10 Common Happiness Mistakes.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day — or List Day, or Quiz Day.
This Wednesday: 10 common happiness mistakes.

  1. To delay to do something important until you have some “free time,” because you may never have any free time
  2. To retreat into isolation when you’re unhappy
  3. To neglect to make a small change because you think a big change is necessary
  4. To refuse to consider a big change because you assume you can only make a small change
  5. To “treat” yourself to something you wouldn’t ordinarily permit yourself, because you’re feeling blue
  6. To postpone something important until you’re feeling healthier, or thinner, or married, or whatever
  7. To think that you can “make” someone else be happy
  8. To imagine that what’s true for other people is true for you
  9. To spend too much time, or not enough time, thinking about the past, present, or future
  10. To ignore the truth about your own temperament, interests, and aptitudes

I had an eleventh mistake, but my computer didn’t save the document properly, and now I can’t remember what else I’d added. Very annoying. What have I overlooked? Wait! I just thought of another. “To think about everything you don’t have, instead of everything you do have.” But that wasn’t the one that I forgot…

* I loved this though-provoking post, Thanksgiving Parade, on the site of my friend Maria Giacchino — who is also the woman responsible for the weekly videos and my book trailer and TV commercial.

* If you’d like to volunteer to be a Super-Fan, and help me out from time to time (nothing onerous), click here. I so appreciate the support and enthusiasm of the Super-Fans.

  • Tholo

    Here is a quote I keep that relates to your eleventh…, er, twelfth, mistake:

    Think not so much of what thou hast not as what thou hast: but of the things which thou hast select the best, and then reflect how eagerly they would have been sought, if thou hadst them not. At the same time, however, take care that thou dost not through being so pleased with them accustom thyself to overvalue them, so as to be disturbed if ever thou shouldst not have them. –Marcus Aurelius vii, 27

  • Oopsie! I’ve done all 10, and recently. But I’m getting better at this, thanks in part, to your reminders! (Hey, at least I’ve not done all 10 in one day…)

  • meredith131

    I love this list! I can relate to every single one of these mistakes. I know I have put off a daunting task because I’m saving it for my non-existent free time. As well I have noticed that treating myself doesn’t make me feel as good as I expected it would. Thank you for sharing these tips!


  • Excellent post. I’m printing this one up and putting it on my fridge right now.

  • jenny_o

    Was it this?

    To think that someone else can “make” you happy.

    • gretchenrubin

      No but that ABSOLUTELY should be in the list.

  • Kathy

    The really important ones to me are number 8 and 10. Your book and posts have given me permission to accept myself for who I am (being Kathy) and to not beat myself up for not being someone else. When I am unhappy, it’s too often because I’m trying to be someone else, trying to form myself into them. It never works. It has taken me a long time to realize that fact. Thanks, Gretchen, for encouraging me to just be Kathy and be OK with that.

  • Kate

    This was exactly what I needed to read this morning. Being a teacher and having Veteran’s Day off, I have a whole day of possibilities in front of me. For the past week I have been telling myself I am going to use part of it to be productive and FINALLY finish collecting the clothing and items I have to donate to Good Will that I started about three months ago. The partially-filled garbage bag in my office has been staring at me begging to be taken away, but I have been waiting for that “free time” that has yet to arrive since I am so good at finding ten other things that are way more important (being a teacher I always fall back on the “I have to do school work first” because in this job we are never done with work just because we leave the building). The postponing of this rather small task has unfortunately become a weight on my mind, not to mention my eyes every time I go into my office, and has definitely not increased my happiness. So today I will take the advice of Common Happiness Mistake number 1 and stop delaying the task. It will definitely add to the happiness of whatever activity that I do that was intended for pure happiness purposes in the first place instead of being a nag in the back of my mind the entire time I’m trying to enjoy myself. And if I do it right away, who knows? maybe it will lead to the domino effect of getting other tasks done that I have been mulling over for too long pushing me higher on the happiness chart.

  • Debbie Hampton

    Thank you for these wonderful thoughts. I disagree with #2 though. I know, for me, retreating into isolation allows me to process the emotion, self reflect and consciously make a decision as to how I want to respond. I am not saying to retreat into isolation for an unhealthy amount of time. However, when I have done my work by myself then I am clear and ready to be with others and turn outward.

  • These are great tips! I would add to the list:

    To live your life worrying about what other people think.

    By this I mean keeping up with the Joneses, doing something just because other people are doing it, trying to impress others with material possessions, or worrying that other people might not approve.

  • Once again, a perfect list to start the day with. Following your example, I even just wrote #3 and #4 on a Post-It, now perched on the screen of my laptop. And I must say that #4 perhaps struck me the most, as someone who has long thought of herself as confident and quite open to (in love with? ) change, yet feels paralyzed when trying to figure out how to make a big career shift. Thank you.

    I was also just discussing #7 with a friend last night. It’s amazing how many relationships/friendships/jobs?/etc. can become frustrating if we expect that we can really change that other person/situation – or set any expectations that the other party doesn’t share. Really, the only thing we can control is ourselves, and our reaction to those things/people/situations. I’m rambling, I realize, but I hope that makes sense.

    Thanks again, Gretchen.

    Back to #4…


  • Heather Whistler

    #9 all the way! I can get WAY too caught up worrying about the future to enjoy the present. I actually just wrote a new blog post about this in relation to the upcoming birth of my baby… I’d love to hear what you think if you have a chance to stop by: http://bit.ly/ce5nBY

  • Tip #10 hit an amazing chord with me. It is very, very good advice. For me, it is quite possibly ‘half the battle’!

  • Debradylan

    Excellent list, Gretchen!

    And thank you for the link to Thanksgiving Parade. I was moved to tears.

  • Candace

    This is the most truthful lists I have seen in a long time. I am going to print it out and post it. It hits home to me!

  • Love it. Especially the part about temperament…sometimes to be happy you have to face yourself honestly and say you just are or are not that person.

  • I love these tips!

    My addition would be this, think about what is right in your life instead of what is wrong. This tends to begin the thought process in a better, more positive way.


  • gretchenrubin

    Ah, no! I used the word “isolation,” with its connotations, for just that
    reason. It can be comforting to have some time alone, absolutely, but
    isolation — no.

  • Was number 11 either: “Crying over spilt milk” or “Getting so into your writing that you forget to hit save”? 🙂

    Good point about “You can’t make other people happy” — it ties in with your Tiggers and Eeyors. Interesting though, that other people can make you sad.

  • #8 is the biggest. Do whatever you want not what other people want you to do.

  • Myflyinghamster

    #1 and #6 are somewhat the same. I do this all the time – make up some excuse about why I can’t do that one important thing I know I need to do. In the end game, it’s really because I’m afraid to do it. And who wants to admit they’re afraid – not me. Plus, I’m a guy and we’re never supposed to be afraid, right?

  • catseye

    Don’t worry about #11, Gretchen. I think these 10 are plenty useful reminders of what we do to thwart our own happiness. These really struck home with me.

  • What a great list, I completely agree with #3 – it is so simple to make a small change in one’s life and a few small changes add up to big results.

    One more that I think should have been added to the list is –

    “comparing your inside to other people’s outside because their reality may really not be all it’s cracked up to be”

    • Cat

      This reminds me of the Japanese concept of Kaizen: make a 1% change 100% of the time. 🙂

  • i will humbly add something related to tip #1: on the job, try to finish your regular tasks as soon as possible because something urgent, last-minute has an uncanny way of cropping up right when you’re most overwhelmed!

  • mindy

    I think I would add, “Dont take thing personally”

  • I would like to add, not to worry about pending projects while you are having a good time.
    Of course, the best thing would be not have any pending projects.