Overall, Americans are just plain exhausted—and it isn’t surprising. Society tells us (not very subtly, either) that we need to perform to a certain standard, look a certain way, weigh a certain number, make a certain amount of money, and much more. Too bad that “perfect” lifestyle is impossible to achieve. Nobody can do it all, all of the time. So when you inevitably take on too much and allow one of the plates you’re juggling to drop, you end up disappointed, tired, and miserable. Case in point: How are your New Year’s resolutions faring? Chances are, they’ve already fallen by the wayside, and you’re feeling like a failure.
According to Todd Patkin, the problem is that you set yourself up for disappointment by having unrealistic and unsustainable expectations. Instead, he says, you’ll be best served by making 2014 the year you stop doing things that aren’t adding to your happiness.
“Let’s face it—our lives are already packed full of responsibilities. Piling on even more just isn’t feasible—and it’s also a recipe for unhappiness,” points out Patkin, author of Finding Happiness : One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In “Instead, you should focus on prioritizing the things in your life that really matter, and on dropping dead weight that might be holding you back.”
Patkin admits that “quitting” various success-oriented behaviors and habits seems counterintuitive. After all, doing less goes directly against society’s recipe for building our best and most fulfilling lives. But Patkin also knows from experience that more isn’t always better.
“For much of my life I was addicted to the pursuit of perfection,” he shares. “I constantly pushed myself to be the best, first in school and later in my career. Sure, I led my family’s company to unprecedented heights, I had a wonderful wife and son, and I was involved in and respected by my community. But when I was only thirty-six, my do-it-all lifestyle imploded and I suffered a complete nervous breakdown.”
Since then, Patkin has realized that he was pushing himself too hard, prioritizing the wrong things, and working toward success for the wrong reasons.
“In the decade since my breakdown, most of my goals and priorities have shifted,” he confirms. “I’ve learned that you can be much happier if you clear extraneous and unhealthy responsibilities from your life and let yourself off the hook more often.”
According to Patkin, here are twelve things that you should resolve to stop doing now if you want 2014 to be your greatest year yet:
Give up on relationships. …The ones that aren’t working, that is. Face it: Whether it’s a coworker who hands out backhanded compliments like they’re candy or a “frenemy” who always tries to one-up your accomplishments, there are people in your life who drain your energy and make your attitude dip into murky territory. No matter how much you may want to make these relationships work, forcing yourself to spend time with negative people won’t do you any favors. Actually, Patkin says, studies show that in terms of your attitude and happiness levels, you will be the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
Stop being so darn nice. …And start being real. Perhaps you’re one of those people who always blurts out what’s on your mind. If so, skip this piece of advice. However, it’s much more likely that you swallow barbed comments or constructive criticism in favor of a more diplomatic response. You might even allow yourself to be taken advantage of from time to time in order to please another person. Guess what: It’s time to stop! Dishonest politeness doesn’t develop authentic relationships.
Stop working so hard. No, Patkin isn’t advocating that you become a total slacker. What he does want you to do is think about the b-word: balance. The fact is, every year we try to reach new heights in our careers. We say we’ll work harder, get a promotion, and earn a raise. However, everyone has physical and mental limits. And more to the point—despite the fact that our society often confuses the two—achievement doesn’t equal happiness. No matter how good your intentions are, overloading on work will cause your relationships, mindset, and even health to suffer.
Lower the bar. This may come as a shock, but you probably expect too much from yourself. Whether the issue is your appearance, your house, your family, or your job, you want to achieve as much perfection as is humanly possible. And on top of that, you most likely focus on what you do wrong and rarely celebrate what you do right. This year, it’s time to really realize that you’re human, and thus fallible, and so it’s inevitable that you will mess up—or even just put in an “adequate” performance—every now and then.
Ignore the Joneses. Keeping up with the Joneses seems to be the American way of life. We’re constantly comparing ourselves to our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers, and even people whose lives we see displayed on reality TV. My sister’s kids are always perfectly behaved, you think. What am I doing wrong? Or even, I know that Bob’s salary is the same as mine. How come he’s driving a new SUV and I can’t even scrape together a down payment? No matter what the situation is, thoughts like these only leave you feeling jealous, less-than, and unhappy.
Don’t focus on your spouse. …To the point where you forget to take responsibility for yourself, that is! Yes, conventional relationship wisdom tells you to focus on your spouse and to put his or her needs first. To a point, that advice is accurate: As a partner in life and in love, you should be your spouse’s biggest supporter and coach. Just don’t allow tunnel vision to blind you to your own needs and responsibilities.
Stop giving so much. If you don’t, you’ll eventually run dry! The fact is, there are a lot of people in our lives who depend on us and who want our help, our time, our advice, etc. Especially if you care for those individuals, of course you’ll want to be accommodating. (Or perhaps you just have a hard time saying no!) For whatever reason, it can be all too easy to keep giving and giving and giving to others to the point where there’s nothing left for you.
Stop pushing your kids so hard! As parents, we really care about our kids, and we want them to have the best possible futures. But that doesn’t mean you need to turn into a so-called “Tiger Parent.” Too much pressure to perform can cause children of any age to burn out and make self-destructive decisions. In fact, some kids are experiencing symptoms ranging from stomachaches to severe depression due to the day-to-day stress they encounter at school and at home.
Forget quality time with your kids. …And start focusing on quantity! According to Patkin, it’s easy to use the words “quality time with my kids” as a free pass to focus on other aspects of your life 95 percent of the time. In other words, we want to believe that we can make up for working 70-hour weeks by taking a trip to Disney World, or catch up on all of the week’s events while going out for ice cream. But the fact is, life is found in the everyday moments, not in the big blowout trips. And kids themselves are perceptive—they can tell if they always take second place in your life.
Cancel your gym membership. No, Patkin isn’t saying that you should give up on exercising, and of course, if you’re already a gym lover, continue going. But for newbies, he does recommend starting with something that’s sustainable. The truth is, many Americans purchase gym memberships, only to find that their grand plans to take classes, work out daily, and lose weight don’t pan out. Usually, sooner rather than later, real life gets in the way, and not going to the gym becomes just one more thing to beat yourself up about.
Stop obsessing over your health. Everywhere we look, there’s a new medical threat to worry about. Sure, you can spend a lot of your time worrying about BPA in your water bottles, drug-resistant bacteria, or the likelihood of whether swine flu will overrun your community. Likewise, you can make appointments with specialist after specialist whenever you feel sick, and try every new vitamin, supplement, and protein shake on the market. But it probably won’t help as much as you hope! At the end of the day, you’ll never have ultimate control over everything you touch, breathe, and eat.
Trash your goals. …Except for this one: Be happier! Much like striving for perfection, being too goal-oriented can harm more than it helps. When you’re always focused on the “next big thing,” you’re perpetually anxious, you often forget to live in the present, and you’re never able to enjoy all of the blessings you already have. Plus, taking a step back from “the plan” can bring some much-needed clarity. You may find that the direction you’ve been headed isn’t what you want after all!
“Believe me, being a ‘quitter’ can be a very smart move, as long as you’re leaving behind activities, habits, people, and responsibilities that aren’t enriching your life,” Patkin concludes. “Above all else, as you move through this year, take it from me that a successful life without happiness really isn’t successful at all!”
Todd Patkin grew up in Needham, Massachusetts. After graduating from Tufts University, he joined the family business and spent the next eighteen years helping to grow it to new heights. After it was purchased by Advance Auto Parts in 2005, he was free to focus on his main passions: philanthropy and giving back to the community, spending time with family and friends, and helping more people learn how to be happy. Todd lives with his wonderful wife, Yadira, their amazing son, Josh, and two great dogs, Tucker and Hunter.