you are not unhappy, you can start working on doing things to make yourself happy.