“It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.”
― Dale Carnegie
“A 14-year-old patient of mine will be undergoing her 10th surgery in the past two years to combat a rare form of cancer. Even after all the surgeries, I’ve never seen her frown. She’s still 100% certain she’ll survive. And I’m certain her attitude is the primary reason she has survived to this point. She laughs and plays with her friends and family every day. And her positive attitude has made her dozens of new friends at the hospital. A kid like her who can go through everything she’s been through and come out smiling makes me realize how sour my attitude often is for no good reason at all.”
That’s an excerpt from an email I received this morning from one of our readers. And, coincidentally, just as I finished responding to it, a new email from a course student popped up in my inbox that opened with an extremely similar theme:
“Today I realized that my best friend, who lost her mom last year to cancer, has a happier, more optimistic and thankful attitude about life than I do…”
In our line of work, Angel and I hear from dozens of readers, coaching clients and students enrolled in our Getting Back to Happy course every day. Through this experience, we often see the same exact toxic attitudes tearing otherwise healthy individuals apart. And we’ve witnessed, firsthand, the devastation this toxicity causes to their personal and professional growth, and to their relationships.
Let’s be honest, though, we’ve all acted in toxic, damaging ways at one time or another. None of us are immune to occasional toxic mood swings. But that doesn’t mean we have to succumb to them. Whether your toxic attitude is a common occurrence or just a sporadic phenomena, it’s critical for your long-term happiness and success that you are able to recognize when you’re thinking and acting poorly, and consciously shift your mindset.
Here are 12 of the most common toxic attitudes we see plaguing people, and some tips to get you back on track:
1. “I don’t have enough to be happy.”
Instead of thanking the heavens for two strong legs and a body that’s capable of running and jumping and dancing, lots of people complain about their weight and appearance.
Instead of appreciating that they live in a country that protects their basic human rights and civil liberties, lots of people complain about laws, taxes and politicians.
Instead of being grateful for the roof they have over their heads, lots of people wish they had a larger house and a fancier car.
Don’t be one of these people. You may not have it all, but you have a lot.
To witness miracles in your daily life, count your blessings and be thankful for what you DO have. There are others who aren’t so lucky.
2. “Happiness should be handed to me on a silver platter.”
Pursuing happiness is not at all the same as being happy, which is a fleeting feeling dependent on momentary circumstances. If the sun is shining, by all means bask in it. Happy times are great and often fun-filled, but happy times pass, because time passes. This is something we often resist, which results in us alienating ourselves and everyone around us.
In other words, we expect to be happy 24/7, and we expect happiness to be delivered to us on a silver platter. We anticipate an easy life where instant gratification is the norm. And this leads to disappointment and toxic mood swings.
The truth is that the lifelong pursuit of happiness is elusive; it’s not based on quick thrills and instantaneous fulfillment. It’s a ‘pursuit.’ And what you are pursuing is meaning – living a meaningful life. It starts with your “why.” (Why are you doing what you’re doing every day?) When your ‘why’ is meaningful, you are pursuing happiness.
There will be times when things go so wrong that you barely feel alive. And there will also be times when you realize that being barely alive, on your own terms, is better than living a lifeless existence for 80 years on someone else’s terms. The pursuit isn’t all or nothing; it’s all AND nothing, with ups and downs and worthwhile lessons along the way.
3. “Every step I take needs to make logical sense (to everyone).”
If we listened to our logic 24/7 we’d never have truly passionate, romantic relationships. We’d never have life-long, long-distance friendships. We’d never go in business because we’d be cynical. We’d forever be stuck thinking: “I’m going to fail.” Or “he’s going to hurt me.” Or, “I’ve had a couple of bad love affairs, so therefore…” Well that’s nonsense! You’re going to miss life if you think this way.
If you wait around until everything makes perfect logical sense to you and everyone around you, and you feel 100% safe and ready, you will be waiting the rest of your life.
Sometimes you just have to take a chance!
Sometimes you just have to get up and go for it!
Sometimes you just have to jump off a cliff and build your wings on the way down!
4. “I’m not good enough.”
When you catch yourself in a cycle of self-hate, you must remind yourself that you weren’t born feeling this way. That at some point in the past some person or experience sent you the message that something is wrong with you, and you internalized this lie and accepted it as your truth. But that lie isn’t yours to carry, and those judgments aren’t about you. And in the same way that you learned to think negatively of yourself, you can learn to think new, positive and self-loving thoughts.
You can learn to challenge those false beliefs, strip away their power, and reclaim your self-respect. It won’t be easy, and it won’t transpire overnight. But it is possible. And it begins when you decide that there has to be a better way to live, and that you deserve to discover it. (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Self-Love” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
5. “Everyone must like me!”
People who constantly strive for validation by others are exhausting to be around. Those men and women who get caught up in the need to prove their worth over and over and over, and constantly want to win over everyone around them, are unintentionally toxic and draining. Know this. Over-attaching to how things have to look to others can wear you out and bring everyone else around you down.
There is a bigger picture to your life, and it’s not about what you achieve in the eyes of the masses. It’s about the journey, the process, the path – what you’re learning, how you’re helping others learn too, and the growing process you allow yourself to participate in.
6. “I’ve seen and heard it all before.”
No matter how much you know, there’s a whole lot you don’t know. Period.
In almost every situation, a little more willingness to acknowledge that there may be something you do not know could change everything. Go somewhere new, and countless opportunities suddenly appear. Do something differently, and all sorts of great new possibilities spring up.
Keep an open mind. Always.
It’s what we learn, after we “know it all,” that really counts in the end.
7. “I need to be in control (of everything and everyone).”
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 and control is again obstructed. And when you finally get home, you take your stress out on the people you love the most.
Embrace the fact that some parts of your life are simply meant to be lived, not controlled. No matter what happens, no matter the outcome, you’re going to be just fine. Let the things you can’t control, GO!
Spend your thoughts and efforts on controlling what you do have power over, rather than wasting your peace of mind on the uncontrollable. (Read The Untethered Soul.)
8. “I’ve been hurt too badly to ever heal and move forward with my life.”
Hoarding pain and loss only makes the pain and loss last longer. And this just tears the rest of your life and relationships apart.
One of the hardest lessons in life is letting go – whether it’s guilt, anger, love or loss. Change is never easy – you fight to hold on and you fight to let go. But oftentimes letting go is the healthiest path forward. It clears out toxic thoughts from the past. You’ve got to emotionally free yourself from the things that once meant a lot to you, so you can move beyond the past and the pain it brings you.
Again, it takes hard work to let go and refocus your thoughts, but it’s worth every bit of effort you can muster. It’s time to be bold. It’s time to stop reading the previous chapter of your life and start writing the one you’re currently living. Learn from your old mistakes and march confidently on. Sure you’ll make new mistakes along the way, but that’s the whole point – you want to learn from new mistakes, not rot alongside old ones.
Living means taking chances that are worth taking and making mistakes that are worth making. Right now is simply a new chance to get it right, but you have to let go and take this chance.
9. “This (and everything) is personal!”
People are toxic to themselves and others when they believe that everything happening around them is a direct assault on them or is in some way all about them.
Of course, it’s easy to feel unloved and unwanted when people aren’t able to communicate and connect with you in the way you expect. And it’s so hard not to internalize that disconnection as a reflection on your worth. But the truth is, the way other people behave and function is not about you.
Most people are so caught up in their own problems, responsibilities and struggles that the thought of asking you how you’re doing doesn’t even cross their mind. They aren’t being mean or uncaring – they’re just busy and a bit self-centered at times. And that’s OK. Don’t attack them for it. It’s not evidence of some fundamental flaw on your part. It doesn’t make you unlovable or unworthy. It just means that some people aren’t very good at looking beyond their own egocentric bubble. But the fact that you are – that despite the darkness you feel, you have the ability to share your love and light with others – is an incredible strength. (Read The Mastery of Love.)
10. “I’m just too busy right now for family and friends.”
Neglect based on lack of attention often damages relationships far more than malicious abuse.
Although it’s perhaps conceivable that you may lie on your deathbed someday regretting that you didn’t work harder and check every little thing off your to-do list, it’s doubtful that your work will be your biggest concern. What’s more likely, however, is that you will wish you could have one more romantic night with your spouse, another long, heartfelt talk with your sister, and one last good hard laugh with your best friend.
Life is simply too short to be too busy for the people you love.
11. “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”
It’s NOT OK to stretch the truth. Ever! It really isn’t! Doing so only leads to stress in the long run.
In fact, it’s disheartening to think how many people are shocked by honesty, and how few by deceit. Don’t be one of them. Uphold the truth, always. Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often, and you should be the one shocking them with honest words and deeds every day.
The bottom line here is that an honest, loving heart is the beginning of everything that is right with this world. It’s what brings us together and keeps us together through thick and thin.
12. “I’m better than them (and everyone else for that matter).”
And finally, through it all, you have to keep your pride in check…
To admit you made a mistake. To say you are sorry. To know that you can’t possibly know it all. To have big dreams. To admit you owe your success to others too. To poke fun at yourself from time to time. To ask for help when you need it.
To make mistakes and fail. And to try again, willingly.
There are no permanent jobs or absolutes on this planet. We are all just interning and exploring here. Learn from everyone, remain humble, and don’t forget to have a good time along the way.
That’s what happy, successful people do.
If you can see any of these toxic attitudes in yourself, remember, you are not alone. We all have negativity buried deep within us that has the potential to sneak up on us sometimes. The key, of course, is awareness – recognizing these toxic attitudes when they arise and stopping them in their tracks.
So, what toxic attitudes do you sometimes struggle with? How have these attitudes affected your personal and professional contentment? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and insights with us.
Photo by: Eugenia K.