5 Habits That Prevent Happiness

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It’s not easy to be unhappy all of the time. You have to really put effort into it by developing and maintaining habits that prevent happiness and encourage unhappiness. Just as certain habits will fill your bank account or keep your waistline under control, there are several habits that will ensure that you’re unhappy.

See how many of these habits you’re currently guilty of applying to your own life.


Research shows that pessimists tend to be more accurate than optimists. They also have been shown to live longer on average. Pessimism about the future may encourage people to live more carefully, taking health and safety precautions, according to the study’s lead author Frieder R. Lang, PhD.

But optimists are much happier. Expecting bad things to happen ruins your mood and increases the possibility of negative outcomes.

This can be a challenging habit to change. Ask yourself what you’re gaining by holding negative expectations in your conscious awareness.

Failure To Remain Focused On The Present

Everything that’s meaningful is happening in your life right now. The past is over, and much of the future is completely beyond your control.

Thinking about enjoyable experiences from the past is distracting. Focusing on negative past experiences creates regret. Any time spent thinking about the past is ultimately counterproductive.

Thoughts of the future create anxiety. When you focus on the future, you tend to worry and experience stress.

One of the biggest regrets anyone can have is the belief that they’ve wasted time. Spending too much time thinking about the future or the past is a waste of time and creates a more challenging present.

Too Much Emphasis On Money And Possessions

Our society places a premium on the wealth and impressive items that often accompany success. However, there is a poor correlation between wealth and happiness. Research by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton[3] shows that an income above $75,000 does nothing to increase happiness.

You’ll also find that the neighbors are a lot less concerned with your swimming pool and fancy car than you expected.
 Being financially secure is a worthy goal. An obsession with wealth is more likely to create unhappiness than to cure it.

Comparing Yourself To Others

While everyone might look more or less the same, there are significant differences between people. Some have more education than others. Some had kinder parents. People come from different economic backgrounds. There are a lot of differences between you and others.

Social comparison theory, first proposed by social psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954, argues that there is a drive within individuals to gain accurate self-evaluations. The theory explains how individuals evaluate their own opinions and abilities by comparing themselves to others in order to reduce uncertainty in these domains, and learn how to define the self.

According to T.A. Wills’ 1981 paper, downward social comparison is a defensive tendency that is used as a means of self-evaluation. When a person looks to another individual or group that they consider to be worse off than themselves in order to feel better about their self or personal situation, they are making a downward social comparison.

Other research has suggested that social comparisons with others who are better off or superior, or upward comparisons, can lower self-regard, whereas downward comparisons can elevate self-regard. Downward comparison theory emphasizes the positive effects of comparisons in increasing one’s subjective well-being. For example, it has been found that breast cancer patients made the majority of comparisons with patients less fortunate than themselves.[5]

The best comparison you can make is between your present self and your past self. Maybe you’re overweight, but if you’re less overweight than you were last week, you have plenty of reason to be happy with yourself.

An Obsession With Perfection

Striving for perfection is a waste of time. Do the spoons really need to be perfectly stacked in the drawer? Nothing can ever be 100% perfect, so you’re setting yourself up to be miserable.

If you must be obsessed with being perfect, try to keep it directed towards your self.

The type of perfectionist who sets impossibly high standards for others has a bit of a dark side. They tend to be narcissistic, antisocial and to have an aggressive sense of humor. They care little about social norms and do not readily fit into the bigger social picture, a 2015 study suggests[6].

The research describes 3 types of perfectionists identified in a group of 229 university students.

Author Joachim Stoeber found self-orientated perfectionism to be the only one of the three forms that has a pro-social element to it. Even though they focus on themselves, they show an interest in others, care about social norms and about others’ expectations. They prefer affiliative humor that enhances relationships, and shy away from aggressive jokes.

Socially prescribed perfectionists, on the other hand, make self-deprecating jokes, have a low self-esteem and a low self-regard, and often feel inferior. They can be quite antisocial and unemotional, and do not respond well to positive feedback.

Other-oriented perfectionists in turn have quite an aggressive sense of humor, which is used at the expense of others. This is just one of the many uncaring traits they have that make them disregard the expectations of others and social norms. They have a sense of superiority and do not easily fit into a bigger social circle, making them quite antisocial.

Creating any type of standard that can never be reached is unhealthy and unproductive. Complete tasks at an appropriate level and avoid trying to be perfect. Consider how to best use your time. The time you spend on perfection could be spent on something else.

  1. Kirt C. Butler and Larry H. P. Lang. The Forecast Accuracy of Individual Analysts: Evidence of Systematic Optimism and Pessimism. Journal of Accounting Research Vol. 29, No. 1 (Spring, 1991), pp. 150-156
  2. Frieder R. Lang, PhD; David Weiss, PhD; Denis Gerstorf, PhD; Gert G. Wagner, PhD. Forecasting Life Satisfaction Across Adulthood: Benefits of Seeing a Dark Future? Psychology and Aging, Vol. 28, No. 1.
  3. Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton. High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Sep 2010, 107 (38) 16489-16493; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1011492107
  4. Wills T. A. (1981). Downward comparison principles in social psychology. Psychological Bulletin. 90 (2): 245–271.
  5. Wood, J. V.; Taylor, S. E.; Lichtman, R. R. (1985). Social comparison in adjustment to breast cancer. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 49 (5): 1169–1183.
  6. Stoeber, J. How other-oriented perfectionism differs from self-oriented and socially prescribed perfectionism: Further findings. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, May 2015 DOI: 10.1007/s10862-015-9485-y

Last Updated on October 12, 2023