Happiness is no secret.
Certain factors boost it while others reduce it.
Most of these factors are under our control. Better yet, we can change many of them quickly and easily.
In this article, we’ll look at 17 factors that may reduce your happiness. And we’ll discuss what you can do to correct hem.
If you’ve ever asked yourself, “Why am I not happy?” this article will give you the answers.
As explained in my previous article, happiness takes effort.
Most activities known to boost happiness – e.g., exercising regularly, meditating, spending time in nature, finding a fulfilling job, experiencing flow, or planning a vacation – can be time-consuming and hard.
Sitting on the couch all day long, playing video games, or eating junk food won’t make us happy. Neither will sucking it up at a job we don’t like. Neither will spending leisure time watching hours and hours of television.
The remedy: Get serious about building self-discipline and work ethic. I know it’s not sexy. I know it’s hard. I know you don’t want to do it. Yet without a certain base amount of discipline, you won’t ever reach the upper limits of happiness.
Spending too much time on your couch – watching Netflix, staring into your smartphone, or reading a newspaper – is a surefire way to misery town.
This is true for many reasons. For one, you’re not moving your body. Movement creates happiness; sedentariness creates misery. Happiness experts tell us that not exercising is like taking a depressant pill.
Another reason is that you’re not experiencing flow. We create this beautiful state when we’re actively engaged in an activity, not when we’re passively schmoozing on the couch.
The remedy: Bring more activity into your life. Exercise more frequently, meet your friends for dinner, go on a hiking trip, plan weekend activities, or join a yoga class.
Social relationships are the #1 driver of happiness.
Without a thriving social life (whatever that looks like for you), you’re not nearly as happy as you could be.
“We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends,” explains happiness researcher Daniel Gilbert.
The remedy: Improve your social life. Call your mother once a week, visit your grandparents, join a cooking class, or actively plan social activities for the weekend.
Materialism is one of the greatest obstacles to happiness.
“A mountain of research has shown that materialism depletes happiness, threatens satisfaction with our relationships, harms the environment, renders us less friendly, likeable, and empathetic, and makes us less likely to help others and contribute to our communities,” explains happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky.
“Stuff” doesn’t make us happy, period.
The remedy: Clarify your intrinsic values – e.g., family, self-growth, closeness with friends, or contribution to the community – and make financial decisions based on those values. (Learn more about materialism and happiness in this article.)
Are you trying to get the best in everything? Do you often second-guess yourself, wondering whether you could have made a better choice?
If so, you might be a maximizer. And it might be another reason why you’re not happy.
“Maximizers, according to a series of studies by Schwartz, are lower than satisficers in happiness, optimism, self-esteem, and life satisfaction, and higher in depression and regret,” explain Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener in their book Happiness.
The Remedy: Let go of trying to get “the best” and focus instead on being satisfied with “good enough.” Go through your life eating a good enough breakfast, getting a good enough cup of coffee, and maybe even a good enough life partner.
Taking things for granted is a natural human tendency, and it’s another reason why we’re not as happy as we could be.
As I explain in this article, the simple practice of gratitude journaling can make us 25% happier in a matter of weeks! Without gratitude, we’re prone to worrying, comparing ourselves to other people, complaining, pitying ourselves, and so on.
The remedy: Actively and deliberately practise gratitude in your life. Check out this article for ten science-backed gratitude exercises.
Overthinking – comparing ourselves to other people, ruminating about the future, worrying what others think of us, and so on – is a disease that’s troubled me all my life. I can attest to the fact that it’s scientifically proven to make us miserable.
“The evidence that overthinking is bad for you is now vast and overwhelming,” explains happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky. “If you are someone who is plagued by ruminations, you are unlikely to become happier before you can break that habit.”
The remedy: Practice mindfulness, a skill largely honed through meditation practice. It’s hands down the best long-term strategy to conquer overthinking. Check out this article for a beginner’s guide to meditation.
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned,” said the Buddha.
When we harbour hostility, resentment, anger, or hate towards people, situations, or our past, we’re the ones getting burned. We’re the ones suffering.
The remedy: Practice forgiveness. (You don’t do it for the person who wronged you, but for yourself.)
How you look at the future matters for your happiness today. (Read that again.)
When you’re excited and optimistic, you’ll experience more happiness. When you’re anxious and pessimistic, you’ll experience less happiness.
The remedy: The #1 way to become more optimistic is reframing. Frame the future in ways that induce optimism rather than pessimism. (For more on this, check out Martin Seligman’s book Learned Optimism.)
Goals give us a sense of purpose, meaning, and control. They excite us. They fill us with enthusiasm. They get us fired up. And they give us a reason to get up every morning.
“Working toward a meaningful life goal is one of the most important strategies for becoming lastingly happier,” explains happiness scientist Sonja Lyubomirsky in The How of Happiness.
The remedy: Set goals and pursue exciting projects – aim to run a marathon, cook a new dish for your family every weekend, join a yoga class, or read 20 books in the next 20 weeks.
According to Wikipedia, flow is “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one's sense of space and time.”
Flow is a massive contributor to happiness. Not only does it fulfil us and boost our mood for hours or even days, it also acts as a buffer against overthinking, ruminating, worrying, and being stuck in our heads.
The remedy: Strategically incorporate more flow activities into your days, whether that’s at work, on the weekends, or in the comfort of your own home.
Self-focus means being overly concerned with yourself. It has been shown to reduce happiness, lower resiliency, ruin people’s relationships, and damage their health and emotional well-being. It’s associated with depression, anxiety, social isolation, higher blood pressure, and increased coronary atherosclerosis.
I learned about this in Emma Seppälä’s The Happiness Track.
The remedy: Move your focus away from yourself, toward other people and the world around you. How? By practising acts of kindness, meditating on loving-kindness, or eliciting feelings of gratitude, awe, or wonder.
When we engage in an activity we’re good at, we feel good, too. We feel powerful, self-confident, in control, and happy.
If you rarely use your strengths, you’re not as happy as you could be.
The remedy: Design your life in a way that allows you to use your strengths. Organize a weekly football/cooking/yoga/singing get-together, land a job suited to your strengths, or plan weekend activities that align with what you’re good at.
According to one study, individuals who watch just three minutes of negative news in the morning have a “whopping 27% greater likelihood of reporting their day as unhappy six to eight hours later compared to the positive condition.”
Happiness researcher Shawn Achor adds in his book The Happiness Advantage that “studies have shown the less negative TV we watch, specifically violent media, the happier we are.”
The remedy: Stop consuming mainstream news or limit your consumption as much as possible.
Happiness and other emotional states are contagious. For example, one study has shown that if a friend who lives within half a mile of you gets happy, your chances of happiness increase by 42%. (I talk more about emotional contagion and what it means for your life in this article.)
“You would think that your emotional state would depend on your own choices and actions and experience, but it also depends on the choices and actions and experiences of other people, including people to whom you are not directly connected. Happiness is contagious," explains Dr. Christakis, one of the authors of this study.
The remedy: Surround yourself with people who lift you up, who inspire you, and who make you want to be better. At the same time, reduce the amount of time you spend with complainers, naysayers, and pessimists.
People around you are only one part of your environment, an environment that is constantly wielding a subtle but powerful influence on your thoughts, emotions, and behaviours.
This is known as priming. You may not know it, but priming yourself for happiness or misery, strength or weakness, power or powerlessness can make all the difference between success and failure.
If you environment subtly pushes you into misery, you’ll always struggle with being happy.
The remedy: Create an environment that primes you for happiness. Stop consuming the news and read inspiring books and articles instead. Get a coffee mug with a smile on it. Update your bedsheets to make them more positive. Change your background wallpapers to something that inspires you.
Positive anticipation has a surprisingly large effect on happiness. In fact, research shows that happiness is often higher during the anticipation of an event rather than the event itself.
If you don’t have anything to look forward to, your life lacks excitement, optimism, and happiness.
The remedy: Put something on your calendar. Fill your life with exciting events in the future. Go on a hiking trip next Sunday, plan a vacation, or join a weekly dance class.
Happiness is no secret.
We know which factors lead to happiness and which to misery.
Becoming happier is merely the result of setting up your life in ways that incorporate more of the happiness-inducing and less of the misery-inducing factors.
This is great news. Because it means your happiness is under your control. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you can become as happy as you want to be.
It is an honour to be a guest blogger on Alison's Blog.
Be sure to check out my books, including The Little Book of Stoicism
Enjoy the Journey,
Nils Salzgeber is an Amazon #1 bestselling author and co-founder of NJlifehacks. He is a productivity and personal transformation specialist who combines personal experience with modern science. He quit university at the age of 21 after successfully making the leap to entrepreneurship. Since then, he has been travelling the world, built several successful online businesses, and published two books.
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