Today we want to talk about mental habits that can destroy your happiness. Happiness is one of the only things we want in life for its own sake. Money is a means to an end. So is love, sometimes. And even power. But happiness is intrinsic. When we have it, we don’t long for anything else. We’re content with the way things are and happy for them to stay that way as long as possible. That’s what makes it so different from practically any other feeling out there.
Unfortunately, many of us are prone to negative mental habits that slowly wear us down. Worse still, they can seemingly arise from nothing, out of nowhere. You think you’re having a good time and then, bam – you feel dreadful.
Fortunately, it is quite easy to get a handle on these experiences and explain them in down-to-Earth terms. You don’t need to be a Zen master or a psychologist. You just need a working model in your mind of what these mental habits are so that you can recognize them.
Psychologists often talk about this process in terms of setting “healthy cognitive boundaries.” People, they say, should have clear rules for how they speak to themselves on the inside that resemble how they would like people to talk to them on the outside.
So what are these mental habits that gnaw away at your happiness? And what can you do to sort them out?
Trying To Please Other People All The Time
If you think you’re a “people pleaser,” you’re not alone. It’s something that millions of people feel like they have to do all the time. They live their lives convinced that the only way to survive is to make other people happy.
Often, the desire to please others all the time comes from a narcissistic or abusive parent. The child learns that the only way to survive is to manage the parent’s emotions continually. Over time, they develop a habit of believing that other people need to be happy for them to be safe, even when that isn’t true.
People-pleasing is a terrible drain on your resources. You’re always thinking about whether you said the right thing. And you worry that if people don’t like you, you’ll be harmed in some way.
People-pleasing is misplaced empathy. You think it’s your job to make people feel better, just because you know what’s wrong. The truth is that you don’t. Trying to please people can backfire, and you can wind up resenting others for mistreating you. If people detect that there’s nothing they can do that will make you dislike them, that can lead to abuse, which is a shame.
Comparing Yourself To Others
Despite what you might have heard, we’re all very different from each other. The variation within human populations is enormous. And for a good reason: we all need different talents to make society function. If people were all the same, opportunities for collaboration would be limited.
Comparing yourself for others, therefore, is a game you can never win. There will always be somebody better looking, smarter, wealthier, or more sporty than you. And there’s nothing you can do about it, no matter how hard you try.
Unfortunately, your mind can walk down this dark path. The journal Science says that people tend to care about their relative wealth more than how much money they actually have in the bank. So if you earn five figures and you know somebody who makes six figures, you’ll be jealous. Interestingly, millionaires in Silicon Valley often feel like they’re losing out because they know a billionaire somewhere with even more money than them, despite having everything they could want.
Comparing yourself to others, as with so many things, has its roots in childhood. It often starts when parents rank one child against another. There’s the “smart” child or the “social” child. These comparisons then stick with people throughout their lives, and they become obsessed with how they “measure up.” Beating everyone else is virtually impossible, and yet that’s what you find yourself trying to do.
Feeling Guilty All The Time
Feeling guilty about how you spend your time is something that can eat you up in life. You worry, for instance, that you’re not dedicating yourself sufficiently to your career, children, or self-improvement projects. And you believe that if you don’t spend time doing these things, you’re automatically some type of failure.
For many people, this takes the form of never permitting themselves just to chill out. But sometimes, going for a weekend break in the country, getting a foot massage, or buying a smoking subscription box is vital for your well-being. Remember, the only reason you work so hard is that you want some sort of reward at the end of it. You endure pain so that you can experience a life that is more fun. It’s that simple.
Feeling guilty all the time isn’t a sign you’ve done something wrong. Instead, it’s a false belief that your actions are harmful to other people. Usually, though, these feelings aren’t warranted. You haven’t actually done anything wrong by not working all weekend. Instead, you’ve taken a bit of time to yourself.
Even if you are hurting somebody, you can usually quickly make amends. If you’re not ready for a relationship, you can step back, work on yourself, and then enter the fray once you’re in a better position. Similarly, you can take courses if anger is an issue in your life.
Believing You’re A Failure
Believing you’re a failure is usually a mental habit that relates closely to comparing yourself to others. When you were young, you had this idea that you’d get a college degree, find the perfect partner, settle down, and then work in a high-paid dream job. Sometimes, though, that’s not how things pan out. Life isn’t just a gradual gradient to the top. It’s lumpy, and all sorts of things can get in the way of where you are right now and where you’d ultimately like to be.
When you get to your 30s or 40s and look back at your life so far, you can have a gnawing sense that you’re way behind where you should be. Everyone else seems to be storming ahead and forging these incredible lives, and you’re stuck in the mud. Debt, divorce, and dead-end jobs can make you feel like you’re not able to progress in the way you’d like – and that can take its toll.
Failure mindsets, however, are often self-fulfilling. Once you start believing that you can’t have success, that feeling remains with you long-term. Eventually, you just get used to the idea that nothing in your life will work out, and you make a kind of peace with it. But it isn’t a good stalemate. Instead, you always think about it, experiencing sensations of regret and depression.
The way out of this mental habit is to change the way that you think about time. Many people look back at their lives in middle age and assume that the best years are behind them. What they don’t realize is that they’ve actually just been building the foundations. Success is lumpy and tends to come in fits and starts. Some people get it in their twenties, and then it fizzles out. Others achieve it in retirement – an unexpected result.
Acting insecure, though, is a significant drag on your ability to get where you want to go. If bosses detect you lack confidence, they’re less likely to put you in positions of authority and power. And that’s not good if you’re a career-orientated person.
Thinking You Have To Be Perfect All The Time
Having extremely high standards is a form of self-abuse. Nobody is born without flaws. Instead, we all have to go through life, carrying them with us. When perfectionism develops, it goes squarely against our nature.
Perfectionists have what psychologists call “conditional self-worth.” The idea here is that their self-worth is okay, as long as they’re doing well. If they make a mistake, though, they immediately think less of themselves.
People who suffer from perfectionism are more likely to experience anxiety and depression. They’re also much more likely to experience fibromyalgia symptoms – a condition that causes pain throughout the body. Remember, nobody can be the perfect person all the time. Those who believe that they must be the best all the time tend to get burned out.
So what can perfectionists do to change this destructive mental habit? First, you need to become comfortable with believing that you’re “good enough.” Getting comfortable with this idea is a challenge because you have to rethink how you value yourself. But once you do it, life becomes infinitely more bearable.
Second, you need to give yourself a chance to focus on the bigger picture. Sometimes it helps to think of your life as less significant in the grand scheme of things. When you take a step back from yourself and view your life in a broader context, it changes your perspectives.
So, do you have any of these mental habits?