There is no shortage of self-help books out there ready to tell you what you need to do to be happy. But while this can be helpful, sometimes it’s just as valuable to consider the opposite: What are the things that happy people avoid doing? Thinking about happiness from this perspective can be equally enlightening, providing you with a spectrum of behaviours that can have a negative effect on your life and your emotional wellbeing. We consulted the experts to learn how to be happy—by focusing on the 19 things that happy people never do.
1. Compare their lives to the lives of those around them
One of the biggest differences between happy people and the rest of the world is that happy people don’t make a habit of comparing themselves to others. While it can be valuable to learn from the example of those around you, happy people don’t let their satisfaction with any aspect of their life—their job, their body, or even their partner—depending on what other people have.
“Happy people know that comparison is the thief of joy,” says Hugo Huyer, a mental health coach who runs the Tracking Happiness website. “Whatever you do, wherever you are, there is always someone that seems to have things better than you. If you focus on this, you’ll always find a reason to be unhappy. Happy people are aware of this and focus on the things they have instead of focusing on the things that others have.”
2. Spend all their time on social media
One of the ways we are most likely to compare ourselves to others is through social media, where we can easily log on, see the vacations or exciting life changes, and let it affect how we feel.
“Social media can have a positive influence on our lives, but more often than not, it indirectly causes unhappiness, insecurity, and jealousy,” says Huyer. “Since social media is almost never an accurate portrayal of someone’s life, you have to wonder how happy you get from endlessly scrolling through that Instagram feed. While happy people are active on social media, they do make smart decisions on how much time they spend there.”
3. Bully others
Successful people are not necessarily happy, and a sure sign that someone is lacking true joy in their life is that they get pleasure out of making others miserable or bullying subordinates, colleagues, or anyone else in their life.
“Truly happy people never engage in bullying of others,” says clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, author of Joy from Fear. “A truly happy individual does not have the desire to accrue power and profit at the expense of others. As such, a truly happy person is free of the toxic feelings that live inside the constant critic or bully.”
4. Avoid their emotions
Being a happy person does not mean you are happy all the time, walking around with a smile plastered to your face and whistling to yourself. A generally happy person knows that feeling down now and then is fine, as long as they acknowledge it and don’t try to suppress or avoid it.
“Truly happy people tend to feel all of their emotions—anger, sadness, etc.—and then release them to move forward,” says Manly. “This supports positivity in that the negative emotions don’t stay stuck in the mind and body, feeding negative feelings such as depression, anger, and resentment.”
5. Focus on what they don’t have
Nobody—not even billionaires or Olympic athletes—has everything they want. No matter where a person is in their career or life, there is always something else they wouldn’t mind attaining. But while happy people pursue these goals, they keep their attention on what they already have, rather than focus on what they don’t have.
“This ‘gratitude attitude’ tends to create a very upbeat, positive way of looking at the world,” says Manly. “Rather than going through one’s days looking at what others have or what you ‘still want to get,’ being in a place of gratitude and appreciation tends to support true happiness.”
6. Blame others
Happy people view their life as, for the most part, their own responsibility. If they aren’t happy with an outcome, they take it upon themselves to try and change it, rather than throw their hands up and give up, putting the blame on someone else.
“People who are happy take full responsibility for their experiences in life,” says Kapil Gupta, a relationship and men’s interpersonal coach. “They know that pointing fingers to other people or circumstances won’t change the experience they are having, even though it might provide temporary relief.”
7. Or try to convince others to change
Just as happy people take responsibility for their own actions and where they are in life, they do not expect others to change to suit their liking.
“Happy people know that they cannot control other people’s behaviors,” says Gupta. “They also realize that everyone needs to have their own life experiences, and that people change when they are ready.”
A happy person is more likely to accept the other person’s behavior and figure out how to work around it—or, if they really have issues with their behavior, may try to avoid them altogether.
8. Or live their life to please others
Happy people don’t get their sense of self-worth from what others think about them. Taking an action, whether that’s pursuing a career goal or making a major life decision, just to get a response from someone else is a recipe for disappointment.
“Happy people have a good sense of intrinsic value and self-worth,” says Gupta. “They respect other people’s opinion … but they don’t derive their value and worthiness on the basis of what people think of them.”
9. Forget how to live in the moment
Happy people live in the present moment, finding things to enjoy in the now, rather than obsessing over things that happened in the past or fixating on their hopes and fears for the future.
“Happy people definitely learn from the past, but they don’t dwell on it all the time,” says Gupta. “Similarly, they understand that fear of what might happen in the future is like living in a fantasy. So, they tend to not overly worry about that, too, and focus on enjoying the life that is happening right now.”
10. Or try to control the future
It’s one thing to plan for the future and take steps to ensure as positive an outcome as possible. It’s another thing to think constantly about potential negatives down the line and obsess about how you might have to handle them.
“[Unhappy people] are highly anxious about how life will turn out for them,” says author and psychotherapist Karen R. Koenig, LCSW. “They neither try to control life nor simply wait around for things to happen to them. Along with not fearing failure or mistakes, this lack of need to control outcomes allows them to take appropriate risks.”
11. Make assumptions
When they have to make a decision at work or deal with a challenging friend, an unhappy person is likely to make an assumption about what they should do, rather than confirm the information is true.
“The danger in doing that is we have to make an assumption that may or may not be accurate,” says former U.S. Marine Eric Rittmeyer, author of The Emotional Marine. “A lot of times these assumptions are made based on prior experiences in our lives that likely occurred in a totally different context and had no relevance to the current situation. This opens up the potential for incorrectly assuming something that’s totally false, and possibly leading to unnecessary emotional pain.”
12. Feel sorry for themselves
Similar to blaming others for one’s misfortunes, another habit that happy people avoid is wallowing in their disappointment. While acknowledging one’s emotions and accepting you feel upset is healthy, letting these feelings consume one’s thoughts and actions for long periods of time can prevent one from making healthy changes.
“Mentally tough people never indulge in the “pity party” and they understand the adverse impact these thoughts have on their overall happiness,” says Rittmeyer. “When something bad happens they quickly work through the pain and get back to their normal selves.”
13. Hold grudges
Happy people can get upset or frustrated with others—but they don’t let it become a consuming focus of their time and attention. If someone wrongs them, they ensure it does not happen again. But they do not dwell on having been wronged, or let it become an ongoing source of frustration to them. In other words, they don’t hold grudges.
“Holding on to negative feelings about someone provides no benefit to your well-being,” says Rittmeyer. “By not allowing the release of these negative feelings, you’re just creating additional stress on your body by constantly thinking about, and re-living the events that initially caused the issue.”
14. Dwell on failures
Happy people learn from their mistakes and move on, putting their attention on creating something positive. They avoid dwelling on what didn’t work well, mentally returning to the same errors repeatedly.
“[Happy people] are success—rather than failure—oriented,” says Koenig. “Sometimes not focusing on the negatives of their lives is automatic, and other times it comes from consciously practicing a habit of positive thinking.”
15. Surround themselves with unpleasant people
Happy people know that those they surround themselves with can have a major impact on their own well-being. Success and happiness—and their opposites—tend to be contagious, which is why happy people avoid having negative people in their orbits.
“If they’re around these types, they have a strong enough sense of self to not take them seriously, and don’t internalize what is said to them personally,” says Koenig. “Alternately, they don’t allow others to intentionally, chronically be abusive to them.”
16. Neglect to address things that bother them
While happy people generally don’t let the behaviour of others get under their skin, when something does upset them, they will express it instead of stewing in silence. That’s true when it comes to coworkers, friends, and romantic partners.
As family and relationship psychotherapist Fran Walfish, author of The Self-Aware Parent, emphasizes, we will naturally be annoyed with other people now and then. The important thing is to be honest about our frustrations, which can mean the difference between a happy person and one who quietly holds in their misery. Ideally, she says, “there aren’t any lingering issues that haven’t been resolved.”
17. Keep score with their friends and partner
Another habit that happy people avoid is “keeping score” with the people in their lives. That means not maintaining a mental list of the things they’ve done for others, like travelling farther than their friends to meet up or doing more chores than their partner.
In a great relationship, whether romantic or platonic, “there are no 50-50 splits of responsibility,” says Walfish. Happy people accept the reality that “in the best relationships, it would be difficult to judge who serves one another more.”
18. Let work take over their life
Happy people understand the importance of work-life balance. When the workday is over, they don’t let it bleed into their evenings—not to mention weekends and vacation. “Life is busy for all of us,” Walfish says, but happy people never forget to make time outside of work for themselves and for their loved ones.
19. Resist change
While happy people know what not to do, they didn’t become the well-adjusted, consistently content people they are by rigidly committing to doing things one way only. Happy people are generally flexible, comfortable with change, and willing to roll with the punches when they must.
“Humans have a natural resistance to change, due to fear of the unknown and a desire to control their situations,” says Jacob Olesen, author at Easy Ways to Do Everything. “But happy people don’t fight change, whether that be the end of a relationship, a new job, or the physical changes that come with getting older. They don’t try to hold onto what is no longer theirs.”