8 Negative Habits That Block Happiness

I was recently talking to a sociologist friend at a junior hockey game. He mentioned something in passing that I’ve not been able to forget.

Economists have shown an interesting thing. After a certain level of our basic needs have been met additional income has surprisingly little effect on happiness.

On the other hand. Psychologists have known for some time that the most accurate predictor of happiness is the quality and amount of social relationships a person has.

Yet most people spend a huge amount of energy chasing wealth and very little on building social connections. So why do we habitually make these choices?

Of course you might say to me that nobody chooses consciously to be unhappy.

But the hard truth?

You can cause yourself a lot of misery by engaging in what can be called negative mental habits.

The outcomes we experience in life are often the result of our habits. Eliminating counterproductive habits from your life is one step to more fully experiencing happiness.

Make an effort to eliminate these 8 habits that negatively impact your happiness:

1. Having unreasonable timelines. Almost any goal is reasonable. But what is not is to overestimate what can be accomplished in a certain amount of time. In fact most people underestimate what’s possible over longer stretches. Be sure your timeline is reasonable.

• An overly optimistic estimation will leave you feeling defeated when you’re unable to attain your goal on schedule.

2. Spending too much time in the past or future. It’s challenging to be happy if you’re regretting the past or fearing the future. Learn from your past missteps and avoid dwelling on them. Avoid worrying about the future.

One way of being more in the moment is to practice mindfulness meditation. Meditation has been found to lead to high activity in the brain’s left prefrontal cortex, which in turn has been found to correlate with happiness.

If you foresee potential challenges ahead, calmly prepare solutions. If you live in the present moment, being happy becomes much easier.

3. Having a victim mentality. It’s common to search for excuses for our negative experiences. We often try to justify staying in our current circumstances. You may very well be the victim of some unfortunate situation, but it’s your responsibility to work your way out of it.

• Taking responsibility for the happenings in your life is powerful. Countless individuals have overcome incredible odds. You can certainly be among them.

4. Holding a grudge. Focusing on negative events creates unhappy feelings. Taken to the extreme, a grudge can lead to engaging in negative actions to get back at someone.

Holding a grudge has been described as drinking poison and then expecting your enemy to suffer. Let go of your negative feelings toward others.

5. Comparing yourself to others. Everyone starts with a unique set of talents, skills, and experiences. Avoid comparing yourself to others. If you want to make a comparison, compare yourself to your recent past.

• Are you heading in a positive direction? If so, you probably have a good reason to be excited. If not, it’s time to get busy making some changes.

6. Failing to learn from failure. Failure is rarely enjoyable, but it can be a useful experience. Learn from your failures and apply the knowledge to your future attempts. Failure can be a great tool for moving toward success. Repeating the same errors will provide the same results. View failure as a learning opportunity.

7. A lack of gratitude. Things are rarely as bad as they seem. Regularly reminding yourself of this can demonstrate that your life might be more wonderful than you realize. Use spare moments to mentally list the things that fill you with feelings of gratitude. It will allow happiness to enter your life.

8. Settling for low standards. It’s possible to become comfortable with poor results. On one hand, you might be unhappy with where you are. On the other hand, trying for more seems scary.

Economics professor Edward Glaeser believes that people constantly make choices that decrease their happiness, because they have also more important aims. Or at least what they perceive to be more important aims.

You’re unique and capable. You can have a wonderful life.

Increase your expectations. There’s no reason to settle for less.

Certain habits make it more challenging to experience happiness. Identifying and eliminating these counterproductive habits can create the necessary space for happiness to enter your life.


According to the psychologist Martin Seligman, happiness does not come only from external or momentary pleasures. He gives the acronym PERMA to summarize Positive Psychology’s correlational findings.

Humans seem happiest when they have

1. Pleasure (tasty food, warm baths, etc.),
2. Engagement (or flow, the absorption of an enjoyed yet challenging activity),
3. Relationships (social ties have turned out to be extremely reliable indicator of happiness),
4. Meaning (a perceived quest or belonging to something bigger), and
5. Accomplishments (having realized tangible goals).

Many methods exist for removing established bad habits. For example, there is withdrawal of reinforcers. This is identifying and removing factors that trigger and reinforce the habit.

The basal ganglia area of the brain seems to remember the context that triggers a habit. So habits can be revived if triggers reappear. That is why recognizing and eliminating bad habits as soon as possible is advised.

Habit elimination becomes more difficult with age because repetitions reinforce habits cumulatively over the lifespan.

According to Charles Duhigg, there is a habit loop that includes a cue, routine and reward for every habit. An example of a habit loop is TV program ends (cue), go to the fridge (routine), eat a snack (reward). The key to changing habits in this view, is to identify your cue and modify your routine and reward.

Enhance the positive quality of your habits and you’ll experience a more positive perspective on life.

After all. Everyone deserves to be happy.


Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Can Happiness be Taught?
Daedalus journal, Spring 2004.

Coercive regulation and the balance of freedom,
Edward Glaeser, Cato Unbound 11.5.2007

Claire Bates (2012-10-31). “Is this the world’s happiest man? Brain scans reveal French monk found to have ‘abnormally large capacity’ for joy, and it could be down to meditation | Mail Online”. Dailymail.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-04-26.

Herbert Fensterheim, Jean Baer (1975) Don’t Say Yes When You Want to Say No. Dell. ISBN 0-440-15413-8.