I was spoiled growing up. There’s no sense denying it. My Dad was an administrative law judge and my mother a devoted homemaker. We weren’t millionaires but quite comfortable.
We lived in the hills of Los Gatos, California, with an amazing view of Silicon Valley. Every Christmas there were tons of presents under the tree.
After opening my gifts, I used to phone my neighborhood buddy to compare notes on our loot. Then we’d meet up later to play with our new toys.
My mother made all my meals, cleaned and folded my laundry, and chauffeured me to friend’s homes and tennis matches. When I became old enough to drive, I was given regular access to one of the family cars.
Many years later, as an adult, I shared stories of my idyllic upbringing with a buddy, who said, “You were raised with a silver spoon up your ass.” I had no snappy comeback, because my buddy spent his childhood years in Africa, serving in the Peace Corps.
What saved me from becoming a self-absorbed, entitled jerk were two things. First, the fatherly life lessons my Dad taught me. Second, the example of love and kindness my mother exemplified.
Thankfully, I grew up to appreciate how fortunate I was. I was also taught to avoid certain habits that are sure to make you miserable.
My father was a self-made man who put himself through law school at night while working a day job and supporting his family. He took a keen interest in my schooling and upbringing, never missing opportunities to teach me life lessons about being a decent human being.
Dad’s most impactful lessons were found in his behavior. Like the time he came to the aid of a homeless, immigrant man who was hit by a car. Dad provided the man with free legal assistance and brought him to our home to convalesce for many weeks. My mother helped cook and care for the man until Dad was able to secure a low-cost apartment for him.
There were many others that Dad and Mom helped over the years. Dad once told me that we should never become so focused on ourselves that we are blinded to the needs of others. He added that a lot of the miserable people he knew “were selfish and self-absorbed.”
Many things make people miserable, and some are beyond their immediate control. Things like illness, tragedy, and the loss of loved ones.
But for daily living, the following bad habits are sure to bring you prolonged misery. Also, there’s no judgment here. I’m guilty of all the following habits at different times in my life. I suspect most of us are. The trick is to recognize these nine habits and correct them.
We’ve all met people who are focused on themselves. They’re the ones who look for their reflection in storefront windows, interrupt others in meetings, turn conversations back to themselves, and post endless selfies on social media. They also tend to be demanding and selfish.
We all have egos. We want to look good and be interesting to others. But the more we focus on these things, the less happy we seem to be. The antidote to self-absorption is to start focusing on others.
“More often than not, people who are obsessed with their desires and feelings are generally unhappier in life vs. people that refocus their attention on service to others or a righteous cause. Have you ever heard someone say their life sucked because they fed the homeless? Made their children laugh? Or, bought a toy for a needy child at Christmas time?” ― Shannon L. Alder
People who help others and contribute to a better world tend to be far more interesting than people who constantly talk about themselves.
I put off writing this article for two days. I kept finding distractions, like a book I’m reading and emails to catch up on.
The more I put off doing the creative work that matters to me, the more miserable I become.
“Waiting is a trap. There will always be reasons to wait — The truth is, there are only two things in life, reasons, and results, and reasons simply don’t count.”— Robert Anthony
The author Steven Pressfield, in his book “The War of Art,” defines our endless creative procrastination as “the resistance.” That seemingly immovable thing that keeps us from our work.
People who procrastinate and put off important work end up miserable. To combat this, set up a reliable schedule and routines to make your important work a priority. Doing so will make you a happier person.
There’s a difference between healthy habits, obsessions, and addictions. According to an article in Evolvingman.com:
“Any substance or behavior can be a part of your life in a healthy way or an unhealthy way. Whether something becomes an addiction depends on whether it is causing negative consequences in your life. Our culture tells us that there are good addictions: work, exercise, even another person (think romance movies) — and there are bad ones like drugs, alcohol, etc. The truth is that every addiction causes negative consequences in the user’s life. By definition, an addiction harms the user, yet the user continues to engage the same behavior. Simply put, addiction is never a good thing.”
When you become addicted to something at the expense of everything else in your life, that’s a problem.
“Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism.” — Carl Jung
I’ve known people who were miserable because their additions came first. For example, the workaholic focused on success ends up overlooking the needs of her spouse. Or the gym rat addicted to fitness may neglect his intellectual growth.
My Dad used to say, “All things in moderation.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that, and it will spare you a lot of misery.
Throughout my professional career, I witnessed many promising people derail their success due to blame. Rather than owning up to their mistakes and taking personal responsibility, they blamed others.
“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.” — Albert Ellis
Miserable people are always pointing fingers at others. The irony is that most of the time, everyone knows who’s to blame.
What’s refreshing is when someone takes responsibility and fixes the problem. Even better is the person who’s not to blame, but quietly fixes the problem anyway.
When I was a boy, I used to visit a friend who lived up the hill from us. Our homes were surrounded by woods, and one day I found a short cut. It was off the well-tread deer path, and I had to crawl through some dense foliage.
What I didn’t know is that the dense foliage was poison oak. The next day, my body was covered in an itchy rash. So much for shortcuts.
“You can’t expect to grow stronger when you avoid the hard stuff. I have never met someone who’s said, “I’m so thankful I took all those short cuts in my life. Best move ever.” ― Jason Vallotton
I can’t think of many shortcuts that enriched or greatly improved my life. There may have been a few here and there, but most of the stuff I’m most proud of in life is the result of hard work.
If you want to be the best at something, you’ve got to put in the work. Every day. There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.
I was in a Starbucks once, enjoying a latte and drawing in my sketchbook. Across from me were two women gossiping. They were talking about a mutual friend, and the words were not kind.
“Can you believe she did that? Oh my God, I could have screamed,” one of the women said.
“Well I heard that Joe is cheating on her, and maybe that’s what she deserves,” the other said.
The two women delighted in their gossip-filled drama. “And to what end?” I thought to myself. Neither seemed interested in helping their mutual friend. They were too ensconced in the drama.
“Don’t make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.” — Don Miguel Ruiz
Gossip can be entertaining, so long as the gossip is not about us. And getting sucked into the emotional drama of others seems to be a national past time. Look no further than TV shows like 90 Day Fiancé and Catfish, which thrive on emotional pain and drama.
If you want to be miserable, make drama a part of your life.
I used to let things clutter my living space. Books piled on the floor and art supplies around my desk. It was a bad habit. Then one day I started reading about minimalism, the idea that less is more.
Studying about minimalism taught me about the value of simplicity. I culled through my clothing, living space, digital files, and lifestyle. I learned how to travel with less. I sold, donated, and threw away things I didn’t need.
The result of this dance with minimalism has been like a weight lifted. Removing all the extraneous stuff from my life made more room for the things that matter most.
“The more I examine the issue of clutter, the more effort I put into combating it, because it really does act as a weight.” — Gretchen Rubin
The clutter in your life, both physical and mental, will make you miserable. The more you can let it go, the more you’ll be able to focus on the good stuff.
My best friend got a new bicycle for one year for his birthday. It had a gear shift in the middle and fancy seat rest.
I thought it was the coolest bike ever and was envious. So much so that I barely held back tears and rode home on my old Schwinn bicycle. I overheard my friend’s father telling his son, “He’ll be okay, he’s just jealous.”
“Beg of God the removal of envy, that God may deliver you from externals, and bestow upon you an inward occupation, which will absorb you so that your attention is not drawn away.” — Rumi
It’s one thing to admire the good fortune of others, but we must never resent them for it. There’s a fine line between admiration and envy.
We are all blessed with different talents and abilities. Rather than envy others, or the things they possess, we should focus on developing our talents. Look inward, and focus on becoming the best you, and you’ll avoid the misery of envy.
Some of the most famous people in the world wrestle with moments of self-doubt. There are celebrity singers and actors who still experience butterflies before they perform.
Consider the mega-star vocalist Adele. According to an article in Songbirdsf.com:
“Adele has been very open about the fact that she gets stage fright, saying in an interview with Rolling Stone, ‘I’m scared of audiences.’ However, this hasn’t stopped the powerhouse performer, even when gearing herself up takes tremendous courage. Her frankness about performance anxiety has done nothing but endear her to her fans even more.”
Your secret weapon against self-doubt is ACTION. When we take action, we refuse to let self-doubt immobilize us.
“You are bigger than your self-doubt. Remind yourself of that each and every day.”— Caroline Ghosn
Remember that most people just aren’t that focused on us. They’re too busy thinking about their own lives and pursuits.
If you flub a song at Karaoke, or fail to win a prize at an art show, so what? We learn more from our failures than our successes.
Misery loves company
Misery loves company. To that end, be wary of hanging out regularly with people who engage in the above nine habits.
“If misery loves company, misery has company enough. “— Henry David Thoreau
If it’s true that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, then choose wisely. Gravitate towards accomplished, well-adjusted, kind people.
Learn from them, avoid the nine habits of misery, and live a purpose-filled life of accomplishment and wellbeing.
Before you go
I’m John P. Weiss. I draw cartoons, paint, and write about life. Get on my free email list here for the latest artwork and writing.
This article originally appeared in Medium.