Happiness For Dummies
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Achieving happiness is a journey, and as with any journey, there are many potholes and roadblocks along the way. Think of these tips as a big orange cone, giving you enough warning to swerve out of the way.

An unrealistic sense of self

Do you think you can do anything? Or are you often telling yourself that you aren’t good at anything you try? Listen to yourself. How often do you think or say the word should? According to cognitive psychologists, should is one of the most toxic words in everyday language.

It conveys people’s expectations of themselves and others. It also guides people’s behavior, making them want to do more than they’re capable of and less than what would make them happy.


A sense of entitlement — a feeling that you have a right to something — is the root cause of most people’s unhappiness. Parents are unhappy when they don’t get the respect from their kids that they think they’re entitled to. Employees feel unhappy when they don’t get the raise they feel entitled to.

Here are some things you are not entitled to:

  • A spouse who always thinks as you do

  • Children who always love you

  • Employment — now or in the future

  • Good health and a long life

  • A computer that never crashes

  • Cheap gasoline

  • The respect and admiration of your peers

  • A car that starts on a cold morning

Think of life as a never-ending series of negotiations. Work to earn the respect you want, instead of demanding it. Work for that promotion — don’t just wait to receive your entitlement.

Toxic anger

Being happy when you’re angry all the time is impossible. And that’s what toxic anger is — experiencing intense anger on a daily basis. Here are some things you can do to manage your anger better and prevent it from being a roadblock to happiness:

  • Ventilate more and vent less. Venting is about blowing up and losing your cool. Ventilation is what you do when you talk about your feelings in a reasonable and civil manner.

  • Manage your stress better. Most of what you encounter on a daily basis has to do with manageable problems.

  • Let go of the angry past. Find a way to forgive and forget.

  • Confess you anger. Spend 15 minutes a day writing down all your negative feelings and then literally throw away the piece of paper.

  • Assert yourself. Find a middle ground where you stand up for yourself without answering anger with anger.


Resentment is the residual of unexpressed, unresolved anger. Resentful people look at life through darkened glasses, expecting the worst and being on the ready to defend themselves from harm.

Anger is an emotion and, thus, an experience that is time-limited. Anger comes and goes. Staying angry very long is physically impossible. What is possible, however, is feeling resentment for years, even a lifetime.


Greed is all about competition, but happiness comes more from cooperation — an effort to act in harmony with the world around you.

Greed is not just about ambition. Instead, it’s about exuberant ambition — unlimited and insatiable ambition — that comes from wanting a bigger slice of the pie than anyone else has. Greed is another name for narcissistic ambition, where your own self-interests predominate over all others and where you feel entitled to be greedy, to take more than your fair share.


Aggression literally means “moving against the world.” Two types of aggressive behavior occur between human beings — achievement-driven aggression and combative aggression. Achievement-driven aggression can lead to happiness, but combative aggression definitely does not.

People who have achievement-driven aggression are

  • Competitive

  • Forceful in pursuing their goals

  • Persistent

  • Determined

  • Direct in their communication

People who have combative aggression are

  • Confrontational

  • Impatient

  • Demanding

  • Intense

  • Domineering


Depression is so prevalent that it is referred to as the “common cold of mental illness.” When you’re suffering from depression, you’re not just having a bad day. You’re experiencing a range of symptoms, including:

  • Low energy, lethargy, and malaise

  • Loss of appetite

  • Sleep disturbance

  • Spontaneous crying

  • Irritability

  • Negative self-image

  • Guilt

  • Suicidal thoughts

  • Diminished sexual interest

  • Social withdrawal

  • Loss of pleasure

The persistence and severity of these symptoms are what define just how depressed you are.


Loneliness is an absence of an emotional connection with the world around you. You can be lonely in the midst of a large gathering of people, and not feel lonely when you’re by yourself. Happiness is more about belonging than about having money, power, and success.

Here are some ways you can become a more connected person and ward off loneliness:

  • Be a community volunteer

  • Become a regular at a local eatery or coffee shop.

  • Sign up for a course at your local community college or adult education center.

  • Get involved in historical reenactments.

  • Sign up for a yoga class.

  • Join a local theater group.

  • Join a civic group.

  • Become a member of a hobby club.

  • Attend religious services.


Simply put, vindictiveness is about getting even, settling scores, answering one hurt or insult with another. On the surface it’s about anger — and, expressing anger in some vengeful manner. But vindictiveness is really about hurt and pain. Vindictive people think that by hurting the person who caused them pain — whether physical or emotional — they’ll somehow feel better.

Drug Abuse

Chemicals are no substitute for real happiness. The euphoric high that accompanies drug use is only momentary and is more an illusion that a reality. Drugs don’t generate a sense of satisfaction, gratitude, or serenity — each an essential ingredient to happiness.

Drugs are, for many people, a form of self-medication, used in an attempt to escape feelings of chronic unhappiness associated with mood disorders such as depression, pathological anxiety, and even boredom.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

W. Doyle Gentry, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, a distinguished Fellow in the American Psychological Association, and the Founding Editor of the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

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