16 Signs You’re Looking For Happiness In All The Wrong Places

16 Signs You’re Looking For Happiness In All The Wrong Places

Happiness is the elusive goal everyone chases in life, but sometimes, our search takes us down paths that lead away from it rather than closer to it. Here’s how you might be sabotaging your own joy without even realizing it.

1. You believe a bigger paycheck, fancier house, or nicer car will make you happy.

The lure of materialism is strong — we do live in a hyper-capitalist society, after all. Advertisers bombard us with messages that the key to happiness is just one purchase away. There’s temporary pleasure in acquiring things, but true fulfillment is rarely found at the bottom of a shopping bag. Chasing ever-increasing material wealth often leads to a dissatisfaction treadmill, never feeling like it’s enough.

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2. You think happiness involves being in a relationship at any cost.


Fear of being alone can drive us into the wrong arms. We believe a partner will solve our problems, complete us, or shield us from loneliness. But codependency isn’t love. Clinging to unhealthy relationships for the illusion of security breeds only misery. True happiness starts by being content with yourself, partner or not.

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3. You’re waiting for a grand, life-changing event to finally feel happy.

“When I get that promotion… when the kids move out… when I retire… THEN I’ll be happy.” Postponing joy makes the present feel like a constant waiting room. Big milestones can bring excitement, but lasting happiness is cultivated in the everyday moments, not pinned to some hypothetical perfect future.

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4. You measure your self-worth by external validation.

Likes on social media, praise from your boss, and admiration from peers all feels good momentarily. However, if your happiness hinges on what other people think of you, you’re on shaky ground. The applause inevitably fades, the online comments can be cruel… true self-worth comes from within. People-pleasing in search of validation is an exhausting, never-ending game.

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5. You escape difficult feelings through numbing behaviors.

Retail therapy, binge-watching, excessive drinking, any crutch to avoid sadness, boredom, or facing uncomfortable truths. Temporary numbing isn’t the same as processing and resolving what’s causing the negative feelings. True happiness involves the courage to feel the full spectrum of human emotion, even the messy stuff.

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6. You’re constantly comparing yourself to other people.

Social media is a highlight reel. We see the curated, filtered best moments of other people’s lives and assume our own comes up short. Comparison is the thief of joy. It fuels insecurity and makes us focus on what we lack rather than appreciating our unique path and strengths. True happiness comes from celebrating your own progress, not measuring yourself against someone else’s yardstick.

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7. You expect happiness to be a constant state.

Life is full of ups and downs. Bad days, disappointments, and grief are part of being human. If you think happiness means 24/7 bliss, you’re setting yourself up for failure. True contentment involves building resilience, the ability to bounce back from setbacks, and finding joy even amidst life’s imperfections.

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8. You believe happiness is a destination you’ll someday arrive at.

serious blonde woman sitting on bed

“If only I had X, then I’d be happy.” This mindset turns it into a mirage you’re forever chasing. Happiness is a practice, cultivated through daily choices. Gratitude, savoring small pleasures, acts of kindness – these build a foundation of well-being in the here and now, not dependent on reaching some external goalpost.

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9. You neglect your physical and mental health.

woman covering her face with hands yellow sweater

The mind-body connection is powerful. It’s hard to feel truly joyful when you’re chronically sleep-deprived, eating poorly, and avoiding exercise. Prioritizing a healthy lifestyle isn’t about vanity; it’s about giving yourself the energy, mental clarity, and resilience to better enjoy all that life has to offer.

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10. You stay in toxic relationships out of fear or habit.

bored couple sitting on couch togetheristock

Whether it’s friendships that drain you, a job you hate, or a family member who consistently disrespects you, these negative connections erode your well-being. We stay out of fear of rocking the boat or a misplaced sense of obligation. But true happiness often involves courageous pruning – making space for relationships that lift you up.

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11. You’re addicted to the drama and chaos of putting out (metaphorical) fires.

Some people thrive on a constant state of crisis. It’s a tumultuous way to live, confusing intensity for genuine fulfillment. While it’s important to be able to handle challenges, if you’re subconsciously creating your own drama just to feel something, that’s a sign you need to seek healthier ways to find meaning and excitement.

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12. You focus on trying to change other people rather than working on yourself.

Wanting the people we love to improve is natural, but if your happiness depends on your partner finally getting organized, or your friend always being on time, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. We can’t control anyone else, only ourselves. True contentment comes from accepting people as they are and focusing on your own growth journey.

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13. You sacrifice your own needs to please other people.

Saying “yes” when you want to say “no,” prioritizing everyone else’s happiness at the expense of your own, is a recipe for resentment and burnout, per CNBC. While healthy relationships involve compromise, feeling obligated to neglect your own needs to appease other people is unsustainable. Happiness requires healthy boundaries and honoring your own well-being.

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14. You’re living in the past or obsessing about the future.

Ruminating on past mistakes or feeling constantly anxious about what might happen robs you of the present moment. Mindfulness practices, therapy if needed, and consciously building a life you enjoy now can help you break the cycle of living outside the only moment that’s truly real – the one happening right now.

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15. You’re so focused on reaching goals that you forget to enjoy the process.

Ambition is great, but with blinders on, you risk reaching those milestones and feeling… empty. Because all the joy was sacrificed on the altar of achievement. True fulfillment comes from finding meaning and satisfaction in the everyday journey itself, celebrating small victories along the way.

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16. You believe your happiness is dependent on something you can’t control.

“If only I win the lottery…if only I find the perfect soulmate…if only my health were better…” While these things may contribute to happiness, outsourcing your entire sense of well-being to external factors you can’t guarantee creates a sense of helplessness. True happiness is all about building inner resilience and finding joy within the circumstances you can control.

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Originally from Australia, Emma Mills graduated from the University of Queensland with a dual degree in Philosophy and Applied Linguistics before moving to Los Angeles to become a professional matchmaker (a bit of a shift, obviously). Since 2015, she has helped more than 150 people find lasting love and remains passionate about bringing amazing singletons together.

Emma is also the author of the upcoming Hachette publication, "Off the Beaten Track: Finding Lasting Love in the Least Likely of Places," due out in January 2025.