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22 Things Happy People Do Differently

This is tripe of the "self-help" variety, and while it does provide some words of wisdom, they are intermixed with some appallingly bad claptrap.

There are two types of people in the world: those who choose to be happy, and those who choose to be unhappy. ... Happy people are happy because they make themselves happy. They maintain a positive outlook on life and remain at peace with themselves.

From the very first sentence, this article shows that the author probably "doesn't believe in" clinical depression, and possibly not even in situational depression. Unhappy? You're doing it to yourself -- just snap out of it! So, what does the author suggest that you "do differently" in order to make yourself happy?

1. Don't hold grudges.
Happy people understand that it's better to forgive and forget than to let their negative feelings crowd out their positive feelings.

I'd feel much better about this advice if the author hadn't used the term "forgive and forget". It is true that once you're out of an unpleasant situation, it's healthier to let it recede into the background rather than having it rent space in your head. But some things should not be forgotten, just from the angle of "fool me once, shame on you -- fool me twice, shame on me".

2. Treat everyone with kindness.
Did you know that it has been scientifically proven that being kind makes you happier?

Sort of insulting, n'est-ce pas? "You're not happy? It must be because you treat other people rudely!" While I am quite convinced that there's a connection between the way you feel inside and the way you treat people around you, this is far too simplistic. Not to mention that you should treat people kindly because it's the right thing to do, not just because it will make you feel better.

3. See problems as challenges.
The word "problem" is never part of a happy person's vocabulary. A problem is viewed as a drawback, a struggle, or an unstable situation while a challenge is viewed as something positive like an opportunity, a task, or a dare.

Oh FFS. A problem is a problem, no matter who you are! Reframing is good; refusing to recognize reality is not. And saying "this isn't a problem, it's a challenge" may increase the pressure to stay in a bad situation, trying to "overcome" it, rather than looking for an actual solution.

4. Express gratitude for what they already have.
There's a popular saying that goes something like this: "The happiest people don't have the best of everything; they just make the best of everything they have." You will have a deeper sense of contentment if you count your blessings instead of yearning for what you don't have.

There is something to be said for paying attention to the good things about your life. But if there are parts of your life that suck, telling you to "count your blessings" is just one of the tactics people will use to keep you from trying to fix the suckiness.

5. Dream big.
People who get into the habit of dreaming big are more likely to accomplish their goals than those who don't.

This isn't entirely bad advice. It's just a little too one-size-fits all, with a side of victim-blaming. But then, the whole article starts from a victim-blaming perspective; see its opening paragraph.

6. Don't sweat the small stuff.
Happy people ask themselves, "Will this problem matter a year from now?" They understand that life's too short to get worked up over trivial situations.

I thought the word "problem" wasn't part of a happy person's vocabulary. :-p
Now this is actually good advice, aside from (once again) the assumption that the reader doesn't already understand it. OTOH, it should not be interpreted as meaning, "don't stand up for yourself," even in trivial everyday situations. Someone cutting line at the grocery may not matter a year from now, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't say, "Excuse me, I was here first." What it does mean is that once you're in the car afterwards, don't keep stewing about it. (I had to work on this at one point, so I know from experience that it does make a difference.)

7. Speak well of others.
Being nice feels better than being mean. As fun as gossiping is, it usually leaves you feeling guilty and resentful. Saying nice things about other people encourages you to think positive, non-judgmental thoughts.

Reasonable advice... assuming that the "others" have done something that can be spoken well about. Sometimes that's just not the case. (*cough* Todd Akin *cough*) And, as with many of these platitudes, it breaks down badly if you're looking at a dysfunctional or abusive situation.

8. Never make excuses.
Benjamin Franklin once said, "He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else." Happy people don't make excuses or blame others for their own failures in life. Instead, they own up to their mistakes and, by doing so, they proactively try to change for the better.

I side-eye this because I strongly suspect that there's some conflation going on between "reasons" and "excuses" here. When (e.g.) you have missed a deadline at work because you have spent the entire week fighting crises and haven't had any significant time to work on the project, that is not "making excuses", that's explaining your reasons. Too many people don't see the difference.

9. Get absorbed into the present.
Happy people don't dwell on the past or worry about the future. They savor the present. They let themselves get immersed in whatever they're doing at the moment. Stop and smell the roses.

If you don't take thought for the future, you'll be blindsided by what it throws at you. Also, as stated, this is effectively a repeat of item #4, and subject to the same caveats. If what they meant was "focus on the thing you're doing while you're doing it", they expressed it poorly.

10. Wake up at the same time every morning.
Have you noticed that a lot of successful people tend to be early risers? Waking up at the same time every morning stabilizes your circadian rhythm, increases productivity, and puts you in a calm and centered state.

FWEET! Goalpost-shifting ahoy! Notice the not-so-hidden assumption that "having a regular sleep schedule" is synonymous with "being an early riser"? Not to mention that if you work shifts or part-time, you may not have the option of waking up at the same time every morning, so there's a certain amount of class privilege going on here as well.

11. Avoid social comparison.
Everyone works at his own pace, so why compare yourself to others? If you think you're better than someone else, you gain an unhealthy sense of superiority. If you think someone else is better than you, you end up feeling bad about yourself.

Heh, that's just a paraphrase of part of the Desiderata: "If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself." OTOH, it is a valid piece of advice; and anyone who says you could make yourself a better person by "being more like Someone Else" is doing you a great disservice.

12. Choose friends wisely.
Misery loves company. That’s why it's important to surround yourself with optimistic people who will encourage you to achieve your goals. The more positive energy you have around you, the better you will feel about yourself.

This is also valid advice; in fact, I'd extend it beyond just "friends". If there are members of your family whose presence is usually stress-inducing and energy-sucking, they too should be considered for the option of limited or severed contact. And it's not just "misery loves company," it's also that misery is contagious, and it doesn't have to be directed at you to have that effect. Look at the people who live in the Fox News isolation bubble; they put all their time into being angry and miserable, and so everyone who has to live with them is angry and miserable too.

13. Never seek approval from others.
Happy people don't care what others think of them. They follow their own hearts without letting naysayers discourage them. They understand that it’s impossible to please everyone. Listen to what people have to say, but never seek anyone's approval but your own.

This is good advice taken to the point of claptrap. You had better seek approval from your boss, or you'll be out of a job! Ditto your spouse/SO (assuming a non-dysfunctional relationship), and other people who are important to your life (likewise). Also, the idea that "nobody else has the right to judge me" is directly responsible for a great deal of the deterioration in public behavior over the last few decades, as witness some of the stories at (and probably plenty more that you've personally observed).

14. Take the time to listen.
Talk less; listen more. Listening keeps your mind open to others' wisdoms and outlooks on the world. The more intensely you listen, the quieter your mind gets, and the more content you feel.

This is another "valid, but DUH" point. Why assume that everyone who's reading the article is unaware of it?

15. Nurture social relationships.
A lonely person is a miserable person. Happy people understand how important it is to have strong, healthy relationships. Always take the time to see and talk to your family, friends, or significant other.

I guess the author doesn't believe in introverts, either. Also, watch the card-palming which assumes that all family, friend, and SO relationships are always healthy; it's a bit contradictory from item #12.

16. Meditate.
Meditating silences your mind and helps you find inner peace. You don't have to be a zen master to pull it off. Happy people know how to silence their minds anywhere and anytime they need to calm their nerves.

The main problem with this is the One True Wayness of it. Some people find meditation useful; others don't, or simply don't have the kind of thought patterns that respond to "zen silence" techniques.

18. Exercise.
Studies have shown that exercise raises happiness levels just as much as Zoloft does. Exercising also boosts your self-esteem and gives you a higher sense of self-accomplishment.

I call shenanigans on that first sentence (citation, please) -- and once again, the author clearly doesn't believe that clinical depression exists. The rest of it is one-size-fits-all again, and also fails to consider people with disabilities. I guess they don't exist either.

19. Live minimally.
Happy people rarely keep clutter around the house because they know that extra belongings weigh them down and make them feel overwhelmed and stressed out.

There's some truth to this; it is known that living in a messy environment is energy-draining and a source of stress. But what's "minimal," or "enough," varies widely from person to person. Don't anyone try to tell me that I have too many books when the real problem is not enough bookshelves! :-) I would be more inclined to say, "Keep your clutter under control and your space pleasant to live in."

20. Tell the truth.
Lying stresses you out, corrodes your self-esteem, and makes you unlikeable. The truth will set you free. Being honest improves your mental health and builds others' trust in you. Always be truthful, and never apologize for it.

Agreed, with the caveat that there's a difference between "not lying" and "using the truth as a bludgeon". Truth is important, but so is tact and consideration for the feelings of others, and given the "never apologize" bit, I'm not sure the author recognizes the latter.

21. Establish personal control.
Happy people have the ability to choose their own destinies. They don't let others tell them how they should live their lives. Being in complete control of one's own life brings positive feelings and a great sense of self-worth.

Unless you have enough money to tell the entire world to go take a flying leap, this is flat-out unrealistic. Very few people have complete control of their own lives; at the very least, you have to be able to keep a roor over your head and food on the table for yourself, and most people have family obligations in that area as well. This means that sometimes you have to compromise between what you'd like to do and what you need to do. Also, again with the class privilege -- people on the lower end of the economic scale have far less control over their options, by and large, than those on the upper end.

22. Accept what cannot be changed.
Once you accept the fact that life is not fair, you’ll be more at peace with yourself. Instead of obsessing over how unfair life is, just focus on what you can control and change it for the better.

"Accept that life is not fair" is another one of those lines that makes me twitch, because it's so often flung at people who have DAMN GOOD REASON to be upset about some sort of unfairness. I would be more inclined to phrase this as, "Pick your battles. You can't win every time, so decide what's important to you and put your energy there." My version has the advantage of crowd-sourcing -- different people will have different priorities, so instead of some injustices just being "accepted," everything has people working on it!

Bottom line: There are some nuggets of value in here, but they're well-buried under unexpressed assumptions and fluffy-bunny woo-woo. If you see something here that might be of use to you, well and good -- but it's far from being the Dr. Feelgood's Magic Cure-All suggested by the title.

This entry was originally posted at It appears that commenting there may be more reliable than commenting here.



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 19th, 2013 10:23 am (UTC)
As a depressive, you know what counting my blessings gets me? "I have all these wonderful people and things going on in my life but I still feel like this; I am the worst person in the world."

Just sayin'.
Mar. 19th, 2013 05:59 pm (UTC)
I love that you take the time for critical analysis like this. I think your writing really deserves a broader audience, but I'll greedily take it anyway.
Mar. 20th, 2013 01:20 pm (UTC)
Yes to all of those. The whole "snap out of it" bs just drives me crazy, because it paints those of us for whom it's more complicated as defective, or somehow unwilling to be happy. I can't even describe how bogus the thought of not wanting to be happy is.

I saw one the other day that phrased the "don't make social comparisons" point differently. It was stated as "Don't ever compare yourself to anyone else, only compare your situation to yourself in the past." Considering how much stress and absolute bs I've dealt with in the past few years, that didn't make me feel any better either.
Mar. 20th, 2013 06:12 pm (UTC)

A whole lot of how you see 'advice' like this depends on who is giving it and for what reason, and maybe on whether you asked for their help. Telling someone some things that a lot of people do that make their lives better--squint one way and it's helpful; squint another way and they're blaming the victim.

I find myself counseling a whole lot of very miserable people; some of them became miserable as a consequence of things they did in the past; other people were victimized by others, or by happenstance. For the second category, there's a whole school of thought led by Dr. Phil types, who think it's helpful to find some way that the person really is responsible after all (Did you trust the wrong person foolishly? Could you have gotten insurance for that disaster? Be proactive here!). I've read books by Dr. Phil, and he clearly thinks that this 'empowers' the victim to 'take charge of her destiny' by taking steps to make sure such things don't happen again. Being harsh in order to be kind. Seems to me, this is utter hogwash that would hurt more of the kind of people I know and like than it helps, but hey, there are some people out there for whom that kind of kick in the pants is just what they need. Different sizes for different people.

For some people, exercise is the best, most wonderful thing for their physical and mental health that they can do. For other, it is completely useless, or even counterproductive.

Some gain courage, happiness and a sense of purpose and meaning from prayer. For others, it is irrelevant to their lives, or oppressive.

There's yoga and meditation. There's going out into nature. There's absorbing oneself in work, or books, or children, or luxuriating in a hot bath with candles and chocolates, or spending time with a special friend, or therapy. All of these things are right for someone, not helpful for someone else, and makes a third person's problems worse.

There are some lives that are enriched by drinking alcohol, in amounts and at times that benefit them. Other lives are destroyed by it.

I often make suggestions, but I don't usually suggest one of those things. I offer the whole menu and advise the unhappy to learn what it is that will help them renew themselves and cope in times of stress and pain, and to always make time for that.

I see that list as a menu to graze from, not a to do list that requires you to apply every item on it. ("Not speaking ill of others", for example, is clearly inapplicable when you're reporting to the police that someone robbed you, or while Todd Akin is actually running for office. Now that he's lost, though, we might benefit by thinking about someone else. Oh look, there's Elizabeth Warren!)

Maybe today I will treat people with kindness. :-)
Mar. 21st, 2013 03:19 am (UTC)
It's as if a bunch of these have cause and effect reversed. If you had plenty of time to exercise and keep regular hours, if all of your problems were so trivial that you could be pretty sure that by next year they were all gone, if you had social relationships with people who were cheerful and non-depressive but you didn't really have to care whether they approved of you, odds are your stress levels would be rather lower than of regular mortals.
Mar. 21st, 2013 07:00 am (UTC)
and yet that's the sort of thing that gets passed around facebook and email ad nauseam
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