5 Mistakes That Will Cause Your Pursuit Of Happiness To Backfire

by Amy Morin, LCSW

There are a lot of advantages to being a happy person. Studies consistently show happy people enjoy benefits ranging from better relationships and improved health to enhanced creativity and better problem-solving skills.

It seems as though people are trying harder than ever to be happy these days. Yet, the pursuit of happiness doesn’t always have a happy ending. If you’re making any of these mistakes, your efforts to increase your happiness could backfire:

  1. Comparing Yourself to Other People

It can be tempting to compare your life to the lives of those around you – and one of the most common ways people draw social comparisons on social media. But, social media comparisons aren’t a good yardstick for measuring happiness. Comparing your life to someone else’s highlight reel will undermine your well-being.

Scrolling through Facebook to view other people’s vacation photos, doctored selfies, and proclamations of success can cause you to think your life doesn’t measure up. Studies even show that envying your friends on Facebook can actually lead to depression. So rather than turn your quest for happiness into a competition, stay focused on your own journey to a better life.

  1. Placing Too Much Emphasis on Being Happy

A 2011 study concluded, “Valuing happiness may lead people to be less happy just when happiness is within reach.” If you expect that you ‘should’ be happy, you may grow discouraged when your emotions don’t match your expectations. Self-defeating thoughts like, “I’ve got a good marriage, great kids, and a nice job – I should be happier,” will cause you to feel worse.

Avoid judging yourself for not being happy enough. Focus on enjoying the moment. When you stop creating emotional expectations, you’ll experience more contentment.

  1. Putting a Timeline on When You’ll be Happy

It’s likely everyone has thought a specific event or change in circumstances would ignite their happiness. While one person may say, “I’ll be happy when I lose weight,” another might assume, “I’ll be happy when I’m retired.” But waiting for – and planning on – external events to make you happy will only lead to disappointment.

Research shows that everyone has some sort of happiness baseline. So while a new chapter in your life may provide an initial boost to your happiness, the positive effect will eventually wear off. So don’t wait until you get married, have a better job, move to a new city, or have kids to be happy – seize the moment and enjoy today.

  1. Confusing Success with Happiness

Success and happiness can raise some ‘chicken or the egg’ type questions. Are happy people successful? Or are successful people happy?

Research shows that happy people are more likely to become successful. But being successful doesn’t necessarily make you happy. Unfortunately, people often confuse the order and inadvertently make themselves miserable.

The pursuit of success leads people to accept longer commutes, work more hours, and refrain from social activity. But earning more money or gaining a promotion won’t automatically make you happier. In fact, the steps you may need to take to pursue high levels of achievements are exactly the types of things that can zap your happiness the fastest.

Balance your pursuit of success and your pursuit of happiness in a way that aligns with your values.

  1. Thinking You’re Alone

Social support is one of the keys to happiness. But being surrounded by people – even kind and loving friends and family – won’t guarantee happiness. In fact, research shows your perception of your relationships is what matters most.

People who think things like, “No one likes me,” are more susceptible to negative moods. Those who feel supported – even when it may not be true – are more likely to feel happy. So worry less about filling your social calendar with superficial social engagements, and focus more on forming deeper connections with those that matter.

Choose Happiness

The good news is, everyone has the ability to make choices that foster happiness. Create a meaningful life, filled with positive social relationship, and you’ll be on your way to a happier life. Practice gratitude for the good things you have, and proactively build resilience to help you deal with hardship, and you’ll enjoy more life satisfaction.


Amy Morin is a psychotherapist, psychology instructor, and speaker. Her book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do is on sale now. She’s frequently quoted in national media outlets. She also writes for Forbes and About.com. For more visit AmyMorinLCSW.com

*This article originally appeared in forbes.com.