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Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Bad Habits that Lead to Unhappiness - and How to Start to Change Them

There are certain life-patterns which are more likely to lead to a person feeling unhappy.  Often these patterns are so ingrained that there can be no quick fix and a prolonged period of change is necessary, sometimes with the help of a counsellor to guide you.  Even so, it is useful to look briefly at a few of them now and spend some time thinking about them.  For every negative pattern, I have briefly outlined some approaches for dealing with them. Some of these patterns include:

  • Not being in the present moment - either dwelling on the past or getting anxious about the future.

    By doing this you miss out on whatever is happening at that moment – and often it’s something you could enjoy if you allow it. Instead,  practise enjoying what is now.  At any one point it’s all that there is.  The best way to do this is to do something very simple like read a book or go for a walk.  As you do so bring into your mind the pleasures of doing  it.

  • Finding that you have no meaning in what you do. 

    This is a modern scourge. I work with many people with this problem.  If you have no meaning then you will need to start to change this. It will take time and talking to friends or a counsellor can help, but here are a few guidelines to get you started: is it to do with not following your dreams, or with being too selfish and not doing anything to help others?  Is your life too materialistic and not spiritual enough?  Meaning is generally not found in material things.

  • Doing too many passive things and allowing life to pass you by. 

    A recent study from America found that those who watched the most t.v. were often the most unhappy people, whilst those who pursued a hobby or had a strong and caring social circle were seldom unhappy.  Two or three really good friends are better than zillions of acquaintances.  If you have good friends, nothing is more valuable, so celebrate that.

  • Getting into a pattern of stress and “treadmill-itis.”

    This is another modern day curse.  It might be that you can’t take the stress away, but you can do two things about it.  First, you can try to accept it and deal with it as a challenge.  Sometimes that won’t be appropriate, but it will be at other times.  Second, you need to insist on building in “being” or “me” time into your day.  Read a book, go for a walk, go to the gym, have a head massage, meditate, play some music, write a poem.  Whatever it is you like to do to unwind, build it in ESPECIALLY in busy, stressful times.  It’s then that you most need it.

  • Not accepting responsibility for one’s own day to day life and blaming circumstances.

    Well, of course, sometimes circumstances don’t help, but the world is full of people who rose above difficult circumstances to live really inspiring lives.  Only you can change things for the better.  It won’t happen by magic or sitting there complaining about your lot.  The truth is most of us are our own worst enemies because we build our own barriers to a happy life.

  • Blaming others when things go wrong in our relationships.

    It’s true that sometimes other people’s behaviour does cause us some misery, BUT how we deal with what they do is the important thing.  Instead of asking what the other can do to improve things, we could ask what we can do to make things better.  It is important to remember why this person is a friend and to remember the really good qualities and good things that they have done for us rather than dwelling on their faults.  But if you tried everything and the other person continually blocks you, then again you have the power – it’s time to start being really honest with them and calmly insisting that your own needs are met.  If they are continually selfish and disrespect you then it time to consider leaving.  After all, that’s what you’d tell a friend to do.

  • Feeling inadequate and negatively comparing ourselves to others.

    We should count our blessings instead of what we perceive as difficulties.  The greatest riches any of us possess are the things that bring us joy...relationships with others, nature, hobbies, moments of peace for instance.  Find time to do what you love and realise that there is nothing you can have that is better than that.  If you have moments of joy in every week you will find it easier to deal with the harder moments.

  • Never feeling satisfied with what one has, instead always wanting more or something else. 

    Remember that even the poorest people in the West are in the top 5% of wealthiest people on the planet.  The chances are you are very blessed by many things – commodities, attributes and abilities that many other would wish that they had.  Showing thankfulness is a good way of feeling happier.

  • Thinking the worst of others and wanting revenge for what they did. 

    When people hurt you, you need to ask yourself some hard questions.  Were your expectations of them too high?  It’s best to remember that they are imperfect just like you.  If not, then did the person who hurt you do so out of fear, selfishness and weakness or out of spite and malice?  It’s hardly ever the latter two things, and realising that takes away some of the pain.  Honest and calm communication is vital when sorting out the problem. By all means point out that they hurt you, but be gentle and dignified about that and explain that you still care about them.  If it has gone beyond that, then a calm backing off from the situation will leave you feeling more in control about what happened.

  • Being overly pessimistic about life and assuming that everything will tend towards the worst. 

    To be realistic, sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.  No one said life had to be fair, but it can be beautiful.  Concentrate on the roses not the thorns.

  • Wanting too much perfection and feeling that life should be perfect.

    We can accept that it isn’t and realise that if it was events would be very boring. Sometimes it’s meeting a challenge that makes life worthwhile. In reality it would be dreadful to live a life rather like that in The Stepford Wives.

  • Spending too much time being self-obsessed instead of putting others first for a change. 

    Next time you want someone to do something for you, ask instead what you can do for them.  Make it a habit to treat others rather than yourself all the time. There is more joy in helping a friend with their problem than expecting them to help you with yours.  Of course if you’re always the one doing the giving, then it’s time to insist on a little receiving!

  • Always following the same patterns even though you know they lead to problems. 

    Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Why not try something different?  It can’t end up any worse and it will probably be better.  Life will keep on teaching you the same lesson until you learn it, so let it be a learning curve, let it teach you new things.

David is a fully qualified and BACP registered Person Centred Counsellor.  You can book a session with him by ringing 07578 100256 or emailing him at

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