“Happiness is a state of activity.” –Aristotle

Happy is as happy does. Happiness is not something you are born with. Some people may always be jolly and skipping along, but it’s not automatic. In order to be happy, you have to be active in it.

But sometimes, it’s what you don’t do that gets you in a jolly state. We all carry cranky beliefs, mindsets, and habits. To enjoy more of what life has to offer (which, in case you didn’t know, is quite a lot!) you have to quit doing that harmful stuff.

Below are 11 things you need to drop today in order to be happy.

1. Spending time with toxic people.

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” –Jim Rohn (tweet)

There’s an old Mexican saying: tell me who you hang out with and I’ll tell you who you are.

You eventually become more like the people you spend most of your time with. Our mindsets, moods, even our mannerisms shift to mirror those of our best friends or partners.

This also includes the bad stuff. Their toxicity will become yours. Their anxiety will become yours, too. Life is hard enough as it is, so nobody needs that extra gunk. Look around at your circle and assign positive or negative feelings to each person, and start to peel away from those who are keeping you from being happy.

2. Being focused on the goal and not enjoying the work.

“It is by being fully involved with every detail of our lives, whether good or bad, that we find happiness, not by trying to look for it directly.” –Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Goals are essential. They give us a sense of clarity and purpose to our days. But being too attached to goals, or the result of our work, can make you miss all the joys that are sprinkled along the way.

One thing you’ll miss if you are too concerned with the end result is a state of flow. Dr. Csikszentmihalyi has spent his whole life detailing this state of mind that happens when you are so immersed in the task at hand that you lose sense of time and being. You are happily in a groove. This state can only happen if you concern yourself with the work itself, what’s right in front of you, not the end of the journey. This way, you’ll enjoy the ride.

3. Thinking of money as a goal, not a tool.

“Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul.” –Democritus (tweet)

Guess what? Money is a pretty crappy purveyor of happiness. Money is great at taking away problems or concerns, but not great at consistently bringing us joy. There’s a larger (very interesting) explanation of why that is (i.e. Herzberg’s Motivation Theory), but the gist is this: to find happiness, you have to stop focusing on money so much.

That does not mean, however, that money has no influence on your sense of happiness. It is influential, but in a roundabout way.

In order to make money work for you and help you be happy, use it to either be generous (more on this below)  or to purchase experiences. Experiences include vacations, taking interesting classes, or going on a weekend retreat. These experiences have a more profound and long-lasting happy buzz than does buying an HDTV or a new dress.

4. Being too focused on what you want and not grateful for what you have.

“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.”–Denis Waitley

If you could buy everything in the world (all the cars, houses, trips, everything), what else would you want? If you have a nagging feeling that there’s still something more out there, then you may need to pause. You need to drop that mindset or else you’ll never be happy.

You, like pretty much everybody else, are not appreciating your current blessings: your job, your friends, your health, your collection of leather-bound books. You are probably taking them for granted, just like I do all the time.

In order to be happy, you need to start with what you have right now. Happiness doesn’t happen in the future when all your wishes come true. It happens when you can appreciate and savor what you have now. That way, whether you have a little or a lot, you’ll always have enough.

5. Comparing your Facebook profile to your friends’.

 “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” –Oscar Wilde (tweet)

Today, everyone is connected (yay!) which also means everyone is comparing themselves to each other (boo!). Facebook, Instagram, Twitter—all of these are social networks that can have a dark side. When you use them to compare your life to the lives of your friends, you start to feel insufficient, boring. You wonder, “Why can’t I have as fun a life as his!”

But it’s not a fair comparison. Social networks are tabloids you can editorialize any way you want, which means we all only show each other the really good stuff. But we forget about that when we compare everybody’s lives to our own. Nobody has a life that’s only full of great food and breath-taking views.

I’ve written more about this on my blog, but the main takeaway here is to stop comparing yourself to your social media peeps. That image you see of them is not the full picture, so don’t be hard on yourself. Be kind.

6. Holding grudges and seeking payback.

“To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love. In return, you will receive untold peace and happiness.” –Robert Muller (tweet)

Remember that guy who cut you off the other day? Or that old lady at the DMV who was really rude? Taking revenge, at a small or large scale, is a pretty common instinct.

But most of the time, we never do anything about it. You just sit there, stewing with thoughts of revenge. “I shoulda told her to go suck a lemon!” Those people who ruined your day will never hear from you. Meanwhile, you are tossing and turning, twisted by anger and bitterness.

Even if you were to do something, what would you get? Just a new cycle of tit for tat. Today’s fight would sprout tomorrow’s battle.

In order to be happier, you need to just let go.

Let go of that diss.

Let go of that insult.

Wash it off like dirty water. This doesn’t mean you ought to lay over and take it. Not at all; one thing is forgiveness while the other is allowance. But if there’s nothing you can do to prevent it, then try to forgive them for their unkind act. Otherwise, it will keep living in you for way longer than you deserve.

7. Worrying about the plan when there is no plan.

“Happy people plan actions, they don’t plan results.” –Dennis Waitley (tweet)

You grow up thinking that you need a plan for everything. You need a career plan, a marriage plan, a get-happy-by-finding-your-bliss plan. But you quickly find out that all the answers you thought you had are not really there. There are tons of questions, instead. This can make anybody miserable.

Let go of the plan. Life is so immense that any plan you can think of will be somewhat off, at best. And that’s fine. The beauty isn’t in the plan, but in your intentions, your work, and your reactions. To be happy you have to ditch “the plan,” and just try your best. Good stuff will happen, happiness will happen, you just have to let it breathe.

8. Being your own worst critic.

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” –Gautama Buddha (tweet)

Human beings are pretty good at being their own worst critics. That rough call you had with your client means you are bad at what you do which means you’ll soon be without a job which will make you homeless and you’ll lose all your friends. I’m exaggerating about the thought process, but not by much.

This is called catastrophizing. To enjoy a happier life, you have to stop beating yourself up.

Here’s one easy way of doing that, developed by Dr. Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness.

Once you start to feel this catastrophic thinking emerge, follow the ABCDE method:

- A: What adversity just happened?

- B: Because of that adversity, what do you believe now? That you are a bad person?

- C: What did that belief cause you to feel? Are you now angry? Disappointed?

- D: It’s time to disputate. Argue with yourself that your belief is wrong. You are not a bad person, because you’ve always been kind and fair This is just a rare occurrence.

- E: Now that you’ve argued yourself to a healthier thought process, you should feel energized.

9. Giving stress its super power.

“When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage.” –Kelly McGonigal (tweet)

Stress is a silent killer. We all know this, and we all know the litany of deadly consequences it has if left unchecked.

You just need to stop stressing out in order to be happier. No duh, but how do you take the power away from stress?

Easy: re-think the definition of it. Kelly McGonigal has done amazing research on the effects of stress, but, more importantly, how one’s attitude can drastically change its effect on us.

If you view stress as helpful, the adverse side effects plummet or almost completely disappear. Stress loses its power, and you lead happier, healthier lives.

To view stress as helpful, you need to reframe your stress-induced reactions.

Stress is not bad. It’s actually preparing you to rise to the occasion. Your heart is beating faster to prepare you to act. You’re breathing faster because you’re sending more air to your brain so it can react more swiftly. You are sweating because your body is cooling you down so you’re more comfortable.

A simple tweak like this will help you walk away smiling from from stressful situations.

10. Being too careful with your generosity.

“Being a giver is not good for a 100–yard dash, but it’s valuable in a marathon.” –Adam Grant (tweet)

We live fast-paced lives, where time, energy, and even money are not easy to dish out. In order to survive, you ought to be stingy with yourself and hoard as much as you can.

Maybe. But if you want to be happier, this is horrible advice.

To be happy, you must give. Being generous has been proven to boost your happiness. Any act of generosity can make you feel automatically better about yourself and everything else. It also doesn’t have to be about money. You can be generous with your social connections, your listening, or, like Professor Grant, author of Give and Take, with your time:

Grant incorporates his field’s findings into his own life with methodical rigor: one reason he meets with students four and a half hours in one day rather than spreading it out over the week is that a study found that consolidating giving yields more happiness”

11. Caring about everyone else (in the wrong way).

“The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages.” –Virginia Woolf (tweet)

We care too much other people, but in the wrong way. We decide what to wear based on what others might think. We are careful with what we say to not upset anyone. We avoid stating our opinions, and the potential conflict therein, to please everybody around us. Essentially, we are imprisoned by other people’s expectations.

To be happy, you have to be you. Whatever that entails, you must be it.

If that means you are a comic book nerd, then nerd on!

If that means you love wearing tie-dye shirts every day, then right on, brother!

Once you stop caring about other people and stop letting them dictate what you are, how you act, and what you like, you’ll achieve an authentic level of happiness that few ever do.

Everybody has their own kind of quirks and weirdness. Most of us just don’t ever show it for fear of being shunned as “different.” But how can you be happy when you are constantly fighting against yourself, not letting your full self enjoy the sunshine? Drop the act, be yourself, and be happier.

Featured photo credit: whologwhy via flickr.com

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