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The Happiest People Aren’t Perfect

happy peopleEach person has a particular set of beliefs about the world.  Our beliefs come from our past experiences and natural tendencies of our character.  Believing that you and the world around you must be perfect in order for you to be happy is a common character trait.

Doing your best can make you feel competent, proud and in control of your life.  But when you believe that perfect is the only road to a happy life, you will find yourself dissatisfied.

The pursuit of perfection doesn’t make us happier or ease stress. In fact, seeking perfection does the opposite.  It is linked to increased stress and a number of other emotional, physical, and relationship problems, such as anxiety depression or eating disorders.

How do you know if you’re a perfectionist?

When you make a mistake, do you spend days, weeks or even months in self-recrimination?  Are you intensely competitive and highly self-critical if you don’t come in first?  If you can’t do something “the right way” would you rather not do it?  Do you often find yourself correcting other people when they are wrong?  Are you acutely aware of other people’s expectations and self-conscious about making mistakes in front of others?

If you answered “yes” to the questions above, you may be overly focused on being perfect, rather than good enough.

How Can You Become Happier: 

Perfectionism occurs in your thoughts.  It is the thoughts about yourself, your actions, the actions of those around you and the world around you that must change.

Try this:

  • When you make a mistake and become self-critical, soften the thought.  For example, instead of thinking “I’m an idiot,” or “I’m a failure,” think “I’m human,” or “mistakes are necessary to achieve anything new.”
  • Refocus your attention.  If you enter a room and typically notice all the imperfections, refocus on what is ‘right’ about the room. Or focus on what is beautiful, comfortable or interesting.
  • Start conversations with a positive.  Often when you’re a perfectionist, you hold others to your own perfect standards, which can create tension and damage relationships.  When you speak to someone or give feedback to someone, start the conversation with a genuine observation of a positive characteristic or action.

Internalize positive self-talk.  Try to turn that positive conversation into internal self-talk.  If you get focused on your own mistakes and failures or find yourself listing all the reasons you “can’t” try something new, switch your focus to your positive characteristics or the positive actions your taken.

When your mind wanders back to your failures or fears, refocus back on your strengths.

You can find more strategies to improve how you feel in my new book, The Stress Response and by clicking here to sign up for more of my tips and here for podcasts using DBT strategies to improve how you feel.

Senior woman photo available from Shutterstock

The Happiest People Aren’t Perfect

Christy Matta, MA

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APA Reference
Matta, C. (2012). The Happiest People Aren’t Perfect. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 23 Jul 2012
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