Learn Two Secrets Of Being Happy

Joyful child eating

Here’s a test for you:

Your co-worker receives a promotion at work.  What’s your first reaction?  Happiness?  Jealousy?

You encounter difficulties in your week, whether big or small.  What’s your first reaction?  Dwelling on your problems?  Or acknowledging them, but knowing that you will get the best of them, and not your problems getting the best of you?

You may not know it, but how you responded to those two questions sums up a two-part strategy for living a happier life.

The last couple of weeks, I’ve focused on happiness enhancing strategies.

You can read about the first strategy in my article, Live Life to the Full.

You can read about the second strategy in my article, Optimism: Key to Success.

Don’t Practice These Unhappy Habits

Dr. Sonya Lyubomirsky, a positive psychology researcher, and author of The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, has outlined a couple of habits that cause to misery.

Comparing Ourselves To Others

“If you compare yourself to others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”

— Max Ehrmann (Desiderata: A Poem for a Way of Life)

This is the practice of comparing ourselves negatively to others: in terms of who they are, traits they have, amount of money they make, the home they live in, and so on, and so on.  I think we all get the idea.  And we’ve all been there.

If you’re not aware of this habit, you may want to notice its presence in your life.  In negatively comparing ourselves to others, we become focused on what we don’t have, and on traits we feel we lack.  This pattern of thinking lends itself to unhappiness, discontent, and helplessness.


Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.  ~Leo Buscaglia

Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere.  ~Glenn Turner

Dwelling on self and on problems is the second negative habit of unhappy people.  They are constantly thinking of worst case scenarios, and asking themselves “What if” questions that have negative answers.

If you’re struggling with worry, you may want to read my article called, Warning! Worrying May Be Good For Your Career.

Here’s Your Two Step Strategy for Living Happy

Train Your Thoughts

  1. I recommend that you get a copy of a workbook  I often use in my counseling practice.  Thoughts & Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life (Workbook)is a great resource for learning your particular distorted thinking patterns and finding ways to challenge them.  In doing so, you will be learning more constructive ways to think about life.
  2. Practice thought stopping.Thought stopping is just a fancy way of saying, “Stop It!” to yourself when you find yourself either comparing yourself negatively to others, or excessively ruminating on your problems.

Solve Your Problems

One of the best things you can do to lessen worry is to schedule a problem solving appointment with yourself.

  1. Pick a specific time during the week where you will spend at least 30 minutes writing down your specific worries.
  2. Use the Thoughts & Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life (Workbook) chapters on worry to work through the worries that are most paralyzing.
  3. I recommend checking out some of the resources at this Cognitive Behavior Therapy Self Help Resources site.  There are a lot of free materials here that you’ll find helpful. 
  4. Practice thinking about positive What If scenarios.  You’ll want to take time to put together your own personal development plan.  Then, spend time ruminating on the positive outcomes you will create.  It’s worry in reverse!  By thinking intently about the positive outcomes you’ll be creating, you’ll be counter-acting those worry thoughts. 

Check Out These Happiness Enhancing Books

You can start out by reading my top motivational books.

Here are some books specific to this topic:

The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, by Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD.

The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, by Shawn Achor.

The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness, by Zindal V. Segal.

photo credit: ranahki on Flickr

I hope you enjoyed this two-step strategy to enhance happiness.  What are your thoughts?


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  1. says

    He Stephen,

    Great and informative post!

    I often use this ‘Stop’ technique to myself and found it very useful. Actually I use ‘Thanks for sharing’ as a stop-word. I have to admit, it does not always works that easy. In many cases it works, but not always. It can be the beginning of a whole new internal dialogue as well :-)

    Thanks for sharing
    marc van der Linden recently posted…What are your core values in life? – the series (1)My Profile

    • says

      Marc, thanks for stopping by. You know, I always thought the “Stop” Technique was somewhat foolish. But then I was listening to a Career Tools podcast recently. The speaker on the podcast talked about the importance of staying with your most important tasks until they’re done: and he just says to himself, “Stop!”, whenever he feels like avoiding work and doing something less important.

      Well, I’ve been trying it this week, and it’s been working!
      Steve-Personal Success Factors recently posted…Now You Can Have Optimism: The Key To Personal SuccessMy Profile

      • says

        Steve, I believe you are right :-)

        It reminds me about a lesson I learnt many years ago in a hypnotic class. (to learn hypnosis). It was about ‘process’ language, which can be used to interact with people’s thought streams. In this ‘process’ language, there are two special words ‘start’ and ‘stop’ which can be used to stop and start thought processes. For Example, if you say something like:

        ‘While you read this sentence, STOP thinking about anything else and START wondering how powerful it would be to use this process language to feel happy the whole day long for no reason at all. Wouldn’t that be incredible funny?’ :-)

        It is funny, but I never used this kind of language to myself. Instead I only used it with others in the context of hypnosis. Off course it must work as well on ourselves!

        Thanks for the reminder!
        marc van der Linden recently posted…What are your core values in life? – the series (1)My Profile

  2. says

    You’ve got some awesome tips here, Steve!

    Changing my constant “worrying” about stuff that never even happened was a massive shift in my mindset and definitely made me much happier!

    I’m actually reading a book on being Happy, it’s called “You Can Be Happy No Matter What: 5 Principles for Keeping Life in Perspective” by Richard Carlson. Really good stuff!
    Natasha Nassar recently posted…Living a Purpose Driven LifeMy Profile

    • says

      I totally agree with Natasha Nassar, and Steve, I would like to give you a huge thumbs up because of those two quote,

      Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy. ~Leo Buscaglia

      Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere. ~Glenn Turner.

      I have to write those on a sheet of paper and have to hang on my wall I think. Thank you very much.

      • says

        Smith, thanks for those two great quotes. If you believe in God as our Father, as I do, we can also take Jesus’ admonition to heart: Do not worry about tomorrow, but rather seek first to do My Will, and I will take care of you [my version :) ]

  3. says

    Happiness is a choice and comes from within. In my life it started when I learned how to see the greatness in others, also when I had a purpose of helping others. It immediately took all the attention off of me and stopped my pity parties. Then the magic happened, I developed caring friends for life who have enriched my life tremendously. Thanks for your tips, mainly the one on comparing ourselves to others and how destructive it can be.
    alicia@yboggle recently posted…Hello world!My Profile

  4. says

    Thank you for sharing great tips and also for recommended books!
    I believe that if we want to be happy, we have to stop comparing ourselves with other people and more focus on our positive traits and value them. We all are unique. There are no perfect people.

  5. says

    Greate advice Steve with very helpful steps to achieve greater happiness. I’ve always believed if we want to be happy, we need to choose happiness rather than sitting back and waiting for a certain set of circumstances we some how deem as qualifiers. As my favorite motivational speaker W. Mitchell always says, “It’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do about it.” Thanks for the inspiration!
    marquita herald recently posted…Think You Know What Lifestyle Design is? Maybe Not …My Profile

  6. says

    Hi Stephen:

    Learning to control our thoughts is such a powerful tool in life. I know I still have a lot to learn and grow in this area but I also know I have come a long way in the last number of years.

    Kevin Martineau recently posted…A life changing resolutionMy Profile

  7. says

    your right on track with this. We all have control on what is going to happen and how we feel. If you just keep it simple it works.

    When anyone starts to think about negative things and doubt. That will be what is manifesting into their lives. They will always be repeating the same things with the same results. Have you noticed how when you keep thinking about bills and they keep arriving. You keep saying “I don”t want…to happen and it does. Well your making these things happen.

    You want positive and happy thoughts. They will bring the same in return. You have actions that are joyful and you will receive in return. You wish well for others and it will return to you. It is that simple with your thoughts. We just forget how to keep focus only on what we want to happen. How things shoud result without a doubt that they will. You think and it happens. That is as simple as it gets.

    There is no magic with having a positive lifestyle. You must undersand no limitations and focus only on the “What ifs”. Your just asking for things to fall through. Remain in control of your own thoughts. Do not allow others or any circumstances influence your thoughts. You will always find joy in everything if that is what your looking for. It works both ways. Just keep it simple.

    Stehen, your amazing. I know your one of our great coaches in our industry. I always learn more upon my visits. Your unique way of expressing methods is fantastic and clear.

    Thank you for sharing ways that will help us develop our thoughts. Nothing but positive results will manifest if done right.
    William Earl Amis Jr III recently posted…Having A Lifestyle or Creating A LifeMy Profile

  8. says

    I agree… you cannot worry and compare yourself to others. I like to be happy for others when the times are good. It makes me feel great and sometimes I like to think that it is good karma in the end. Being envious comes natural to most people, but I know that I can shut that off and just be happy for others. It makes the days less stressful.
    Nile recently posted…Determining How Frequent You Should Blog In Order to Be A SuccessMy Profile

  9. says

    I deeply enjoyed this post, Steve! The imagination is such a powerful tool. It so often works against us though: worry, fear and so much of anxiety. But to use it in our favor, “worrying in reverse” as you so cleverly called it! That is powerful!

    We can imagine the life we want. Imagine feeling what that life would feel like. Practice living like someone who had the traits of happiness in our imaginations first then be better equipped to live those traits in real life.

    Thanks so much for your clarity and for the insight you shared here. Now I’m going to go Tweet it to share it with others!
    KenWert@MeanttobeHappy recently posted…Life 101: Life Lessons from a Decade of Teaching TeensMy Profile

  10. Anna says

    In the beginning of every new year I have some depression period and I really need to enhance my happiness. I hope this will help.
    Anna recently posted…cerec veneersMy Profile

    • says

      Anna, thank you for being willing to share your experience. You’re not alone, as depression is one of the most common conditions people deal with around the world.

  11. says

    Hi Stephen,

    Thanks for this great article!

    I like the words of Max Ehrmann “If you compare yourself to others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”

    Yes, we need to accept ourselves in the way we are.

    • says

      Thanks for the great quote about ‘comparing ourselves to others’. It’s up to us to accept ourselves, but to also be willing to look at both our strengths and shortcomings and to formulate a personal growth plan that builds on our strengths, and helps us face our weaknesses.

  12. says

    I have found being around positive people helps when you maintain a good life. Great points here.

  13. says

    Great thoughts, Steve! The one about stopping our thoughts when they wander off into negative territory is especially great. Too often we speak negatively without even thinking about it. If we learned to stop the thoughts — and take them captive — we would allow God to fill us with His love, His peace, His hope.
    Pastor Sherry recently posted…Spiritual Growth — God’s Love BlockedMy Profile

    • says

      Thank you, Pastor Sherry, for the reminder. If we can obey the Biblical injunctions to pray continuously, praise always, and give thanks always, we will be a lot close to being filled with His love, peace, and hope.

  14. says

    Excellent thoughts here, Stephen. Comparing yourself to others, worrying about the ‘morrow etc are all great ways to destroy one’s happiness. Your suggestions would prove useful to many folks. Happiness arises spontaneously within oneself when one has what’s called as “self referral”. With self-referral one is anchored within one Self—and happiness is the natural outcome. Contrast this with object-referral where one’s entire reference is outside of one self.
    Srinivas Reddy recently posted…Doing What Needs To Be DoneMy Profile

    • says

      I do agree with you, Srinivas, but only to a point. I also believe that being anchored to One who is greater than me is essential to my own happiness. Within my specific Christian worldview, being anchored to Jesus Christ is essential. When I look to myself or to others outside of myself to fill up what is lacking in that God shaped vacuum, I will be ultimately unhappy.

      • says

        Very good point, Stephen. The self-referral I speak of here is the big “Self,” not the small “self.” The big Self is that part of us that’s tuned into Christ consciousness (or whatever higher power one believes in).
        Srinivas Reddy recently posted…Trust But VerifyMy Profile

  15. says

    Great quotes on worrying, and so true! Constantly thinking about the future is a sure-fire way to waste today and today`s happiness. Plus, honestly – the future hardly plays out how you picture it, especially when it`s worst-case scenario type of pictures.

    I like the technique to think about positive `what if` scenarios. I`m going to have to try that!

    Kari@Personal Growth recently posted…Finding Answers: Where and HowMy Profile

    • says

      Kari, thanks for stopping by. Now that you mention it, I need to focus on some positive scenarios as well. When we’re dashing about in our lives, it’s easy to lean toward the negative What If’s. But when we take time to be still: reflective and meditative, even prayerful, we can focus on goals that are meaningful, fulfilling, and stretching.

  16. says

    it’s all about focusing on what we have rather than what we do not have. Depression is a state of mind, happiness is a state of mind too.State of mind is state of life! and yes we are free to choose peace, happiness and inner freedom. the trap we often fall in invites us to constantly clear our beliefs that condition us, who does inner work and is consistent is free and happy in a linear manner, why wait?

    • says

      Patricia, I can see from your blog that you’ve got it right when it comes to looking inward and changing the attitudes and thoughts that hold us back. I’m also a believer that we need our Creator’s help to make those changes. And, often, we need the help of fellow men and women who are aligned with making positive changes in their lives.

  17. says

    We must “be aware” of our reactions and responses to daily situations. Scenarios like the ones you introduced at the beginning of your post often give us a huge clue in how our attitude is that day. I shared this quote on fb this morning and I thought it was appropriate to share it with you as it relates well to your topic:

    We are injured and hurt emotionally, Not so much by other people or what they say and don’t say, But by our own attitude and our own response… Here are a few tips to be strong emotionally:

    ~ Stand up to crises.
    ~ Don’t let them throw you!
    ~ Focus and stay calm
    ~ Refuse to renounce your self-image.
    ~ No matter what happens, you must keep
    your good opinion of yourself.
    ~ No matter what happens, you must hold
    your past successes in your imagination,
    ready for showing in the motion picture screen of your mind.

    I really enjoy visiting your blog! ~ Nathalie
    Nathalie Villeneuve recently posted…Anyone Can Write an eBookMy Profile

    • says

      Nathalie, thanks for stopping by. When you mentioned the morning, I was reminded that it’s often before we go to bed and when we get up that we can really take the time to pray, meditate, and connect with God so that we can have a faith filled mindset as we encounter everyday challenges. Thank you, too, for the great quote!

  18. says

    It is always better to look forward and see how we can influence our destiny so that we may find happiness than to look backwards with envy into the happiness or success of others. The first method has the potential to change our life in the most positive of ways, whilst the latter can only drag us down.
    Stevie @ Vin DiCarlo recently posted…Who Is Vin DiCarlo?My Profile

    • says

      Stevie, thanks for the input. Since I’m a counselor, I can’t help but state that our past has a lot of helpful information: provided we don’t get hung up on regrets or believe that we are a prisoner of our past. Sometimes, we have to learn from our past in order to be able to look forward. Also, as a Christian, I believe that I need the power of God’s Spirit working in me to be able to make changes that I would not be able to do on my own as I look to the future.

  19. says


    Like the Poem Desiderata says, comparing yourself to others is a fools game, guaranteed to breed jealousy and contempt. There will always be those of greater and lesser stature, those who have a great life and those who have a miserable life. I have been blessed to be the jealous type. Plus it’s a long life! Sometimes, you have a friend or acquaintance and their life seems so much better than yours, but see that person 5 or 10 years later and you end up being glad you are not them. We are each on our own path and we need to understand and accept that! Thanks for this very positive and helpful post!

    Take Care,

    Jupiter Jim
    Jupiter Jim@Thesis Tutorial, Thesis Theme, WordPress Tutorial recently posted…The Proper Way to Paste MS Word Text into your WordPress Blog Post or PageMy Profile

  20. says

    Thanks for the great tips, Steve! I love the “Stop it!” advice. I think it’s a great idea to watch the video of the same name, with Bob Newhart, every so often. Sometimes saying those two words sharply to myself is the only way to jar myself back to the present, and change my self talk to something more positive.

    Willena Flewelling
    Willena Flewelling recently posted…Napoleon Hill – Thoughts Are Things!My Profile

    • says

      Thanks, Willena! I’ve been using the Stop It! advice on myself the last week or so to stay on task with whatever I’m doing. It’s working so far :)

  21. says

    Great article I always try and resist any language that says dont do these tips, because it creates a picture in the subjects of mind of what you dont want.
    I would always say Resist any temptation, or let go of any need..
    Just ideas.. Great post keep up the great work..
    lee @ London Hypnotherapy recently posted…The NLP Communications ModelMy Profile

    • says

      Thanks, Lee, for your input. I wonder what you mean by “Resist any temptation”. Would that not create a picture of temptation? From what you’re saying I would think that you would come up with an affirmation of what you want instead of the temptation, correct? Just wondering.

  22. says

    Hi Stephen,
    I have definitely missed your regular positive information however it has given me more of an opportunity to spend some time reading the Bible.
    Some incredible wisdom & guidance in there, the following ‘nugget’ reminds me of your own free posts.
    Mathew 10:8 – ‘receive freely, give freely’.
    Thanks again.


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