Happiness Do’s and Don’ts | How to Change Your Mindset

Did you know you can train your brain to be happier?

This is great news for all of us, but especially for people struggling to get through (or rebound from) stressors. At this moment in history, we are collectively experiencing some BIG sources of stress: global pandemic, racial inequities, rioting and looting, plus the innumerable little stressors in our lives: traffic, passive-aggressive co-workers, lost keys, crying babies, and so forth.

Over the last 50 years, study after study has shown that happiness can largely be controlled by the choices we make in our lives. According to Dr. Katherine Nelson-Coffey, author of “The Power of Happiness in Positive Psychology 101,” a person’s baseline happiness quotient is 40% genetic and 10% a result of whether our fundamental needs (shelter, food, safety, etc.) are met.

The other 50% of our happiness quotient – the largest portion of what makes us happy – is our mindset.*

So how do we make ourselves happier?

Happiness Don’ts:

1. Perfectionism: When we strive to meet intangible goals and inappropriate levels of expectations, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and unhappiness. Instead, set reasonable, achievable goals, set healthy boundaries, and reality-check expectations of yourself and others (including your children, coworkers, friends, etc).

2. Social Comparison: Measuring our social and personal worth by comparing ourselves to others is a recipe for disaster. While it is healthy to admire qualities or talents in others, comparison should be limited to self-evaluation. In other words, we should only compare ourselves to who we were in the past.

3. Materialism: I’ll be the first to admit – I LOVE shopping. I’ve even been known to refer to Target as “my happy place.” And while filling our carts with adorable finds makes us feel good in the moment, attaching happiness to external things is dangerous. The “high” of a new material acquisition is fleeting: items break or get lost, financial situations change, the shopper’s high wears off, and our happiness plummets.

4. Maximizing: Bigger is not always better. Constantly looking for better options and wanting newer, bigger things is a one-way ticket to misery. Instead of seeking upgrades at every turn, focus on being present and finding gratitude in small moments.

5. Waiting: Many people link their potential happiness to a future event. How many times have you thought, “I’ll be happy when I get (fill in the blank)?” Don’t wait to be happy. Life is short. Think of things you are grateful for, and be happy today.

Happiness Do’s:

1. Altruism: The vast majority of “happiness experts” (yes, it’s a thing) agree that the number one way to increase our own happiness is to help others. While this advice may sound counterintuative, it actually makes perfect sense. Helping others makes us feel good, reminds us of the blessings in our own lives, and increases our capacity for compassion which, in turn, boosts our happiness. Also, while we cannot control receiving, we can control giving. And that control – real or perceived – makes us happy.

2. Pursue Goals, Not Dreams: In order to increase our happiness, we must set tangible, achievable goals. This doesn’t mean you can’t dream of big, long-range goals; however, such goals should be broken down into small steps, and the completion of each step should be celebrated (because celebrating makes us happier).

3. Know (and Practice) Your Strengths: Assess your strengths and find new ways to use them. You might not always love everything that needs to be done but you can use your strengths to tackle the hard stuff. Consider whether you can outsource at least some of the tasks you don’t enjoy doing or aren’t good at and find more ways to use your strengths, because being strong and useful feels fabulous.

4. Invest in Friendships: Having real, in person, close-knit friendships is guaranteed to make you happier. While casual acquaintances, online “friends,” and professional colleagues are also important, these relationships don’t generate the same level of well-being as your true friends. Nurture your true friendships and make time to get together, even if it’s via video chat.

5. Count Your Blessings: Make a consistent effort to think about the good things in your life. Express gratitude, out loud, every day. Saying “thank you” often – whether it’s to your coworkers, your partner, or the lady at the grocery check-out – will make others feel good, strengthen your relationships, and boost your happiness quotient.

6. Practice: Even those who are genetically predisposed to despair can become incrementally happier with practice. Use the above suggestions as a guide, and try doing at least one thing per day to boost your happiness.

Studies have proven that happiness and resilience are closely linked. Happy people believe they have the tools and grit to overcome difficulties in life (AKA: resilience), and resilience increases subjective well-being (AKA: happiness). This means we can simultaneously increase both our happiness and our resilience. And everyone loves a two-for-one deal, amiright?

*Depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions are real. Whether or not you’ve experienced a traumatic event, if you are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, I strongly encourage you to seek professional help. Reach out to a medical provider in your area or call the confidential National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

To learn more about Dena and to read more of her posts, head to: denacarreyn.com.


About Dena

Every person faces at least one major life tragedy. Dena has faced seven. And she refuses to be defined by any of them. Instead, with grit and determination, she adapts, overcomes, and redefines resilience.

​Dena never let herself be limited by her experiences. She survived rape, homelessness, infertility, chronic illness, a devastating car accident, the near death of her child, and the death of her lifelong best friend. In response, she became a criminal prosecutor and an advocate for homeless individuals, medical patients, and victims of domestic abuse.

Every hurdle in Dena’s life led her closer to finding her purpose. She discovered how to be the hero in her own story and is passionate about helping others do the same.

Dena’s charismatic presentations are filled with inspiring, heartfelt stories and practical tools to help others build bravery and develop resilience in both their personal and professional lives. Her lessons and insights will spark a “resilience revolution” for anyone facing challenges or tragedy. Read more at denacarreyn.com.

Madison Mom
Madison Moms Blog is written by and for moms who live in the Madison Area. We strive to connect local moms by sharing personal experiences, fun ideas and useful information as well as promoting local businesses. Our community begins online, but doesn't stop there! We offer Mom's Night Out events, play groups and other opportunities to connect offline, with and without kids.

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