The 5 Excuses You're Using to Sabotage Your Happiness - Happier Human

The 5 Excuses You’re Using to Sabotage Your Happiness

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It is easy to sabotage happiness.

Most often people do not realize they are even sabotaging their happiness. They just believe that happiness eludes them. But all too frequently if we step back and look at things from a neutral perspective we can see how we sabotage our own happiness.

Why don’t we more actively pursue happiness?

  1. We think hard work and delayed gratification will get us there.
  2. We believe its selfish.
  3. Cynicism: We think the world is already doomed and it doesn’t matter
  4. Thinking our happiness should come second.
  5. We think we’re already as happy as we’re going to get.

Each of these mentalities impedes or distorts our quest to be as happy as we can and want to be.


1. We think hard work and delayed gratification will get us there

Sabotaging happiness
All of your life you’ve been schooled in the philosophy of delayed gratification.

  1. Birth to College: Study even though you hate to. You need to get a good job!
  2. First Working Years: Get your boss his damn coffee! You need a promotion to pay off your debt and buy that house to impress your friends and family.
  3. Mid-life: Work, work, work, work! Mid-life crisis? Finding meaning in your work? I don’t think so honey, we need to save for the kids.
  4. Competitive 50s: Nest egg is too small! Work more!
  5. Retirement: Have fun, push your boundaries, develop strong social connections, and become genuinely happy?
  6. Afterward: Die.

Chicken or Egg – Are Happier People Wealthier, or Wealthier People Happier?

Happier people are 10%-20% more productive.  They earn on average $10,000-$30,000 more than their less jubilant peers. But what came first, the chicken or the egg? Does more money make them happier or does increases happiness make them more money?

See the Warwick University Worker Productivity study: here. And the Wesleyan Income study:  here.

Ambition –> Greater Productivity –> More Money –> More Happiness?
More Happiness –> Greater Productivity –> More Money?

In the income study, the participants were asked questions to rate their happiness in 1979, when they were 14 to 22 years old. This single data point explained thousands of dollars in income disparity over the next 31 years of their life. Don’t mix up the order, it’s happiness first.

Meaning and Engagement

Happiness comes from many sources.  Pleasure certainly is one reason. But happiness is not hedonism. ,

Happiness is also about living with meaning, acting according to your values, volunteering, achieving your goals, showing gratitude, having strong social connections, and being engaged with your community.

That doesn’t sound selfish to me:


  • 32 Benefits of Gratitude you Did Not Know About. This is my cornerstone post. I spend hundreds of man hours researching every nuance of gratitude and what it could do for you. Hundreds of studies were reviewed. Only the best studies with multiple replications made this list. If you want to know what gratitude will do for you, I highly encourage you to check out this post.
  • Three Good Things. A small gratitude exercise that can have a big impact on your life
  • 29 Ways to Show Unique Gratitude – Showing gratitude is the opposite of selfishness.
  • Kindfully + Mindfully – It’s not “Treat others as you’d want to be treated”, but “How you treat others is how you treat yourself.”  When you’re kind to others, it’s not just the recipients that have a better day.
  • Goal Setting and Happiness. – Setting and achieving goals is an important part of being happy. Discover some important keys of goal setting and how setting goals in your life might be your key to happiness (and greater success).
  • Happiness is contagious in social networks – Happiness spreads up to people three degrees removed from each other. A happier world starts with you.
  • Voluntarily Happy – Helping others is one of the most effective ways to grow and cultivate happiness. It’s also a good way to develop your social network.

Do these things make you think of the word “selfish”? Not to me.

3. We think we see the world as it really is

Sabotage Happiness - Boy screaming putting his hand in a bucket of ice creaming Give me Pain

As crazy as this kid seems, we deliberately and regularly make choices that lead us towards more pain and less happiness.

When describing our global feelings of a past event, we have the cognitive tendency to remember our feelings at the peak of an experience, positive or negative. We’ll also remember how we felt at the end of the experience. This means we won’t pay attention to how long the experience lasted, and we easily disregard the sum of our feelings over the course of the experience. There are the Duration Neglect and Peak-End cognitive biases –

In one study, participants were told their hands would be immersed in painfully cold water three times. In one trial, one of their hands was immersed in painfully cold water for 60 seconds. For the second trial, their other hand was immersed in painfully cold water for 60 seconds (same as before), and then slightly warmer, but still painful water for 30 more seconds. Clearly, the second trial delivers more pain than the first. Participants were given the choice of which experience to repeat for their third trial. They overwhelmingly chose the longer, more painful trial. Sure, it involved more pain as a whole. But, because it ended slightly less painful than the other trial, they remembered it as being less painful.

See Why First Impressions Don’t Matter Much for another great example of us just asking for more pain.

Just as we can be pretty bad at remembering how painful an experience was, we can be pretty bad at remembering at how much we enjoyed an experience.  Let’s say you already have a son and are considering having a second:

Thinking about your experience with your son, you remember when he spoke his first word when he started crawling when he said ‘dada’, and yesterday, when he walked for the first time! Yes, he also woke you up 374 times in the middle of the night, but that’s OK. Right?

Wrong. The happiness research is clear. Parents with kids have satisfaction in both marriage and life. They also have less happiness (see an NY Magazine feature with some interesting thoughts on the topic here). I don’t agree with the philosophical framework of the research.  (I will post a full analysis on this later. ) But the data across numerous studies is clear. I’m not suggesting to not have kids, but having proper expectations can make a world of difference. It can increase satisfaction, reduce stress levels, reduce the independence of post-postpartum depression, and more.

We base future decisions and expectations on how we or others remember past experiences. Because memory is so fickle, we’re making imperfect decisions and expectations all of the time, some small and some big. 

4. We think our happiness should come second

WOW!! We’re almost 1000% richer than we were 100 years ago.  Enough already! If our great-grandparents had enough to be happy, we sure as hell do.  Electricity, the internet, modern medicine, cell phones, and a thousand others things our forefathers didn’t have make our lives easier. . Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for progress. But seriously, we’ve been in survival mode for far too long.

My parents are from India. If they didn’t work hard and focus as hard as they did on getting a great education and on getting an equally great job, they might not have had food on the table. With little money, they never would have been able to come to America. I never would have been diagnosed and treated for fibromyalgia.  I might still be suffering from crippling pain. But that was then. Now, you don’t need to be exceptional to keep yourself fed. Now, you don’t need to graduate summa cum laude to have access to great doctors. Yes, there are problems in the world that only economic growth can fix – I’m not suggesting we all become marijuana puffing hermits. But instead of focusing 90% on making money and 10% on pursuing happiness, I suggest we value the two equally.

Career mediocrity is OK. A teacher making $30,000 a year has enough for himself and his family, and he’s helping others on a daily basis. He has all that he needs to build the foundation of a satisfying life.

Life mediocrity is not OK. An investment banker making $120,000 a year with no time for friends & family and no sense of meaning in his life will not automatically be happier just because he’s making more money.

It’s time happiness entered the conversation.

5. We think we’re already as happy as we’re going to get

If you’re sad, deal with it or go see a shrink. If you’re “normal”, go on living your life as you already have.  That’s the mindset of most Americans. Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project recalled resistance from all corners of her life when she decided to become a HappierHuman. Her husband didn’t understand the need and her friends thought she was being selfish – “Isn’t having a good husband and two kids enough?”.

But why settle? More happiness = more life, love, satisfaction, productivity,  friends, generosity, and more of that amazing, feel-good feeling. 

Be grateful for what the world has given you, but make the best of it. Don’t you want more happiness?


Did I miss a reason? Does one of these really resonate with your life? Let me know by leaving me a comment!

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