Why Your Rules Are Stopping You From Being Happy


We all have them. I wonder though, how tuned in are you to your rules? It wasn’t until I learnt about how they can impact my happiness that I dug deeper. And wow, was I in for a surprise!

Take a minute now to think about an area in your life that you aren’t currently happy with. It might be a relationship at work, or outside of work. It might be your health. It might be how much you can achieve in a given day.

Got something? Ok, now think about what needs to happen for you to be happy with the outcome. For example:

  • Does your boss have to acknowledge you every time you do something well? So if the acknowledgement doesn’t come, you feel unappreciated.
  • Does your partner have to spend every moment of their time with you? So if they want to head out for a night with their friends, you make it mean they don’t care about your feelings.
  • Do you have a ‘health blitz’ of no alcohol, no chocolate and a minimum of an hour of exercise every day to improve how you feel? And then you skip a workout, or someone brings out champagne to celebrate and you can’t say no. So you beat yourself up again for being unhealthy.
  • Do you plan to power through your to-do list, feeling unsatisfied at the end of the day for achieving so little? However to feel in peak state you have to write everything down, de-clutter your desk, respond to emails and make a few calls first.

We Are Meaning Making Machines

You see, we are the ones who place meaning and rules on everything. We are meaning making machines! Whether it’s from past experience, from our insecurities, or just from being self-focused, we make up rules. And these rules remain a secret we keep to ourselves. Your boss doesn’t know to specifically acknowledge your work. Your partner doesn’t know you feel lonely without them. You probably think you just have ‘high standards’ around health. And you possibly procrastinate by doing things that are familiar and certain to you. Because that to-do list includes some items that will stretch you outside your comfort zone.

We make up ‘rules’ for pretty much everything we experience in life. The difference is that happy people have learnt to have simple, easy to achieve rules. How so? They follow these two simple practices:

  1. Your rules must reflect something you have control over

What do I mean by this? I mean you can’t make somebody else’s behaviour influence your rule. It just can’t be about what someone else does or doesn’t do. You and I both know we can’t control other people. We can only control our own response to a situation.

  1. Your rules must be simple to follow

I’m sure you’ve heard of ‘setting yourself up to fail’. Having too many rules does this. When you want to feel happy each and every day, relax your rules. How? By replacing the “and” with an “or”.

Let’s see how our examples play out now:

  • To feel appreciated for the work I do, I focus on giving more value than I receive. When I have helped others I acknowledge myself for a job well done.
  • When my partner heads out with their friends, I take the time to indulge in something I enjoy – relax in a bath, or read a book, or a catch up with my friends.
  • To know that I have made healthy choices today, I will find a way to incorporate at least 30 minutes of exercise in the day. Or if this isn’t possible, I will choose the healthier option when an option is available.
  • Regardless of what my desk looks like, I will “eat the frog” – i.e. tackle the hardest job first. Then I’ll spend 10 minutes only on writing my list before I tackle the next most important item.

The next time you are feeling hard done by, annoyed or just plain unhappy, pause. Consider your rules. And then make a choice to change them. After all, as that old saying goes ‘rules are made to be broken’.

The rules you make up come from your thinking patterns. If you are wondering how your thinking is impacting your results, click here to access a complimentary 32 Question Meta™ Dynamics Profiling Tool and find out your personal strengths and stretches.




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