I’m going to go ahead and say it: I don’t believe happiness is elusive. Moreover, I don’t believe that believing the idea that ‘happiness is elusive’ can ever truly be conducive to locating it.
That’s a bit of a wordy way to say it, but my point is: happiness is not something a small handful of lucky individuals just happen to stumble their way into one day —rather, it’s the cumulative sum of one’s thoughts, beliefs, habits, and behaviours. It’s what you direct your attention towards, where you exert your energy, and which actions you choose to engage in routinely.
It’s not necessarily the things happy people do that create their happiness, but also all the things they don’t do. Happy people aren’t just acting happy — they’re actively working to avoid the behaviours that screw up and steal from their happy.
This is a list of some of those things. Avoid them wherever and whenever possible and I guarantee that you’ll be happier as a result.
In this case, gossiping doesn’t merely mean sharing information about other people who may or may not be present at the time. Psychologically speaking, the practice of gossip stems from the desire to connect with someone based on a shared interest in the social status or circumstance of another.
At it’s core, gossiping can be used as a practical tool for navigating and upholding social norms — but there is a negative side to it, too.
“Often those that criticise others reveal what he himself lacks.” ― Shannon L. Alder
Anytime a general observation or social update creeps into ‘talking badly behind someone’s back’ territory — especially if its involves the disclosure of private information — you can be sure never to find a happy person on the sending or receiving end of the conversation.
This is simply because truly happy individuals don’t see the point in devoting a single moment of their precious time to concerning themselves with the irrelevant going-ons of other people. They don’t tolerate it and it doesn’t interest them.
Happy people want others to be successful, stress-free, and most importantly, just as happy as they are! Gossiping provides nothing but an unnecessary obstacle to this experience.
2. Berating (themselves or others)
So we know that our brain chemistry can have a direct impact on the way we think and feel on a day-to-day basis (i.e. depression or bipolar disorder), but did you know that the way we think and feel can also impact the physical chemistry of the brain?
Research has proven this by examining the hippocampus — the control center for the regulation of our emotions — which was found to decrease in size for individuals suffering from depression. What’s fascinating, though, is that following professional treatment for depression, the hippocampus was actually able to regrow in size (and thus, return to optimal functioning in support of happiness).
What this means is that no matter whether a state of unhappiness is brought on by chemical factors or situational ones, such that can be seen with disorders like depression, there is an inextricable link between our thinking patterns, and the physical wiring of our brains… So much so, in fact, that we possess the ability to regain key regulatory functions of the brain, just by no longer dealing with negative thoughts.
“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.” ― Marcus Aurelius
Thus, how a person speaks to themselves (or others) when no-one else is around to hear reveals a substantial amount of information about their current relationship status with happiness. Happy people understand that our thoughts do indeed shape our reality — hell, they become our reality.
Nipping a negative thought or judgement in the bud before it turns into this reality, is therefore the best way to proceed when it comes to the pursuit of happiness.
3. Toxic positivity
That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for the healthy processing of negative emotions — to suggest otherwise would be doing everyone a massive disservice. Because, unlike berating someone or speaking resentfully towards oneself, not all negativity (when positively navigated) is, in fact, bad.
It shouldn’t surprise you, then, that happy people don’t waste their energy on trying never to be sad, angry, or upset. To do so would be to fall prey to a phenomenon referred to as ‘Toxic Positivity,’ and one that stems from the fear of addressing uncomfortable feelings and emotions.
Toxic positivity can manifest in all sorts of different ways, from a well-intended but mis-guided, “don’t cry” or “well, it could be worse” statement to a more direct dismissal or denial of something being wrong.
Happy people understand that the experience of these very natural emotions is not in opposition to happiness, rather, it goes hand in hand with it. Being human is a packaged deal, and there’s nothing to gain by ignoring the more difficult-to-deal-with aspects of life.
“You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.” ― Jonathan Safran Foer
Understand that happiness is found in spite of negative situations, circumstances, and sentiments — not in place of them.
4. Compromising their values
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
People who alter who they are and what they stand for in order to cater to the ideals of others do so for a couple of reasons — none of which include because they are truly happy.
Whether it stems from a preoccupation with what others might be thinking, a fear of abandonment or rejection by a particular social group, or the sense of control gained via the act of people pleasing, making changes or compromises to one’s core values only exacerbates the distance between that person and their happy.
Conversely, people who are genuinely happy don’t hesitate to make their happiness a priority first. They accept that not everyone has to agree with the way they do things, and that it’s not possible to see eye-to-eye on every given issue.
A big part of being happy results directly from being happy with oneself…which results directly from being authentically oneself. There is a time and a place for compromise — your code of ethics, moral compass, and personal ethos is not it.
5. Worrying about things they can’t control
They say worrying about something is allowing yourself to suffer it twice, and on this particular point I couldn’t agree more. If the point of the things you can’t control is that you can’t, indeed, control them, then there’s really not much else to do.
I’m not saying that by only exuding optimism it’s possible to manifest the perfectly happy life that we all, obviously, desire — but I am telling you that worrying about it won’t ever increase your odds.
“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.”― Seneca
Much like happy people come to terms with their negative emotions as and when necessary, they tend to deal with their problems in much the same way: as and when (and only when) absolutely necessary.
This is because if a problem lies outside of a person’s realm of control, then it’s not necessary for them to act or react in any particular way, at all. By definition, it is literally unnecessary. Happy people know this and redirect their mental energy accordingly.
Happy people do not lie. Why? Because they have confidence in their ability to navigate the ups and downs of life, without dependence on insincerity or deceit.
“Happiness is not the absence of problems, it’s the ability to deal with them.” ― Steve Maraboli
In this way, it makes no sense for a happy individual to lie — to do so would be to add to their list of problems, not detract from it (I assure you, happy people do still have their problems).
What’s more, is that lying has the unfortunate tendency to lead to more lying, creating a chain reaction of sorts, one day, sooner or later bound to return and bite you in the ass. Lying as a behaviour stems from trying to avoid the short-term discomfort of telling the truth — be it because of embarrassment, a perceived vulnerability, or a desire to control the situation at hand.
Happy people, however, know to place the truth into the category of things they cannot control, and therefore should not waste their time worrying over.
7. Attaching value to expectations (especially of others)
In order for a person to get happy in the first place, they first have to “get” that they are the only one who has any degree of say in the matter. One of the ways a person can fail drastically at accomplishing this is by placing any expectations on external outcomes.
This is because when expectation turns to entitlement, a simple turn of events can feel like we’re being robbed of something we thought was promised — while, in reality, we only have ourselves to blame.
Think of attaching value to expectations as handing someone (or something) the keys to the door that unlocks happiness for us. Chances are it’s not really something you want to be giving away.
“Happy people are those who use a lower threshold in order to label an event positive.” ― David Niven
Happy people internalize the fact that happy is not found in shiny objects or other human beings and they account for this by maintaining a low expectation. “Expect nothing and reward everything” as my father likes to say.
8. Attention seeking
One of the fastest ways to tell whether or not a person is happy is observing how much effort they put into trying to convince you they are.
You might be beginning to sense a trend here: happy people do not need nor seek validation, but alot of unhappy people do.
“Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery.” — Aldous Huxley
Remember that attention seeking doesn’t necessarily have to manifest in boastfulness or try-hard behaviour — sometimes it looks more like a series of poor decisions, or a string of self-deprecating sarcasm.
Happy people are secure in their relationships and interactions with others and know that attention will be rightfully bestowed upon them where attention is due (and even if it isn't, they know they’ll be okay)!
Yes, happy people might very well just have less to complain about in general, and the possibility of this notion is far from lost on me but — when it comes to the cause and effect of happiness — I’m willing to bet that the act of choosing not to complain about things actually plays a bigger role in happiness than you might think.
This is because when we complain about something, we give it attention that has to then be pulled from somewhere else, attention that could be better spent on any range of positive acknowledgements in the form of appreciation, acceptance, respect, words of affirmation, reassurance, or paid compliments, for example.
Happy people comprehend that attention span is extremely limited, as well as definitively finite in nature. Every complaint therefore equals a missed opportunity to reframe an unfortunate situation, which therefore equals a missed opportunity to practice being happy.
‘“If you aren’t grateful for what you already have, what makes you think you would be happy with more.” ― Roy T. Bennett
Try not to complain about what you don’t have, and try to think positively about everything that you do; there’s a strong chance you’ll leave feeling like you’ve gained something priceless.
10. Holding a grudge
Forgiveness is not something we give to other people, but it is an olive branch we can extend to ourselves.
Not only is holding a grudge a hell of a toxic way to spend one’s free time, but it plays an active role in blocking the pathway to an individual’s strivings for personal happiness.
Psychologically, grudges are nothing more than a matter of the ego — grudges are what occurs when a person feels victimized or wronged and decides that there’s absolutely no way that they’re not going to take it personally. In fact, it doesn’t even occur to grudge-bearers not to take it personally…
“Cry. Forgive. Learn. Move on. Let your tears water the seeds of your future happiness.” ― Steve Maraboli
Happy people, on the other hand, have become well-acquainted with the helpful practice of letting go. People who choose the joy of happiness over the fleeting satisfaction of pettiness understand that 9 times out of 10 it probably wasn’t even personal. People — for the most part — have better things to do than deliberately bother you.
11. Regretting the past
Last but not least, people who are happy certainly don’t look to the past for reasons to be unhappy, just like they don’t let their expectations of the future cloud their experience of happiness in the present.
“Don’t waste your time in anger, regrets, worries, and grudges. Life is too short to be unhappy.” ― Roy T. Bennett
There can be a fine line between nostalgia, and the positive rehashing of old memories and tales, and torturing oneself by repeatedly reliving a painful moment.
If there is happiness to be found — as any happy person could tell you — it exists in the here and now and not the then and there. Regret is akin to worrying about the things you can’t control with the added discomfort of the reminder that this was once a moment you could.
Happy people decide not to care about regretting the past. It’s a shoulda, woulda, coulda type situation, and we humans always tend to want what we can’t have — in this case, that would be a redo.
And when it comes to being happy, I promise there’s no merit to an undo. It’s all part of the process. Learn to embrace it.
Alexandra Walker-Jones — April 2021