Almost every action we take in life is aimed at achieving or maintaining “happiness”—that elusive state where we feel contentment, satisfaction, and even bliss.
Still, it can be a bit hard to define. Unhappiness, on the other hand, is easy to identify; you know it when you see it, and you definitely know when it’s taken ahold of you.
Happiness has much less to do with life circumstances than you might think. Studies have shown that people who earn the most are only a smidge happier than the average population that works for them.
Life circumstances have little to do with it because much of it is under your control—the product of your habits and your outlook on life.
Some habits lead to discontent more than others do. These traps are easily avoided once you’re aware of them:
1. Holding Your Feelings In
One of the great misconceptions concerning emotional intelligence (EQ) is that it’s about repressing our feelings and holding them in.
While it’s true there are feelings that high EQ individuals don’t allow to erupt on impulse, that doesn’t mean those feelings aren’t expressed. EQ means honoring your feelings and allowing yourself to experience the catharsis that comes from embracing them for what they are. Only then can you express them in a manner that helps rather than hinders your ability to reach your goals.
2. Numbing Yourself With Technology
Everyone deserves the opportunity to binge-watch a TV show now and then, or to switch on their Kindle and get lost in a book. The real question is how much time you spend plugged in (to video games, the TV, your tablet, computer, or phone) and whether it makes you feel good, or simply makes you numb.
When your escape becomes a constant source of distraction, it’s a sure sign you’ve fallen into the trap of too much of a good thing.
3. Spending Too Much Time and Effort Acquiring “Things”
There’s an ocean of research that shows that material things don’t make you happy. When you make a habit of chasing things, you’re likely to become unhappy because, beyond the disappointment you experience once you get them, you discover that you’ve gained them at the expense of the real things that can make you happy, such as friends, family, and hobbies.
4. Waiting for the Future
Telling yourself, “I’ll be happy when…” is one of the easiest habits to fall into. How you end the statement doesn’t really matter (it might be a promotion, more pay, or even a new job) because it puts too much emphasis on circumstances, and improved circumstances don’t lead to happiness.
Don’t spend your time waiting for something that’s proven to have no effect on your mood. Instead, focus on being happy right now, in the present moment, because there’s no guarantee of the future.
5. Fighting Change
Change is an inevitable part of life, and those who fight it do so because they’re struggling to remain in control. The problem with this approach is that fighting change actually limits your control over the situation by putting up a barrier between yourself and the actions you need to take to improve your situation.
The idea here is to prepare for change. This isn’t a guessing game in which you test your accuracy in anticipation of what comes next, but rather it means thinking through the consequences of potential changes so that you’re not caught off guard if they surface.
Nothing fuels unhappiness quite like pessimism. The problem with a pessimistic attitude, beyond it being hard on your mood, is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: If you expect bad things, you’re more likely to get bad things.
Pessimistic thoughts are hard to shake off until you recognize how illogical they are. Force yourself to look at the facts, and you’ll see that things are not nearly as bad as they seem.
7. Comparing Yourself to Others
Jealousy and envy are incompatible with happiness, so if you’re constantly comparing yourself with others, it’s time to stop.
In one study, most subjects said that they’d be okay with making less money, but only if everybody else did, too. Be wary of this kind of thinking, because more often than not it has the opposite effect.
8. Not Improving
Because unhappy people are pessimists and feel a lack of control over their lives, they tend to sit back and wait for life to happen to them. Instead of setting goals, learning, and improving themselves, they just keep plodding along, and then they wonder why things never change. Don’t let this be you.
9. Staying Home
When you feel unhappy, it’s tempting to avoid other people. This is a huge mistake as socializing, even when you don’t enjoy it, is great for your mood. We all have those days when we just want to pull the covers over our heads and refuse to talk to anybody, but understand that the moment this becomes a tendency, it destroys your mood.
Recognize when unhappiness is making you antisocial, force yourself to get out there and mingle, and you’ll notice the difference right away.
Changing your habits in the name of greater positive reward is one of the best things you can do for yourself. But it’s also important for another reason—taking control of your happiness makes everyone around you happier, too.
Want to learn more from this author? Check out his award-winning book Emotional Intelligence 2.0.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn. It has been republished here with permission.
Photo of person unhappy courtesy of David Lees/Getty Images.
Dr. Travis Bradberry is the bestselling coauthor of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and president at TalentSmart, a company that provides emotional intelligence tests and training to more than 75% of the Fortune 500. He is a world-renowned expert in emotional intelligence, a LinkedIn Influencer, and a contributor to Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc., and the World Economic Forum. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter.More from this Author