How Perfectionism Destroys Happiness


If you want to never be happy or satisfied with your life, one great way to do that is to raise your expectations to an unrealistically high standard that can never possibly be met.

This is the essence of perfectionism. It’s the inability to be happy with something until it is perfect, without any flaws whatsoever. Of course, the problem with this mindset is that perfectionism is often an illusion.

Life rarely works out exactly the way we want, in any domain – whether it’s relationships, work, or goals.

And many times being more happy with your life requires that you let go of these expectations and learn to be more content with how things are, rather than how you picture they should be in an “ideal world.”

Many studies are beginning to show the many ways perfectionism can destroy your happiness.

Perfectionism leads to feelings of regret and dissatisfaction

In one study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, it was found that a “must have the best” mindset can magnify feelings of regret and dissatisfaction.

Psychologists are calling it the “maximizing mindset,” and it’s one symptom of perfectionism. We always seek to choose the best possible option in every given scenario, but that’s not always possible.

These findings are consistent with another recent study published in the Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy that discovered perfectionism can lead to more “post-event rumination.”

This just means that after something happens to us, we are much more likely to continue to think about it and second-guess our choices. This makes it much more harder to let go of our past decisions, and especially our past mistakes.

Perfectionism hurts our relationships

The research continues to build on the negative consequences of perfectionism.

In another recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, it was found that perfectionism can hurt our relationships as well.

Romantic couples who see their relationships as a “perfect unity” (“We are soul mates” or “We we’re made for each other”) are more prone to relationship problems than those who view their relationship as a “journey” (“We grow together” or “Look how far we’ve come”).

This makes sense. Every relationship is going to have problems we have to work through. But if you think you both are absolutely perfect for each other, then it’s going to be hard to accept and deal with the highs and lows of every relationship.

Often times, a more practical and realistic mindset prepares you for the inevitable road bumps in life. And it’s better to prepare yourself for reality than to live in delusion.

Perfectionism negatively influences your work

One of the most common effects of perfectionism is how it influences our work and personal goals.

In a study published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology discovered that individuals who have a greater tendency for perfectionism are also more likely to procrastinate.

When we have a perfectionist mentality, it’s really hard to swallow our pride and say “I’m done.” Instead, we find ourselves constantly changing things, tweaking every little detail, and working non-stop until we finally feel satisfied. Although we never do.

This is also consistent with another study on how perfectionism can lead to “workaholism,” an unhealthy drive to never stop working, which can often lead to more stress, fatigue, and burnout.

Perfectionism hurts our self-esteem and body image

According to a study published in the Journal of Eating Disorders, perfectionism can also hurt our body image and play a role in the development of eating disorders.

We commonly compare our body appearances to the “ideals” we find in movies, TV, magazines, and other forms of entertainment. This can lead us to set our own standards incredibly high, which will often lead to disappointment in our own bodies.

As you can see, perfectionism can destroy our happiness in many different areas of our lives. It’s an attitude that we have to be very careful of. Here are ways to think less like a perfectionist in your daily life.

How to let go of perfectionism

Perfectionism is ultimately a mindset, so the best way to let go of it is to start building a new mindset toward life.

For many truly happy and successful people, they don’t have a perfectionist mindset – but a growth mindset. They understand that life is a process of ups and downs, and we are constantly learning and growing from these experiences.

Unlike the perfectionist, the growth-oriented person doesn’t see their happiness or success in any area of a life as a “fixed place.” Instead, it’s a never-ending journey.

Start thinking in a new direction:

  • “Mistakes are a normal part of everyday life.”
  • “Failure is often a necessary step toward success.”
  • “It’s not about being the best, but trying your best.”
  • “No single event in the past defines you. Move forward.”
  • “You’re always growing as an individual.”
  • “Focus on the bigger picture more than the details.”
  • “Your flaws and imperfections are what make you unique.”
  • “There are always new obstacles to overcome.”
  • “You accept the ups and downs in life with grace.”

Choose 3 of these self-affirmations that you like best.

Now, write each one down on an index card and place it around your home where you’ll see it frequently, for example: a mirror, a fridge, or above your bed.

For the next week, every time you see these self-affirmations, try repeating them to yourself 3 times each (either inside your head or out-loud to yourself).

This is just one small step in changing your thinking to a more “growth-oriented” mindset. With a little conscious practice, this way of thinking will begin to spread into your daily life.

Try one of these exercises:

If you want to go one step further in overcoming your perfectionism, I challenge you to try one of the following exercises:

1. Just Complete One Goal Today

Assign yourself a small project, and just give yourself to the end of the day to finish it. It can be anything, the simpler the better: creating a new song or writing a poem. The point is to just do it, and not obsess over the final product. Give yourself permission to say, “It’s done!” without needing to second-guess yourself.

2. Try Failing On Purpose

Put yourself in a situation where you know you’ll fail. You’ll often find that failure isn’t that bad, and it often means you’re challenging yourself in a positive and productive way. Many times, you may even feel better about yourself for trying and failing, rather than never trying at all.

Individuals with a “growth mindset” do these types of things everyday – they are always taking small steps, and willing to put themselves in situations where they are challenged and may fail.

In many ways, perfectionism is the opposite of growth and happiness. It stagnates us and keeps us both stuck and unsatisfied. To truly be happy, we need to first learn to let go of our unrealistically high expectations about life.

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