June 10, 2016

Unhappy to Happy: Killing the 5 habits that Made my Life Miserable.


kid happy joy

“It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.” ~ Dale Carnegie

We have a bad habit of blaming our unhappiness on circumstance and other people.

While outside situations can certainly make life unhappy at times, the majority of our unhappiness comes from within.

Imagine happiness like an Instagram filter.

We have the power to choose which filter we see through. If our thoughts are mostly negative, then our outlook on the world is consequently negative. Conversely, if our thoughts are filled with gratitude, joy and positivity, then the world becomes a much more beautiful place.

Perspective is everything. If I see a donut in the garbage can, I don’t think twice about it. A homeless man at it and praises God for a delicious breakfast.

I’m the first to admit that I used to be a Negative Nancy. My filter was gray. Like many, I had no idea how to be an adult. I was going through college, working part-time, had a mountain of debt and some health issues to boot.

It added up to me being a neurotic, anxious, ball of disaster—far too young to be experiencing life this way.

I tried medication but it only went so far. More than anything, medicine is another filter, and only a temporary one.

I needed a real fix. Something to change my life for the long haul. That’s when I started looking at my own habits and behavior.

Here are the five most destructive habits that kept me from living a happy, fulfilling life and what helped me overcoming them.

I’m a work in progress, and I suspect I will be for life. But I’m dedicated to continuing my practice for as long as I breathe.

1. Poor self-image.

For the longest time, I couldn’t look in the mirror without being disappointed in myself. This goes for both looks and confidence. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve got a pretty face, but at the time, everything else was just “meh.” I’m what they call a “skinny-fat hardgainer” in the weightlifting world, which basically means I struggle to put weight on, and when I do, it’s usually fat and not muscle.

Combine that with my anxiety and somewhat awkward social skills, and I just had no mojo. I’m much more confident in myself these days.

Here’s what worked for me:

Replacing negative thoughts with positive self-talk. We can’t expect to beat years of self-destructive thoughts in a day, or even a week. It takes time, but doing this eventually works.

Knowing that it’s not all about ourselves. Once I started realizing that everyone else is more worried about their own self-image than mine, things got easier.

Exercise and eating healthy. If we’re unhappy with the way we look, then why not do something about it. Hit the gym, start focusing on better eating habits and start naturally improving physical appearance.

2. Being a perfectionist.

Why do we all think that everything has to be perfect before we can be happy?

By setting expectations unrealistically high, we’re setting ourselves up for low self-esteem and feeling not good enough even though our work might be excellent compared to anyone else’s standards.

Happiness isn’t easy to find when searching for perfection. The beautiful thing about life is seeing greatness in things, even when they’re flawed.

Here’s what worked for me:

Making a mindset shift. Life doesn’t have to be perfect, so I stopped expecting it to be. This alone made a huge difference.

Aiming for good enough. Usually perfectionism leads to never actually finishing, nit-picking every little detail and tweaking things until they’re just right. Instead, set a deadline, realize that good enough does exist, and call it a day.

3. Not living in the moment.

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”

~ Master Oogway

We miss out on an infinite number of wonderful experiences in the now because of our death grip on the past and future.

True happiness comes from being present and enjoying each moment for what it is. It’s obviously impossible not to think about the past and future from time to time, so the key is to minimize it and maximum the amount of time spent in the present.

Here’s what worked for me:

Doing one thing at a time. Multitasking sucks. Texting someone while eating dinner with someone else also sucks. Give one thing the 100 percent attention it deserves and be present while doing it.

Not drifting off. Anytime I find myself day dreaming or dwelling too much, I tell myself to stop, then get back to the present and whatever I was doing. It’s a practice, but it has gotten much easier the more I’ve kept it going.

4. Trying to keep up with the Joneses.

This one is incredibly simple, but is something we all do far too often. We’re not happy with our jobs because so-and-so has a better one and makes more money. We’re not happy with our body because this person has a six-pack and we don’t. The list goes on and on.

Here’s what worked for me:

Comparing myself to myself. The only person we should be in competition with is ourselves. Strive to be a better person tomorrow than we were today today and don’t worry about what someone else has or does.

5. Always complaining.

We all know the type. Our buddy Steve could be out at a baseball game on a gorgeous day with his bombshell girlfriend and he still finds a way to whine and complain about every little thing that goes wrong.

“The nachos didn’t come with enough cheese. That a**hole behind us is having too good a time.”

Complaining does nothing good for our brains other than forcing them to focus on the negative.

Here’s what worked for me:

Focusing on the positive. Bad stuff is always going to happen. That’s a fact of life. Instead of focusing on the negative, focus on the good. Put things into perspective and appreciate the moment for what it is.

Remember that nothing will ever be perfect.

Focusing on solutions, not problems. When things happen, they happen. They’re done and over with. There’s nothing we can do to change it, except focus on finding a solution. The more we complain and dwell on a problem, the longer it takes to move beyond it and the more time we spend being unhappy.

Practicing gratitude. This has been a life-changer for me. By simply taking a few minutes each day to appreciate what I have in my life, I have become a much more positive and happy individual. Don’t take things for granted.



Author: Jason Gutierrez 

Image: flickr/Beth Sculpham

Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

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