7 Common Habits of Unhappy People

“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”
Marcus Aurelius

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
Marcel Proust

Circumstances can certainly make life unhappy. But a part – often a big part – of unhappiness comes from our own thinking, behavior and habits.

In this article I’d like to share 7 of the most destructive daily habits that can create quite a bit of unhappiness within and in your own little world.

But I’ll also share what has worked, what has helped me to minimize or overcome these habits in my life.

Bonus: Download a free step-by-step checklist that will show you how to overcome these 7 destructive habits (it’s easy to save as a PDF or print out for whenever you need it during your day or week).

1. Aiming for perfection.

Does life has to be perfect before you are happy?

Do you have to behave in a perfect way and get perfect results to be happy?

Then happiness will not be easy to find. Setting the bar for your performance at an inhuman level usually leads to low self-esteem and feeling like you are not good enough even though you may have had a lot of good or excellent results.

You and what you do is never enough good enough except maybe once in a while when feels like something goes just perfect.

How to overcome this habit:

Three things that helped me to kick the perfectionism habit and become more relaxed:

Go for good enough.

Aiming for perfection usually winds up in a project or something else never being finished. So go for good enough instead.

Don’t use it as an excuse to be lazy or to slack off.

But simply realize that there is something called good enough and when you are there then you are finished with whatever you are doing.

Have a deadline.

I set deadlines every time that start with a new premium guide. Because about a year ago, when I was working on my second e-book, I realized that just working on it and releasing it when it was done would not work.

Because I could always find stuff to add to it. So I had to set a deadline.

Setting a deadline gave me a kick in the butt and it is generally good way to help you to let go of a need to polish things a bit too much.

Realize what it costs you when you buy into myths of perfection.

This was a very powerful reason for me to let go of perfectionism and one I tell myself still if I find thoughts of perfection pop up in my mind.

By watching too many movies, listening to too many songs and just taking in what the world is telling you it is very easy to be lulled into dreams of perfection. It sounds so good and wonderful and you want it.

But in real life it clashes with reality and tends to cause much suffering and stress within you and in the people around you.

It can harm or possibly lead you to end relationships, jobs, projects etc. just because your expectations are out of this world.

I find it very helpful to remind myself of this simple fact.

2. Living in a sea of negative voices.

7 Common Habits of Unhappy People 2

No one is an island. Who we socialize with, what we read, watch and listen to has big effect on how we feel and think.

It becomes a lot harder to be happier if you let yourself be dragged down by negative voices.

Voices that tell you that life will in large part always be unhappy, dangerous and filled with fear, worry and limits. Voices that watch life from a negative perspective.

How to overcome this habit:

Replacing those negative voices with more positive influences is very powerful. It can be like a whole new world opening up.

So spend more time with positive people, inspiring music and books, movies and TV-shows that make you laugh and think about life in a new way.

You can start small. For example, try reading an uplifting blog post or book or listen to an audio book while eating your breakfast one morning this week instead of reading the paper or watching the morning news on TV.

3. Getting stuck in the past and future too much.

Spending much of your time in the past and reliving old painful memories, conflicts, missed opportunities and so on can hurt whole lot.

Spending much of your time in the future and imagining how things could go wrong at work, in your relationships and with your health can create self-doubt and build into horrifying nightmare scenarios and playing over and over in your head.

Not being here right now in life as it happens can lead to missing out on a lot of wonderful experiences.

No good if you want to be happier.

How to overcome this habit:

It is pretty much impossible to not think about the past or the future.

And it is of course important to plan for tomorrow and next year and to try to learn from your past.

But to dwell on those things rarely help.

So I try as best as I can to spend the rest of my time, the big part of my time each day, with living in the now.

Just being here right now and being fully focused on these words I am writing and later as I cook and eat my lunch and work out be fully focused on doing that.

Whatever I am doing I try to be there fully and not drift off into the future or past.

If I do drift off then I focus only on my breathing for a few minutes or I sit still and take in what is all around me right now with all my senses for a short while.

By doing either of those things I can realign myself with the present moment again.

4. Comparing yourself and your life to others and their lives.

7 Common Habits of Unhappy People 3

One very common and destructive daily habit is to constantly compare your life and yourself to other people and their lives.

You compare cars, houses, jobs, shoes, money, relationships, social popularity and so on.

And at the end of the day you pummel your self-esteem to the ground and you create a lot of negative feelings.

How to overcome this habit:

Replace that destructive habit with two other habits.

Compare yourself to yourself.

First, instead of comparing yourself to other people create the habit of comparing yourself to yourself.

See how much you have grown, what you have achieved and what progress you have made towards your goals. 

This habit has the benefit of creating gratitude, appreciation and kindness towards yourself as you observe how far you have come, the obstacles you have overcome and the good stuff you have done.

You feel good about yourself without having to think less of other people.

Be kind.

In my experience, the way you behave and think towards others seems to have a big, big effect on how you behave towards yourself and think about yourself.

Judge and criticize people more and you tend to judge and criticize yourself more (often almost automatically).

Be more kind to other people and help them and you tend to be more kind and helpful to yourself.

Focus on the positive things in yourself and in the people around you. Appreciate what is positive in yourself and others.

This way you become more OK with yourself and the people in your world instead of ranking them and yourself and creating differences in your mind.

And remember, you can’t win if you keep comparing. Just consciously realizing this can be helpful.

No matter what you do you can pretty much always find someone else in the world that has more than you or are better than you at something.

5. Focusing on the negative details in life.

Seeing the negative aspects of whichever situation you are in and dwelling on those details is a sure way to make yourself unhappy.

And to drag down the mood for everyone around you.

How to overcome this habit:

Overcoming this habit can be tricky. One thing that has worked for me is to kick the perfectionism habit.

You accept that things and situations will have their upsides and downsides rather than thinking that all details have to positive and excellent. You accept things as they are.

This way you can let go emotionally and mentally of what is negative instead of dwelling on it and making mountains out of molehills.

Another thing that works is simply to focus on being constructive. Instead of focusing on dwelling and whining about the negative detail.

You can do so by asking better questions. Questions like:

  • How can I turn this negative thing into something helpful or positive?
  • How can I solve this problem?

If I am faced with what I start thinking is a problem I may use a third solution, I may ask myself: who cares?

I most often then realize that this isn’t really a problem in the long run at all.

6. Limiting life because you believe the world revolves around you.

7 Common Habits of Unhappy People 4

If you think that the world revolves around you and you hold yourself back because you are afraid what people may think or say if you do something that different or new then you are putting some big limits on your life.


Well, you can become less open to trying new things and growing.

You can think that the criticism and negativity you encounter is about you or that it is your fault all the time (while it in reality could be about the other person having bad week or you thinking that you can read minds).

I have also found that my own shyness used to come from me thinking that people cared a great deal about what I was about to say or do.

How to overcome this habit:

Realize people don’t care too much about what you do.

They have their hands full with worrying about their own lives and what people may think of them instead.

Yes, this might make you feel less important in your own head.

But it also sets you free a bit more if you’d like that.

Focus outward.

Instead of thinking about yourself and how people may perceive you all the time, focus outward on the people around you.

Listen to them and help them.

This will help you to raise your self-esteem and help you to reduce that self-centered focus.

7. Overcomplicating life.

Life can be pretty complicated. This can creates stress and unhappiness.

But much of this is often created by us.

Yes, the world may be becoming more complex but that doesn’t mean that we cannot create new habits that make your own lives a bit simpler.

How to overcome this habit:

Overcomplicating life can involve many habits but I’d like to suggest a few replacement habits to what have been a couple of my own most overcomplicating habits.

Splitting your focus and having your attention all over the place in everyday life.

I replaced that complicating habit with just doing one thing at a time during my day, having a small to-do list with 2-3 very important items and writing down my most important goal on white board that I see each day.

Having too much stuff.

I replaced that habit with regularly asking myself: have I used this in the past year? If not then I will give that thing away or throw it away.

Creating relationship problems of any kind in your mind.

Reading minds is hard. So, instead ask questions and communicate.

This will help you to minimize unnecessary conflicts, misunderstandings, negativity and waste or time and energy.

Getting lost in the in-box.

I spend less time and energy on my email in-box by just checking it once a day and writing shorter emails (if possible not more than 5 sentences.)

So that I can spend more time on helping my newsletter subscribers, on improving my blog and on other things that are a win/win for you and me.

Getting lost in stress and overwhelm.

When stressed, lost in a problem or the past or future in your mind then, as I mentioned above, breathe with your belly for two minutes and just focus on the air going in and out.

This will calm your body down and bring your mind back into the present moment again. Then you can start focusing on doing what is most important for you again.

Here’s the next step…

Now, you may think to yourself:

“This is really helpful information. But what’s the easiest way to put this into practice and actually make a real change with these destructive habits in my own life?”

Well, I’ve got something special for you…

A free step-by-step checklist that includes all the steps in this article… save it or print it out so you have it for your daily life and for the next time when one of these 7 habits starts to drag you down.

Download it now by entering your email below.

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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Inoka Perera

    This is really true and great… am following..

  • dan

    Great article!

    I’ve been doing all of these 7 bad habits since the beginning of the year and that makes me feel so sad sometimes…

    Fortunately what you have just written down made me realise so many things.
    Thanks Henrik

  • I’ve been working on becoming more content. This is just what the doctor ordered. Thank you for the great advice!

  • Judgment—the root of #4.

    Refrain from judgment, or at least be aware of it when you do it.

  • Penny

    I kind of just stumbled on this seeking out a new life for oneself an be a daunting task and looking within is the place to start.

  • Great tips, Henrik!

    I love tip 6: I realized that all people live according their own values and are not really concerned about the values of others. What you do, is not so important for them. Limiting yourself because of them, is not a good idea. By focusing on what others really think, you can help them and build so a positive feedback loop.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  • What a fantastic post! I love it.

    Aiming for perfection is the best possible way to get nothing done. Nobody achieves perfection, even people who appear to be perfect.

    You can get a lot more done by just casually accomplishing the best you can in a reasonable amount of time.

    And I would probably just fall apart and die without to-do lists. They’re typically very small, but I wouldn’t remember to get anything done.

    Once again, terrific post.

  • Great article matched with super tips!

    It’s good to show that happiness can be achieved through taking simple steps that work the mind and that it’s not always achieved through owning things and having money.

  • I like how you focused on the habits of UNhappy people vs. what other blogs usually focus on (habits of happy people). I think you are right, people focus WAY too much on the negative and what they don’t want instead of focusing on what they want instead.

    Great post!

  • Can anyone define the word Happiness? What is Happiness we do not know because every single person has its own meaning of happiness. Finding the ways to be happy in life is only a way that can make everyone happy in this world.

  • This is great, Henrik!

    I especially liked the warning against comparing ourselves to others. That is such a happiness-killer. There will always be someone better than us at something. But we never compare our complete selves to complete others. Instead, we compare their BEST features to ours. Then we compare someone else’s best characteristics to ours. And then another and so on. This way, we never stack up to anyone and we’re left feeling that we just don’t stack up.

    Great post, Henrik!

  • Great point about “aiming for perfection”…Aiming for perfection can cause you to be in a depressed mode all the time because you are not in touch with reality at all….Many people want the perfect partner in a relationship as well..The problem is that there is no such thing as a perfect partner. Conflicts will arise in relationships and you will have to know how to deal with them. Many people get caught up watching too many hollywood movies and get mislead in reality..

    Thanks for sharing Henrik..


  • Matt

    Incredibly true ! Very good advices !
    Thank you

  • Great Blog! so often, people try to make things perfect. Life happens and it is messy. that said, there are so many great moments if you just let them happen and don’t try to make things happen perfectly

  • Mo

    Thank you