5 Habits That Make You Unhappy

  •    Freelance journalist covering women, business, policy and social good.

What makes people happy? It turns out that genetics and life circumstances, such as family backgrounds, careers, and finances, only account for about half of a person's happiness, according to University of California researchers. Although it's a common assumption that money can buy happiness, 100 years of data now prove that's not true. While money can improve happiness when it lifts people out of poverty, after that it doesn't make much of difference on their emotional well-being, research shows.

The good news is that nearly half of a person's happiness depends on the daily life experiences that are under your control—including your attitudes and habits. A great first step to increasing overall happiness is to identify and change the habits that are dragging you down. Here are five habits that could be making you unhappy—and some tips on how to change them.

1. Waiting for Happiness.

One of the most common pitfalls that can make people unhappy is waiting. When you create prerequisites for happiness–thinking you'll be happy when you hit a sales goal, buy a home, get out of debt or start a new relationship–you deny yourself the ability to be happy in the present moment.

“Nothing is more damaging to our happiness than choosing to wait for it," according to The Positivity Solution. “Predictably, if we choose to follow this pattern, true happiness will always remain slightly out of our grasp." Instead, try to focus on–and practice—being happy in the present and enjoying life day-by-day.

2. Making Comparisons.

The stress of trying to “keep up" with other members of our communities, is an unhappy habit. The Happiness Research Institute found that people who stayed off Facebook for a week were happier, had more appreciation for their lives, and reported richer social interactions. One reason for the finding is that most people post positive things on Facebook, which gives followers a distorted view of reality.

Instead, compare yourself to yourself, suggests The Positivity Blog. It's a more realistic way to measure your growth and progress over time. Realizing the obstacles you've overcome, and the goals you have reached, can also increase your own happiness without putting anyone else down.

3. Avoiding Company.

Isolating yourself from social interactions is one of the worst habits of unhappy people, writes Travis Bradberry, co-founder of TalentSmart. Avoiding other people may seem like a good idea when you're feeling unhappy, but it's more likely to make you feel worse instead of better, he says.

Happiness comes from our ability to connect with others and have meaningful relationships, according to Emiliana Simon-Thomas at the University of California, Berkeley. “Time and again—across decades of research and across all studies—people who say they're happy have strong connections with community and with other people," she states.

4. Blaming Others

When you see yourself as a victim of circumstances—or other people's actions—it creates a sense of helplessness. In turn, people who feel helpless are less likely to take the positive actions they need to improve their situations.

When you feel in control of your life and capable of making changes and improvements, however, it can increase your sense of happiness. “Nothing great has ever come from blaming or accusing others," writes Leadership Coach Lolly Daskal. “The way to really be happy is to be accountable for your actions and responsible for your own consequences."

5. Aiming For Perfection.

People who equate happiness with perfection are more likely to be unsatisfied. Setting the bar too high typically leads to low self-esteem, even when you've had great (but not perfect) results, according to The Positivity Blog.

One way to let go of perfectionism is to aim for “good enough." That doesn't mean that you plan for mediocrity, states the blog. It just means that your goal is to finish a project or task to the best of your ability. Setting deadlines is another way to put your focus on finishing instead of constantly finessing a task, which can help increase your overall satisfaction.

It's important to remember that happiness is almost always within your grasp. By replacing the habits that make you unhappy with more positive practices, you can learn to enjoy life in the moment, and be happier and healthier every day.