8 Ways to Grow Your Happiness by Letting Go

8 Ways to Grow Your Happiness by Letting Go

Happiness in all walks of life is often more about stopping than starting.  More about subtracting than adding.  More about letting go than holding on.

Consider, for example, what happens when you stop, subtract or let go of…

1.  Criticizing everyone and everything.

Life isn’t perfect.  People make mistakes.  Let go of unfair expectations.  Stop criticizing yourself and others for being human.  If you feel like everyone is judging you all the time, realize that human beings often feel this way when they are too busy judging themselves.

It’s far easier to be critical than correct, just as it’s easier to see why something is lacking rather than why it is good.  If you meet someone for the first time and you decide, “This is a person I don’t like,” you can basically take every one of their characteristics and find the obvious flaw.  What’s hard to do is describe what you like about them, despite their incompatibility with your ideals.

Everyone is unique: not better, not worse, just unique in their own way.  Appreciate the differences instead of criticizing the shortcomings and you’ll see people – and yourself – in a far better light.  (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the Happiness and Relationships chapters of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)

2.  Believing that you have all the answers.

Criticizing has a big brother: the know-it-all-syndrome.  The older you grow, the higher you rise in your chosen field, and the more you achieve, the more likely you are to think you know it all.  When you catch yourself thinking and speaking with intense finality and little tolerance for new ideas, stop yourself and take a deep breath.  If you do not, you will alienate the world around you and become more and more disconnected from reality with each passing day.  Few things are sadder and leave a person unhappier.

Remember, it isn’t someone who proves you wrong that hurts you; it is choosing to continue your self-deception and ignorance that eventually conquers you entirely.

The measure of your intelligence and success in life will be in direct proportion to your ability to change your mind and let it expand.  If someone is able to show you that what you think or do is not right, thank them and happily adjust.  Seek the truth.  Never stop learning.

3.  Trying to control everything.

Craving control leads to anger and unhappiness.  Life is to be lived, not controlled.  Powerful, positive change will occur in your life when you decide to take control of yourself instead of craving control over everyone and everything else.

Imagine that you’re driving in your car and you get stuck in rush hour traffic.  The traffic situation is out of your control and simply requires your patience.  However, this doesn’t stop you from switching lanes, trying to cut in front of other cars, or even leaving the road you’re on to try alternate routes – all desperate efforts to gain control.  Sadly, these efforts just lead to further stress and unhappiness when they are unsuccessful – when control is again obstructed.

Quite simply, the reason you are often miserable and stressed is because of an unhealthy attachment to certain things you have no control over.  So let go.  Release the tension and stress.  Realize you haven’t lost anything; you were never in control of the uncontrollable to begin with.  (Read The Power of Now.)

4.  Dwelling on what used to be.

When something negative happens, view this circumstance as a chance to learn something you didn’t know.  Don’t wish it never happened.  Don’t try to step back in time.  Take the lessons learned and step forward.  You have to tell yourself, “It’s OK. You’re doing OK.”  You need to know that it’s better to cross new lines and suffer the consequences of a lesson learned from time to time, than to just stare at the lines for the rest of your life and always wonder.

The past is valuable.  It provides a solid foundation for everything you’re doing now.  Learn from it – the mistakes and the successes – and then let it go.  This process might seem easier said than done, but it depends on your focus.  The past is just training; it doesn’t define you in this moment.  Think about what went wrong, but only in terms of how you will help you make things right.

The bottom line is that if nothing ever changed – if no chances were ever taken and no mistakes were ever made – there would be no sunrise the next morning.  Most of us are comfortable where we are even though the whole universe is constantly changing around us.  Learning to accept this change is vital to our happiness and general self-improvement.  Because only when we let go of what used to be, do we grow and begin to see a world we never knew was possible.

5.  Wanting everything you don’t have.

Life is NOT short if you spend every waking moment appreciating it.  It’s just that by the time most of us catch up to appreciating what we have, we’ve already squandered our time and left life at least halfway behind us.

The key is being thankful for what you have NOW.

No, not all the puzzle pieces of life will seem to fit together at first, but in time you’ll realize they do, perfectly.  So thank the situations that didn’t work out for you, because they just made room for the situations that will.  And thank the people who walked away from you, because they just made room for the ones who won’t.

No matter how good or bad you think you have it, wake up each day thankful for your life.  Someone somewhere else is desperately fighting for theirs.  Instead of thinking about what you’re missing, think about what you have that everyone else is missing.  Think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive in your own shoes – to breathe a fresh breath, to think another thought, to enjoy a new moment, to have options – then go out and make the day count.

6.  Whining and doing nothing about it.

Complaining does not work as a strategy.  Those who complain the most, accomplish the least positive results.  When you spend time fretting and complaining, you’re simply using your imagination to create things you don’t want.

Don’t talk about what’s wrong.  Harping on your problems makes you feel worse, not better.  Unless you want to complain about it forever, eventually you’ll have to DO something.  If you took a fraction of the energy you put into complaining and applied it to solving your problem, you’d likely be stunned by how well things can work out.  Start talking about how you’ll improve things, even if the conversation is only with yourself, and then focus on the next positive step.  Refocus your energy into making your situation better.  (Read The Power of Habit.)

7.  Fearing everything for any reason at all.

Sometimes we’re afraid we’ll fail.  Sometimes we’re subconsciously afraid we’ll succeed, because then we’d have to deal with all the disruption (growth) and change that follows success.  And other times it’s our fear of rejection or simply our fear of looking like a fool.  So it’s easier to hesitate, to wait for the perfect moment, to decide we need to think a bit longer or do some more research or explore a few more unnecessary alternatives.

Meanwhile days, weeks, months, and even years of our precious lives pass us by.  And so do our dreams.

The best way I’ve found to let go of fear is to stare it down.  Connect to your fear, feel it in your body, realize it and steadily address it.  Greet it by name if you have to: “Welcome, fear.”  And then take action!  Whatever you’ve been planning, whatever you’ve imagined, whatever you’ve dreamed of, don’t wait another minute.  Get started!  Take the first step.  Do something.  Do anything.  Learn as you go and watch as your fears slowly subside.

8.  Spending time with people who drain you.

It’s not always where you are in life, but who you have by your side that matters most.  Some people drain you and others provide soul food.  Don’t jeopardize your dignity and self-respect by trying to make someone accept, love and appreciate you when they have proven that they are incapable of doing so.

When you leave the wrong people behind, the right things start happening.  What would happen if you surrounded yourself with people who made you better?  What would happen if you started spending time with the RIGHT people?

Think about it.

Your turn…

What could you stop, subtract, or let go in life that would make you feel happier and more at ease?  Please leave us a comment below and let us know.

Photo by: Pierre Pouliquin


  1. says

    I’m still working on #1 and #2. What gets me out of the know-it-all syndrome is reminding myself that ignorance is what leads us to believe we know everything about a certain subject. The truly brilliant ones are the individuals who understand how overwhelmingly complex even the most deceivingly simple thing is.

  2. J.J. says

    So true!! Absolutely fantastic and powerful. I love each and every one of these, but especially #7 and #8. Sometimes letting go and walking away is the only way to win… Thank you for this once again and have a beautiful day!

  3. Dev says

    Another wonderful post.

    With so much negative energy out there these days, both in society as well as online social networks, it’s nice to be reminded of some best practices for putting on a smile. We should all remember to be kinder to ourselves and let go of the needless stress factors that make us unhappy.

    As for me, I need to let go of some unwarranted expectations that are driving me nuts.

  4. says

    This is your best column ever hands down! So much of what you say is common sense, yet it is so easy though for our judgement to get cloudy when life isn’t going our way or were not getting what we desire. I have always been a person that wants control, thinks he knows much yet I see I have much to learn!

    Thank you for your insight love to meet you both buy you dinner and talk more someday.

  5. Steven says

    Great post! The point on letting go of control is something I struggle with. I am a control freak sometimes, and I know I need to settle down a bit. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. Liz says

    I’ve been absorbed lately about how much my siblings don’t care much about me. Coming from a family of 8, only 1 of them phoned me on my birthday. This posting has brought me to reality and helped me alot today. Thank you.

  7. Ve says

    Fantastic post, I’ve been trying to work on some of these the past several months, especially #4 and #8.

  8. Kathy says

    I just divorced someone who exhibited ALL of these for many years. Wow, you guys nailed this one today.

    Love this column, look forward to every one, and get something from every one of them.


  9. says

    Once again like minds connect. I was just writing about letting go in my journal this morning. I have come to appreciate my husband leaving our lives. It hasn’t been easy and it has been traumatic especially for my youngest child. I am truly seeing this for the learning experience it is. I know we’ll be fine as we concentrate on creating the kind of life we want and need. It’s wonderful what can happen when you come out of the shadows of another person’s storm and anguish. I wish him peace on his journey but his part of my story is over and I’m really excited.

  10. Angie says

    Fantastic message today. I needed to hear each and every one of these. I am printing this so I read it everyday. Thanks for reminding us that the simple things we do (or don’t do) are the most important.

  11. says

    I think it’s important to let go of attachment. For example, let’s say you applied for a job. Do you go on the interview and then let it go? Or do you think about the job and interview day and night? Do you build scenarios in your head around the job? If you attach and obsess about the job, you could push it away from you. This is called a paradigm shift.

    Let go of attaching to people, places, things, outcomes, and situations. Do this, and you’ll be happier.

  12. tulika says

    A beautiful article inspiring us to live a more valuable life… a more fulfilling one… to remain detached from the outer world and stay focused on our inner self, and enhance the quality of our lives. Thank you.

  13. Beth says

    These are all feelings & thoughts that I’ve had at one time or another during my life.

    I was just fired from a job that I had been at for 12 years. The reason given was “attendance” issues. However, in hindsight, I realize that it was because of my need for perfection from not just myself, but everyone else. I alienated a lot of people!

    But I’ve learned from this and now that I “see” it, I can start to let go of it!!! Love your site!!!!!

  14. David Rapp says

    1. You cannot complain your way way to happiness.

    2. Anytime you want to be in control, go outside and tell the wind not to blow. See what happens.

    3. Knowing it all. Go outside and convice a bird not to fly. You are smarter, more advanced, better educated, more well-rounded, better looking, will live longer, know how to read and write, have more money, have more possessions…but you will NEVER fly. The bird will always know more about flying.

    4. Wanting everything you don’t have…I struggle with this one. I think it comes down to wants versus needs. I have every thing I need, but there are some things I want that get more focus, energy and attention. It also puts more pressure on achieving those wants, rather than enjoying my needs being fulfilled. Is wanting less a better mind frame? Probably. Is appreciating what I have a better mind frame? Probably. SO I tried a different kind of listing what I don’t have:

    I do not have 30 days to live.
    I do not have great financial debt.
    I do not have great physical pain.
    I do not have time to change my life.
    I do not have to stay where I am.
    I do not have too many bills to pay.
    I do not have a past that cripples my future.
    I do not have a terrible marriage.
    I do not have a conspiracy against me.
    I do not have an usupportive family.

    Etc, etc etc…….

  15. Mary Brooks says

    Ah I love you two! For Liz-they have definitely posted before about worrying what others think of you. Recently I heard a saying for the first time, and now since then, I have seen it across the internet on 4 different moments – funny how that happens. It’s…”what others think of me is none of my business”

    On the note of controlling everything, and the traffic comparison – I do have to say…I live in Los Angeles. I have spent one too many nights traveling back home from the west side where it takes 2 hours to go 14 miles. This type of stress for some reason is VERY hard for me to manage, the traffic here just gets under my skin, so FOR ME, this may not work for everyone else, I do get off the highway and take alternate routes. That relieves my stress, actually, because while I cannot control that it is still going to take me a long time to get home, I would rather be inching along on surface streets with things to look at, then inching along or in gridlock on the 10 freeway. I find it more calming to get off and take those alternate routes than to stay locked in on the highway. I know, silly, but just thought I’d share!!

  16. ron wingfield says

    Wow! As is so often the case, seemingly simple concepts can end up being huge and staggeringly complex, kinda like an iceberg. The comments relative to this post certainly seem to bear that out. If I may, a word about “knowing it all”, “control” and “positive change” and in the interest of brevity please forgive the cliche comments. The quest for and attaining of knowledge is both positive and necessary, “A wise man knows what he knows and and knows what he doesn’t know”. “Control” of environmental variables as well as the inherent “to do’s” i. e., have to do, need to do and want to do is essential for balance which leads to, among other things, happiness. The proven path to control entails the sequence of “information leads to knowledge leads to power leads to control”. Finally, when you have achieved some modicum of “control” of your environment a good rule of thumb to embrace will be, “significant (positive) change will not occur until the status quo is intolerable”- not unpleasant or even undesirable but intolerable. Today you guys really opened a seemingly basic and simple topic that may be foundationaly significant enough to warrant further discussion.

  17. says

    Ouch. I *AM* number 8. I just got left behind because of it. Singularly the most painful experience of my life. So here I am, learning, learning, learning…

    Great post. Thank you very much. Just wish it didn’t hurt so much in this moment.

  18. says

    Hi Marc and Angel, I have really been enjoying your blog. I hope you don’t mind my cross-posting this wonderful post on my blog. It was so uplifting and I feel that it can help a lot of people. I also posted a link to your new audio book. Blessings and all the best to you both!! :)
    Mary Beth

  19. says

    Marc and Angel…
    Thought you might like this, as it relates to letting go of negative habits. :)

    (With apologies to Gandhi)

    1. Telling others how to live when you
    really don’t know how to live yourself.

    2. Thinking you have the right answers
    when you don’t even know the questions.

    3. Believing your way is the best way for
    everyone and then attempting to force
    them to conform “for their own good.”

    4. Using the force of government to extract
    the fruits of others labor to support
    your favorite causes.

    5. Demanding that others not be exposed
    to ideas that you consider offensive at
    the moment, but promoting your own
    thoughts as pure, clean, enlightened.

    6. Trusting that your conception of spirituality
    is the True One and because of that will be
    elevated above other misinformed souls.

    7. Firmness in the knowledge after reading this,
    that they don’t apply to you, so you don’t
    raise your voice in objection to those who
    are guilty of committing these deadly sins.

    Jotted on the back of an offering envelope
    at a boring church service several years ago
    by Bob Crawford of Akron, Ohio.

    Bob Crawford

  20. Nancy says

    This is a good post. Letting go is good and relates to sacrifice. I am sure at first it’s difficult but with time everything soothes. life has so many hiccups but i am sure following this post would grant some relief.

  21. Rebecca says

    I started following you guys a year ago, and I just have to say, you give me a little bit of hope every day. Thank you!

  22. says

    Here’s another one – manners. I always feel better if I use my manners and be polite. As the saying goes “it’s nice to be nice”. Great post and hope we can all take something from it.

  23. says

    @Vincent: That’s spot on! The complexity of any situation is circumstantial.

    @Dev: Excellent attitude!

    @Greg: Hey, someday, if we’re visiting your city, we’d love to grab dinner.

    @Liz: Sometimes the people closest to us in blood relation are not the closest people to us. It doesn’t make them bad people, and it doesn’t make you bad either.

    @Sandra Hamlett: I’m so inspired to hear how you’re handling such an emotional situation. You truly have your head on your shoulders. Letting go and forgiving the past is the clearest path for the present moment. It doesn’t mean forgetting, it means forward thinking.

    @Amandah: Very true. Attachment is the opposite of letting go. When we attach ourselves to “the way things should be” we miss the beauty of how things are.

    @tara dillard: I like that. =)

    @Mark Whittington: Yep. I recently read a book on codependency. It’s a daunting, depleting state to be in.

    @Beth: Seeing these issues is the first step to correcting them. Good luck with the next step.

    @David Rapp: As always, you knocked it out of the park. Spot on all the way around. Your tactic with #4 is something I practice whenever I’m feeling down.

    @Mary Brook: I agree. I’d rather take the scenic route as well. =)

    @Steven: Learning is what we’re all doing, right now. Living is learning.

    @Mary Beth Del Balzo: Thanks. =)

    @Bob Crawford: That’s lovely. Great points. Thanks for sharing.

    @Rebecca: It’s inspiring to hear you’ve been journeying with us for over a year now. =) We’re happy to have you.

    @All: If you keep these insightful, inspiring comments coming, I promise we’ll do our best to continue writing articles to that provoke more of your beautiful insights and ideas. =)

    Thank you.

  24. says

    I started with point # 8, letting go people who drain…who always talk about negative things in life, and my happiness quotient rose exponentially… it certainly works.

  25. dd says

    So true, when you leave the people that drain you, your life is opened up with so much room for positive energy and you suddenly realize who really matter in your life…

  26. Adriane says

    Gossiping is a real drain on the psyche. Once I stopped gossiping about other people, I started feeling more confident about myself because I didn’t care what other people said about me. It was like magic how that happened.

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