Are you limiting your happiness? You might be without knowing you’re doing it.

We all want to be happy. Yet happiness seems elusive to so many people. I know some folks that seem to have been born with the happiness gene. They take no tangible actions, that are apparent to others, yet they are always happy. They hold happiness in mind as a state of mind and expect happiness as a given in life.  These people look at the rest of us as if we’re from another planet; wondering, “why, on Earth, are you not just happy with life and everything you have? Why do you worry so much? Why do you let other people derail your happiness? That just doesn’t make sense.”  Their foundation of happiness so internalized that is has become a part of their very make-up, way of waking and way of being in daily life. I love these types of people. They teach me so much.

For the rest of us who, for whatever reason, never built a foundation of happiness within ourselves early-on in life or who struggle with happiness coming-and-going, rising and falling in daily life, we have to do some work. If we want consistent happiness to be our state of being or even if we want to achieve moments of happiness on a regular basis, then some reality-based self-assessment must occur.

There will, of course, be times that life itself (e.g., life’s typical occurrences) triggers natural moments or phases of unhappiness (i.e., the death or departure of loved ones, the loss of something valued or anticipated, a sustained long-term strain or struggle at work, in a relationship or with health). All people will experience levels of and periods of sadness and discontent when life-happens.

10 actions and choices that hold happiness at bay

Some of us hold-at-bay our happiness. We choose not to lay in place the stones that form the foundation of internal, deep, sustaining happiness. We don’t engage in the same actions and activities that people engage in who are happy most of the time; not-phased by changes in their encounters or circumstances. We may even sabotage external opportunities for happiness at work and in life. Here are 10 things that we may, inadvertently, be doing to hinder our own happiness.

1. Negation

Negation means to deny or minimize something. Some people hold thoughts of denial in mind. These thoughts then reproduce after their kind. They create a cycle in a person’s mind that ‘happiness is not possible for me’. These thoughts may include: “With all of this going on I don’t have time to be happy” or “What would make me happy is a trip or doing this or that and I don’t have the money for this or for that” or “life is just hard and if you’re happy all of the time there’s something wrong with you.” They minimize or negate the possibility of happiness in the here-and-now.

2. Undeserving

There are people who may deeply believe that they are undeserving of happiness or that to be or show happiness is somehow a sign of having a head in the clouds or not being a serious person. They may actually believe that unbridled happiness is a ‘bad’ or ‘inappropriate’ behavior or state of being. Many of people in western anglo-cultures hold some of these beliefs. They believe that they must sacrifice themselves, their lives, their time and their momentary happiness in order to prove they deserve to be happy sometime in the future. They have bought-into some antiquated culture paradigm that says ‘one must suffer in order to be happy later’. They miss the point and the promise of deep, soul-full happiness; that it is here-and-now and that no proof is necessary for one to be happy.

3. Refusals

There are other people who have opportunities for happiness handed to them on a silver platter if they would only change something within themselves or their situations, but they refuse to look at themselves and refuse to change.  They refuse to take an accounting of themselves and their situations, because if they were to account for their own choices, their own habits and their own willingness to stay in unhappy circumstances then they might feel defeated or, worse-yet in their minds, they might have to take responsibility for their situations. By refusing to be accountable and refusing to live differently they push their own happiness away with each choice that they make.

4. Preferences

Some people prefer the image and mantle of meanness, martyr, or victim. It allows them to be toxic and to spew toxicity as a method of self-protection, deflection, and self-deception. It gives them permission not to change or empower themselves. They can blame others and use others to wallow in unhappiness instead of rising in empowerment. These people may claim that they really do want happiness and that they hate always being on the receiving end of life’s troubles, but the meanness, martyrdom and victimhood roles give them attention and it is attention and validation that they really seek, not happiness.

5. Listening

Some people stand at the precipice of happiness but then pull themselves back from taking the next simple step into happy feelings or happy circumstances because they choose to listen to others whose vision of possibilities and potential are, themselves, extremely limited. They listen to and easily influenced by people who tend to complain or to people who tend to call happy-happenings just plain “silly” or “foolish”. When a potentially happy person listens to these types of people they succumb to peer pressure and convince themselves not to do things that will naturally make them happy.

6. Placing Limits

Some people place limits on happiness. They falsely claim, and mistakenly believe, that only 1 thing will make them happy or they limit happiness to a particular form/shape that happiness must arrive-in. They may say, “spending time with my friends makes me happy. Oh, but not at this place or that place.” Or they may say, “winning makes me feel happy. Oh, but not winning at this or that. What makes me happy would be winning the lottery.” For these people, happiness must come in a very specific form or shape, and if it doesn’t then they are not happy.

7. Magical Thinking

There are quite a few people, who feel unhappy, but who engage in magical thinking. These unhappy, unsatisfied folks actually still believe in magic. They don’t say that they do; but they do. They are unhappy but they don’t take action. Instead, they hold in mind the false belief that happiness will just happen each day.  They don’t want to or think they have to, work for happiness each day. The work that may have to be done may be internal (e.g., changing thoughts, meditating, changing habits) or external (e.g., surrounding themselves with new friends, changing jobs, etc.). These people don’t want to work for happiness they magically think that things should just change. Then they become disillusioned and disappointed when nothing changes for them and they remain unhappy.

8. Virtue-Challenges

Most people don’t realize how closely virtues are tied to happiness. Virtues are our internal principle and character-based guidance system. Virtues strengthen us (e.g., our outlooks, our beliefs, our volition in the world). Virtues include things like: courage to take steps towards happiness, faith that happiness is a reality, acceptance of what has been and choice for what could be, discipline to keep pursuing happiness, fortitude to overcome obstacles to happiness, etc. Some people struggle with virtuous character traits and their own personal character development. They give themselves a pass on virtues or they use the example of unvirtuous people being happy as a way of avoiding their own developmental needs. When a person does not work on their own virtue-strengthening they give-up on happiness too easily and buckle under pressure when they have to make pivotal choices that affect their happiness.

9. Time Blocks

Some people literally don’t take time to be an experience happiness. They overload and fill their time with obligations, work, should-do’s, and projects. They may be driven to do so by cultural norms (e.g., messages they received from family upbringing, their culture of origin or their workplace culture) or simply an inability to say ‘no’. For these folks, happiness is in mind but seems ever elusive, just out of reach.

10. The myth of money

There are many people who actually think that happiness will come when their financial situation changes or when they receive a windfall of money. Money never (ever) brings happiness. Money can certainly make life easier if a person is wise with what they receive, but happiness is not a by-product of money. Relief is a by-product, but not happiness. For some people, money generates a happy feeling because they’ve made money, and in their mind, money is a representation of self-esteem and self-worth. Money and things as representations of self-esteem or self-worth are never sustainable. They mask unhappiness because once the money or things are taken away or diminished in some way, the unhappiness and insecurity in a person is dramatically revealed.


Bob Schout is an Organization Management Expert specializing in human behavior in organizational systems, group dynamics, personnel development, and personal growth & development. He is President of PowerSkills Training & Development Inc. and Owner of Schout It Out, LLC. Schout It Out offers the world inspirational and educational products and literary works to promote beauty, peace and justice in the world. PowerSkills offers professional development seminar, consultation, coaching, provocative speaking, and mediation services to business, government, nonprofit, professional association, and faith-based organizations.

Photograph by  Robert Collins

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