How to Stop the Cycle of Unhappiness (12 steps to a happier you)

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“The greatest happiness is to know the source of unhappiness.”  ~Fyodor Dostoevsky

Have you ever felt frustrated that you weren’t as happy as you thought you should be, that you were stuck on some evil treadmill of unhappiness or that every time you thought you were right on the verge of feeling happy, something pulled the rug out from under your feet?

Perhaps you feel like every time you start climbing the mountain of life, you get yourself trapped in a ravine, or fall off a cliff or realize after what seemed miles and miles of uphill hiking, you’re still at the base of the mountain, at the very beginning of the trail, having made no real progress at all.

Sometimes we’re our worst enemies to our own happiness

We think we know what we’re doing and where we’re going and how to get there only to realize down the road that we’re lost and are using an outdated map to navigate a new reality.

This is my attempt at redrawing an old map and marking a new trail, one with fewer ravines and unexpected cliffs.

Learning what to do to be happy is unquestionably important. But learning what to stop doing on our way to greater depths of happiness is too.

12 Ways to Stop being Unhappy

1. Stop complaining

Many unhappy people are chronic complainers. They see all the clouds and none of the sky. And they make sure everyone around them knows what’s coming.

The problem with this well-worn profession is that it keeps the mind focused on all that is wrong and complain-worthy, even when there are other things going on in your life that are wonderful.

It’s like going to a museum and never looking at anything but the graffiti in the bathroom stall.

The habit of complaint is a self-inflicted wound. It darkens horizons and amplifies the ugly. Never ignore warning signs or hide from reality, of course. Just don’t dwell so exclusively on it that you forget to look beyond the stall.

2. Stop dwelling on past wrongs

Unhappy people spend way too much of their precious time rehashing old offenses and picking at old wounds. But that distracts us from experiencing the present moment in all its beauty and wonder.

If we’re too focused on what was, we may miss the way things have become. You have to let the past go to be free enough to enjoy the flow of life directly below your feet.

3. Stop blaming others

Blame traps us in the mud of a bad experience. We get stuck there, unable to move on when we’re focusing on who did what, when and why instead of focusing on what we can learn from the lessons embedded in the experience.

4. Stop blaming yourself

Too often, we turn our judgment inward and shoulder the burden of guilt. If you did something regrettable, fix it. Then let God juggle the numbers on life’s ledger and move on!

Repair what can be repaired and lift your vision from the trash bin of the past and look for ways of creating meaning today and into the future.

5. Stop thinking life owes you

Those who sit around expecting life to provide for them will spend a lot of frustrated moments waiting for what will seldom, if ever, arrive. Life owes you nothing. It provides everything.

But it is up to us to use what is made available to fashion a life of passion and happiness.

Once you can let go of the expectation that life owes you anything, everything becomes an opportunity to learn and love and forgive and overcome and develop and create and become.

We truly become masters of our own fate, no longer kites held afloat or pulled down by luck, fate, government, history, circumstance or the whim of others.

6. Stop judging

This doesn’t mean to hang your insight, discernment and wisdom on a door and go through life without ever again forming another opinion. But those who are hyper-judgmental or who leap to quick and unfounded judgments are robbing themselves of a level of happiness that can easily be made available.

Stop judging so many books by their covers and start allowing others’ true essence to blossom. Only then will you see others as something more than their responses to you, but as their potential, as spiritual siblings, hungering to be affirmed in their basic humanity.

7. Stop comparing

Unhappy people compare their own spouses to friends’ spouses, their children to neighbors’ children, themselves to society’s standard of beauty or their own standard of perfection and their lives to the rich and famous. Silly, isn’t it?

Our lives are unique and unlike anyone else’s. Why spin your wheels in the sands of dissatisfaction and disappointment comparing who you (or others) are to people you (or they) can never be?

You were born into a unique set of circumstances with a unique set of life experiences and obstacles, advantages, trials, traumas, abilities and disabilities that have shaped and formed you in different ways, forging vastly different personalities, values, character traits, strengths, weaknesses, reference points, insecurities, sensitivities, mind-sets, likes, dislikes, habits, perspectives, ideologies, opinions and attitudes.

No wonder we’re all so different. Accept that fact. Embrace it. Love it.

8. Stop worrying so much.

Some people are so plagued with fear, doubt and anxiety that life affords few true unadulterated joys. Most of their happiness is attenuated by the nagging tug of fear.

What-if-this and what-if-that thinking beats anxiety into every part of the body with every pump of a nervous heart. Life is thereby robbed of the peace that accompanies the highest, most steady forms of happiness.

Instead, learn to let life be. Trust that things will be okay. Let go of the need to control. Take reasonable precautions, of course, but not out of fear that something terrible will otherwise happen, but out of respect for your health and well-being.

9. Stop making mountains out of molehills

Do you make a big hairy deal out of every little misspoken word or gesture or forgotten deed? Does a little disagreement escalate quickly into a blowout fight? Stop making everything a national offense and see how your happiness sinks down into a deeper, more secure place.

10. Stop being so easily offended

Similarly, those who make mountains out of molehills are often the same who are easily offended. Stop seeing offense in everything you don’t like and learn to accept people as they are.

When you are able to see that not everything is a reflection of how the world loves and accepts you—or fails to—but is just the way different people think and behave and deal with life, a world of happiness that has been too long hidden will finally open to you.

(for 10 steps on how to do this, click here).

11. Cease and desist your pessimistic ways

The belief that things just won’t work out, that you have no control over circumstances in your life, that nothing you do will change much of anything virtually guarantees unhappiness.

Stop seeing the negative in the positive and train your eyes to see the glow of life emanating from the ashes of life’s trials and challenges.

You will then be free to experience a revolution in happiness that will add an amazing amount of life satisfaction to the daily experience of living.

(Here’s 10 ways optimism can help)

12. Stop perfectionism

Perfectionism is the daily act of proving you don’t fit the bill. It is a way of sabotaging all positive feelings. It’s how we undermine happiness by always setting a standard for acceptability beyond what is humanly possible. It is the habit of forever moving the standard of self-criticism 10 steps beyond your current capacity.

Strive for improvement without measuring your growth by the distance you are from the perceived ideal. Instead, measure it from the place you started before the goal was set and celebrate the incremental growth you experience as you grow.

Bonus #13: Stop ingratitude

An ingrate is someone who takes life, others and all those basic gestures of kindness for granted. Life becomes common, expected, owed, deserved. An entitlement mentality replaces appreciation, wonder and awe. And so happiness fades.

To change that, start allowing gratitude to seep back into your awareness. Make it a habit to count your blessings, naming them one by one and life will become much more beautiful, positive and happy.

(add these unlikely items to your gratitude list)

Final Thoughts

The surest way to guarantee that none of these obstacles to happiness are ever replaced or overcome is to try conquering all of them at the same time. When we feel overwhelmed by the enormity of a job, most people tend to stall, stagnate, and procrastinate getting started.

Instead, choose one (two at the most) and start there. When you feel you have made enough headway as to consider that trait something you now possess, even if imperfectly, you can take on the next most relevant obstacle and begin tackling that one.

In time, you will feel the natural flow of happiness make its way back into your life as the obstacles to it begin to be replaced by the principles of a truly happy, soul-satisfying life.

In the Comments

Questions to consider: What step did I leave out? What would you have added? What solutions would you have suggested? Which of the steps have you struggled with or have you successfully overcome? What resonated with you? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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