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What do you need to be happy? All too often, we list the things we want: a bigger house, a cooler car, a trip around the world, money for retirement, a new friend or lover.
While striving for more is one of the things that makes us great, it’s never wise to make your happiness dependent on it. All too often, it’s hard to bring the things we want into our lives.
But one thing you do have the power to do is let go of things you don’t want or need. Whether out of habit or because of peer pressure or family pressure, we often cling to poisonous thoughts, feelings, and individuals.
Our unrealistic expectations set us up for failure, and our addiction to toxic people and activities brings us down. And then we wonder why it’s so hard to be happy.
Letting go isn’t easy, but you can do it. And once you let go of even just one toxic thing in your life, you will instantly get a boost toward greater happiness! Here are 30 things to drop now and forever for a better life.
1. A grudge
Psychologists and priests around the globe regularly advise their patients and congregants to forgive their enemies. Sometimes that advice is hard to understand, however, and it’s easy to lose sight of why it is sound advice. After all, some people don’t deserve our forgiveness, do they?
But then again, it’s not really about them, it’s about you. You deserve to be able to move on, and the only way to do that is to let go of the resentment festering inside you. You don’t need to condone the person’s actions or let them back into your life to let go of the pain.
You deserve a bright future, not one weighed down by the tragedies of your past. Some people will never give you closure, so you must give it to yourself.
2. The misconception that worldly success and greatness are the same thing
Most of us have been raised to believe that success is the ultimate goal to strive for—success here having the meaning of wealth and fame. But it is important to remember that worldly success and greatness are not the same thing, and that there are other kinds of success.
Strive to be great at your work, whatever it is, and pursue your passion without caring what other people think. Anything can be an art so long as you apply yourself 100% and with full integrity. Sometimes that means turning down a payday or a chance to get your name in the papers.
Ultimately, though, worldly success built on selling out is a hollow victory, one that will eat away at you for the rest of your life. True greatness on the other hand is a form of success no one can ever take away from you, built on authenticity and self-actualization.
Worldly success may bring you happiness, but the crowd is fickle, and they can take it away. Spiritual success on the other hand is eternal and unbreakable, and the happiness it gives you is forever.
3. Your pride
Pride is a good thing in certain contexts. Taken to extremes, however, it can be a destructive force that can ruin you professionally and personally. If your pride gets in the way, you may refuse to see your mistakes, and that means you will never learn.
This can stop you from improving at your work, or from seeing the other side in a fight with a partner, friend, or colleague. Pride can destroy relationships. So let it go before it does any more to erode your happiness.
4. The need to be certain
The need to be right is a destructive force, and so is the need to be certain, whether of your own actions or the whims of the fates. Life is unpredictable, and ultimately that is not a bad thing.
If you knew everything there was to know, life would be pretty empty and boring, wouldn’t it? Whether you love or hate uncertainty, though, you have to learn to live with it.
The need for certainty can lead to anxiety, depression, and other psychological disorders, and can lead you into making some really bad decisions.
5. The need to be in control
Closely related to the need to be certain is the need to be in control. In fact, isn’t that ultimately what the need for certainty is about? When you are certain—so long as you are not certain of utter disaster—you have more control over a situation.
Pretty often, that is really what we are hoping to find out when we are looking for certainty. We are hoping to find out for certain that we are in control of our destinies.
This need isn’t helped by a culture that perpetuates the myth of the “self-made person.” Here’s the truth: there is no such thing. None of us live in a vacuum, and all of us rely at times on other people or on circumstances going our way.
Nobody in the world makes it without luck on their side. You are not in control of 100% of what happens to you. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you can learn to create a healthier mindset in harmony with this fluid reality.
6. The belief that you could get rich one day
Growing up, who doesn’t dream about becoming a billionaire? Whether you envisioned winning the lottery, publishing the next bestseller, or becoming a corporate CEO, you probably thought one day you’d be rolling in riches.
As you get older, though, the doubts start to set in, nagging away at you. And eventually one day you might realize just how unlikely the get-rich dream really is, especially in our recession economy.
The harsh reality is this: most of us are not going to get rich. And that is true even with hard work, and even with genius. Just because you have something great to offer doesn’t mean the world will value it. That quiet, desperate hope that you will someday become a billionaire can stop you from appreciating what you have right now.
Right now, we are on the verge of the greatest retirement crisis imaginable. The vast majority of today’s workers will not be able to afford to retire. Those who are forced to by their circumstances will be dependent on charity to survive.
If you can actually afford to live like a human being for the rest of your life—even if that living is modest—count yourself very, very fortunate. You do not need to be rich to be happy.
Insecurity is a recipe for ongoing unhappiness. Insecurity can come from your own self-judgment, or from the judgments of others. Either way, it makes no sense to go through life under the yoke of that judgment.
If you are being the best version of yourself possible, living the life that is true and right for you, no one has a right to cast judgment on you. That includes your own doubts.
Remember, you picked them up somewhere along the line, and they are unfair to you and to others. The people who love you now love you for who you really are. You do neither yourself nor them any favors by constantly second-guessing their affection and respect.
Jealousy usually stems from insecurity. If you can let go of insecurity, you can often let go of jealousy, because you no longer spend all your time worrying about what you are going to lose.
Possessiveness is an emotion closely related to jealousy. Sometimes it causes it, and other times it results from it. It’s one emotion which will bring nothing but harm to those you love, and also to yourself.
Remind yourself when you are feeling possessive that a relationship is not something you own, but something you share with another person. You will feel much happier when you leave that ugly emotion behind you.
You may even discover once you let go of possessiveness, jealousy, and insecurity, that you never had anything to worry about.
Do you spend a lot of time looking at the way other people live their lives and criticizing them? There’s nothing wrong with thinking critically about what people do if it helps you make better decisions in your own life.
Beyond that point, though, it rarely serves any purpose except to make you angry or confused. If dwelling on other peoples’ choices is no longer helping you to live your own life in a better way, it is time to let go of it.
Plus, how many times have you assumed you understood something only to realize later you had no idea what you were looking at? Letting go of your judgmental thoughts can help you to open your mind and learn.
Sometimes if you do that, you can understand different perspectives and lifestyles. They might even contribute something to your own life.
10. Past misfortunes
It is far too easy to lie away staring at the ceiling each night mulling over the terrible things that have happened to you. Saying, “Just get over it and move on” isn’t always easily done, especially if you have real traumas in your past.
Sometimes you cannot control when those traumas will surface and plague you. But what you can decide to do is stop consciously feeding into the cycle. Take time to process the events of your past in an intelligent, cathartic fashion, but do not dwell simply to dwell.
Remember that you cannot turn a page in a book until you stop reading that page. Letting go of the past is necessary to have a future. You cannot live in the past or get back the time you lost, but you can try not to lose more time.
11. Your mistakes
Regret is a mixed bag. A lot of people proudly say, “I never regret anything,” while others dwell endlessly on the errors they have made. Both of these are extremes, and you should be looking for a healthy middle ground.
It is actually not a bad thing to look back at past decisions you made which were bad ones and think, “Yes, I am truly sorry I did that, and would never do it again.” That kind of regret helps us move on and become better people. But the kind that constantly draws you backwards is unhelpful.
Let your penance for your mistakes take the form of positive action in the future, not endless sorrow and self-loathing. As you evolve in your life, you transform. You are not the person who made the mistakes. You are the person who will never make them again. You deserve your own esteem.
12. The need for perfection
Perfection is an unattainable summit. No matter how high you manage to ascend, you will never reach it. This goes for every aspect of your life, and for your life as a whole. If you refuse to be satisfied with less, you will forever be unsatisfied. The only way to be happy is to accept the fact that things will never be perfect.
Every moment is flawed in one way or another. But that doesn’t mean an imperfect life is without value. Learn to value your life despite its drawbacks. Strive for the best life you can have, knowing you will never reach all of your desires.
13. Toxic people
If you’re looking for a way to simplify your life and remove stress, one of the best ways to do it is to let go of any toxic people you have hanging around. It is easy to become attached even to people we don’t like; hatred is every bit as much of a tie as love.
What you hate defines you as much as what you love, though. When you pour your energy into something, you are making that thing important, and that includes your enemies and your “frenemies” as well.
Wouldn’t you rather pour your time and energy into the people who really matter, the people you love, the ones who make you happy? Get rid of toxic people and watch how much happier you become.
14. Your exes
Once you get rid of toxic people, unfortunately the toxic thoughts can stick around a lot longer. These thoughts can take on the form of all of your anger and resentment, or in some cases, the positive emotions that you used to associate with those people which have now been torn away. You might end up constantly lamenting what you lost or second-guessing yourself.
In some situations, you may be right to second-guess yourself. If you actually figure out that you were at fault in a relationship that failed, it is completely reasonable to go and apologize—whether you want to start the relationship back up or not.
But if you know you did nothing wrong, there is nothing to gain from endlessly rehashing the relationship. All it will do is take time and energy away from your loved ones, and make you perpetually unhappy.
15. The job you hate
Sometimes it is impossible to change your line of work. If you are in a really poor job market, you may be stuck with what you’ve got. But if you have marketable job skills and there are openings, there is no reason to stick to a job you hate or keep working for a company you cannot stand.
These are the hours of your life, and even though you are being paid for them, time itself is priceless; it is something you have a finite amount of and will never get back. If you absolutely despise your job and have a chance to move on, do it. You will be much happier in your new position.
16. Your crappy living situation
Do you live in an awful apartment complex or neighborhood? Do you live with awful housemates? Do you hate the view out your window? If it is possible for you to move, do it and don’t look back.
Even if you are looking at uncertainty wherever you go next, odds are you will get at least a temporary reprieve from your woes, and at least you will have left your current problems behind you. Don’t settle. Keep looking for a way to improve your situation.
There are few things that will destroy your happiness more quickly and completely than a bad living situation. You deserve to be able to live your life without constant fear or suffering.
Toxic environments can be every bit as dangerous as abusive relationships. Where you live has a huge impact on how you think and feel each day. Find an environment that reflects your spirit and where you can live harmoniously and happily, and you will feel much happier in general.
17. Your addictions
Around 1 in 10 people is addicted to drugs or alcohol. There are many other forms of addiction too, however. You could be addicted to toxic relationships, to drama, to work, to any number of other things. If one thing is certain in life, it is that your addictions will always keep you from being happy. Why?
Addiction is the need to fill a void that can never be filled, to satisfy an insatiable appetite. It is the desire for more when there is never enough. Since that void is bottomless and that appetite is infinite, addiction locks you into a perpetual state of dissatisfaction.
At the same time, it devours everything else in your life: your energy, your attention, your relationships. Recovering from addiction is one of the hardest things you will ever do. It is also one of the biggest steps you can ever take toward happiness.
18. Other peoples’ opinions and expectations
When you think about it, it really is incredible how much we structure our lives around what other people think is best for us. And then when you realize that those people are doing the same thing in their lives, you get a pretty absurd picture of mirrors facing mirrors. Is there anything genuine in it all?
Only if you make the decision to do what you know is best for you. Maybe other people won’t like it or understand it, but that’s okay. You are not a dollar bill. Not everybody is going to like you, or should. You do not have to be liked by everyone to be happy. What you do need to do to be happy is be yourself.
19. The belief that your best days are behind you
Remember in high school and college when adults told you, “These are the best days of your life, so make the most of them?” What a depressing thought! Just because those people felt their best days were behind them doesn’t mean that your best days are behind you.
Each of us can remember a special time in our life—maybe it was a year, maybe it was only a day—that makes the rest pale by comparison. But just because it is beyond you, that does not mean every day in front will pale too. Live like the best days of your life are yet to come, and you will give them permission to arrive.
20. Waiting for the perfect moment
Are you always waiting for the right phase of the moon to do something important? Maybe you are putting off starting a business or proposing to your significant other or making a big move. Whatever it is, you cannot wait forever. The stars may never be totally aligned, but that is okay.
Whatever it is you are putting off, let go of that urge to wait until everything is right. When you are as well-prepared as you can be, jump in and get your feet wet. It might just change your life.
21. Fear of failure (or success)
The fear of failure and the fear of success are flip sides of the same coin for many people. Both are connected to the fear of change and uncertainty. Oftentimes, when you are waiting for “the right moment,” the motivating fear behind it is one of these two.
Either you are scared you will fail, or you are afraid you will succeed and will not be able to handle the massive upheaval to your life if you do, even if it is for the better.
“What you never know can’t hurt you,” is a common saying. But that isn’t really true, is it? When you are stuck in a rut, that hurts you. You are squandering your potential, and each day, you lose more of your confidence. Not only that, but you may be losing opportunity. You never know what you can achieve unless you take the chance and try.
22. Your comfort zone
While your comfort area and your routines are important for creating a sense of stability and security in your day to day life, there are times when you need to learn to let go of them.
If you never step outside of your comfort zone, you never grow as a person, and your comfort zone remains small and contained. While doing something new may be uncomfortable at first, look at it as a chance to expand your comfort zone.
Over time, as you forge into new frontiers, you will give yourself the chance to be comfortable in a new environment, a new role, or a new relationship. You will free yourself to achieve more, to be more. Your comfort zone should be there to welcome you home each day, not to serve as a prison.
23. Irrational decision-making
Are you an emotional thinker? Do you let your temper get the best of you when you are angry? Do you plunge into new relationships without thinking because of one exciting night?
While you may not think twice about these decisions when you make them, they can create long-term damage in your life. That temper tantrum you threw in a moment of irrationality might have cost you an important relationship.
That relationship you dove into headfirst without thinking could have turned out to be toxic and addictive, costing you months or years of your life.
Let go of the urge to be impulsive. It is okay to slow down and think critically about your decisions. It does not mean you are not a passionate person. It just means that you care enough about the shape of your life to be passionate about the people and the issues that really matter.
24. The belief that other people have it better
Do you constantly wonder if the grass is greener across the fence? In our social-media-driven world, it is easy to get the wrong idea about other peoples’ lives. Studies have shown that people lie more often online on sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Sometimes this is for privacy reasons, but it’s also because people want to give the impression they are doing well. As a result, a lot of us live under the delusion that everyone else is doing spectacularly, while we’re floundering in a sea of failure. Worse, this makes you feel like it must be your fault. Because it’s just you, right?
But it isn’t just you. Other people do not have it as good as they want you to think. Let go of the belief that the grass is really greener “over there.” Nobody has a perfect life. If someone says that they do, they’re lying.
It isn’t just you, and it isn’t your fault. And you may think you want what someone else has, but odds are what they have isn’t what you think.
25. The belief that someone else can make you happy
“I could just be happy if I met the right person.” “I would finally be happy if I won my parents’ approval.” “I’d be happy if people respected me and admired what I do.” These are all common thoughts, and they reflect a false belief about happiness, and that’s that it is something that other people can give us.
No one else’s love or approval is a substitute for your own. It is unfair to put all that on another person, both to yourself and to them. Only you can give yourself permission to be happy. If you cannot love yourself, you cannot truly love anyone else or appreciate the love that is given to you.
Other people can bring meaning and happiness into our lives, but it’s a prerequisite that you learn to depend on yourself first.
26. Let go of the lies you tell
Is there a lie that keeps you up at night? Maybe it’s that you are dissatisfied with your career or with your relationship. Maybe it’s the fact that you haven’t come out of the closet, or maybe it’s something you did to hurt someone you used to know, or perhaps it’s a lie you used to get ahead in the professional world.
Whatever that great lie is, let it go by telling someone you can trust. A secret shared is no longer a secret. Whether the truth you are concealing is a negative or a positive, it is easier to bear once you are no longer alone in it.
If it is a regret, you may finally be able to move on. If it is an inner truth you are not living, a desire you are not pursuing, maybe you will finally feel free to live it.
Why do so many of us struggle with self-loathing? Self-loathing is closely linked to insecurity: both are based in the belief that we do not deserve to be loved or to be happy. We learn self-loathing from all sorts of sources.
Maybe you were brought up by abusive parents, or perhaps the cultural messages you receive every day tell you that you are not a valued member of society. Maybe a string of bad relationships or failures in work have caused you to think you are the problem.
No matter what, though, self-loathing has never done anyone any good. If you have made bad choices, loathe those bad choices and decide never to make them again, but do not loathe the person you are now. That person deserves to be happy and to be loved, including by yourself.
28. Other peoples’ worldviews
Sometimes what gets to you isn’t just whether people like you or not—it is whether by their standards you are even good or not. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of believing that morality is an objectively established compass, and that someone else’s compass works the same way yours does.
But each of us is a unique individual, and someone else’s “right” could be your wrong or vice versa. Give yourself permission to be good and right according to your own worldview.
Someone else’s perspective may be sacred to them, but it does not have to be sacred to you. Live the truth that you know in your heart. Do not reject the happiness you have found just because someone else would.
29. Your fear of the truth
One thing that we all need to be happy is an understanding of our own inner truths. But it can be scary to look inside and find out who you are. There is all kinds of uncharted territory in our hearts and souls, and the roads we are called upon to walk can be challenging ones. And sometimes we have to walk them alone.
It is okay to be scared, but if you let that fear rule your life, you will always be unhappy. It is tempting to believe that the safe way, the easy way, the approved way, will make you happy, but it won’t.
It will only make it safe and easy for you to be unhappy, and for your unhappiness to win the approval of others. Your only shot at true happiness is to find out who you really are and what you really want, and then go after it—even if it is scary.
30. Your fear of being happy
Perhaps the number one obstacle that we tend to put in our way when it comes to being happy is fear of being happy. Why would anyone fear being happy?
Maybe you think you don’t deserve it. Perhaps you feel guilty if you are happy and someone else is not. Or perhaps you have been through so many tragedies that you have a hard time believing in happiness.
Maybe you feel like the hammer is always waiting to fall, and the moment you allow yourself a breath of fresh air and rejoice at your fortunes, the hammer will come down and destroy it.
That comes back to the fear of being out of control and the fear of uncertainty. Maybe the hammer is waiting to come down. That is a possibility you have to accept. But if you do not dare to be happy, you have already flattened yourself just as surely.
Remember that being happy is not the same as taking happiness for granted. You are not asking for the hammer to fall simply by rejoicing.
Make your happiness an expression of gratitude to life for allowing you to feel it. Share that happiness with someone that you love, and you will not feel guilty. Be generous with your success, and help someone else out who is struggling with their own tragedy.
Letting go is sometimes easy, and other times it can be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. Starting over may be an even greater challenge. You can do it, though, and looking back someday, you’ll know it was absolutely worth it.