Finding Happiness as Someone Who Struggles with Perfectionism: 5 Essential Tips

Published on:
June 25, 2024

Perfectionism can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can drive you to achieve great things and strive for excellence. On the other hand, it can also lead to chronic stress, dissatisfaction, and leave you feeling never good enough. If you’re struggling with perfectionism, finding happiness might seem impossible to achieve. However, with the right mindset and strategies, it is entirely possible to cultivate a happier, more fulfilling life. Here are five essential tips to help you on your journey to happiness.

1. Don’t Expect to Be Happy All the Time

Sorry, I know! Rough way to start. But it's most important that you are going in with the right expectations. One of the misconceptions that perfectionists often have is the belief that they should be happy all the time. This unrealistic expectation can lead to feelings of failure and disappointment when you’re going through periods of time feeling unhappy. It’s important to understand that happiness is not a constant state, and it’s normal to experience a range of emotions. It’s not realistic to expect that you’ll be happy all the time and completely normal to experience other emotions. Having moments of unhappiness doesn’t mean that you’ve failed.

How to Manage Expectations About Happiness:

  • Acknowledge All Emotions: Recognize that it’s okay to feel sad, frustrated, or anxious at times. These emotions are a typical part of the human experience. You can learn ways to move through and process these more difficult emotions so they don’t have to take over in a way that impacts your functioning.
  • Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment. It can help you accept your emotions as they are, without trying to change or suppress them. Feelings don’t last forever, whether it be happiness or an emotion that  you’d like to avoid.
  • Determine Your Definition of Happiness: When you say you want to be happy, what does that actually look like and feel like to you? Was there a time in your life you can remember that you would describe as “happy” and what did that look like? Sometimes, striving for a meaningful life can be more fulfilling than chasing constant happiness. Engage in activities and relationships that bring you a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

2. Embrace Imperfection

One of the most important steps in finding happiness is to embrace imperfection. Perfectionism often stems from a fear of failure and a belief that anything less than perfect is unacceptable. This mindset can be incredibly limiting and can prevent you from taking risks, trying new things, and enjoying life.

How to Embrace Imperfection:

  • Practice Self-Compassion: Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a friend. When you make a mistake, remind yourself that it’s okay to be imperfect and that mistakes happen to all people.
  • Challenge Perfectionistic Thoughts: When you catch yourself thinking in black-and-white terms (ie., “If it’s not perfect, it’s a failure”), assess the validity of these thoughts by considering more balanced perspectives. Also, assess where these beliefs came from and if they have to continue to be true for you.
  • Celebrate Effort, Not Just Outcomes: Focus on the effort you put into your tasks rather than just the end result. Celebrate small achievements and progress, even if the final outcome isn’t perfect or what you expected. Often, we can’t control the outcome, but you can feel good about the effort that you put into something you were trying to achieve.

3. Set Realistic Goals

Perfectionists often set extremely high and sometimes unattainable goals for themselves. While it’s great to aim high, it’s important to ensure that your goals are realistic and achievable. Setting realistic goals can help you feel more accomplished and reduce feelings of failure and inadequacy.

How to Set Realistic Goals:

  • Break Down Big Goals: Divide larger goals into smaller, manageable tasks. This makes them less overwhelming and allows you to track your progress more effectively.
  • Prioritize Your Goals: Focus on what’s most important and let go of less critical tasks. This can help you avoid spreading yourself too thin and feeling overwhelmed.
  • Be Flexible: Allow yourself to adjust your goals as needed. Life is unpredictable, and it can be important to consider why you made the goal that you made. Did this goal have to be achieved now? Was the timeline of your goal arbitrarily set? Is there an alternate route to getting what it is that you want? Things don’t always have to happen in exactly the way you planned and often they can happen in ways we didn’t expect.  

4. Cultivate Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is the practice of being kind and understanding toward yourself, especially during times of failure or difficulty. Perfectionists tend to be extremely hard on themselves, which can lead to a negative self-image and decreased well-being. Cultivating self-compassion can help you build resilience and improve your overall happiness.

How to Cultivate Self-Compassion:

  • Practice Self-Kindness: When you encounter a setback, talk to yourself with kindness and understanding. Avoid harsh self-criticism and remind yourself that mistakes are a part of life.
  • Recognize Common Humanity: Understand that everyone makes mistakes and experiences challenges. You are not alone in your struggles and struggles are actually to be expected.

5. Engage in Activities That Bring Joy

Finding activities that bring you joy and fulfillment is crucial for enhancing your happiness. When you engage in activities that you love, you are more likely to experience emotions associated with happiness and feel a sense of accomplishment.

How to Find and Engage in Joyful Activities:

  • Identify Your Interests: Take some time to reflect on what activities you enjoy and what makes you feel fulfilled. This could be anything from hobbies and sports to volunteering and spending time with loved ones.
  • Identify Your Values: If you’re thinking to yourself, “I don’t even know what makes me happy anymore”, I find it helpful to start by identifying what your values are. I have a list of values that I ask my clients to look through and identify values that feel important to them. When you identify what it is that important to you, it makes it easier to identify if the actions you’re taking and activities you’re engaging in are aligned with the values that are important to you.
  • Make Time for Fun: Prioritize activities that bring you joy in your schedule. Treat them as important appointments that you cannot miss, just as you would a work responsibility.
  • Try New Things: Don’t be afraid to explore new activities and interests. Trying something new can be exciting and help you discover new passions – especially if you’re currently unsure of what you’re passionate about. The expectation that you be the best at something     you’re just starting can be thrown out the window. Ask yourself- how do you feel doing this new activity?


Struggling with perfectionism can make experience of finding happiness challenging, but it is not impossible. By embracing imperfection, setting realistic goals, managing your expectations about happiness, cultivating self-compassion, and engaging in joyful activities, you can begin to build a happier and more fulfilling life. Remember, the journey to happiness is a personal and ongoing process, and it’s okay to take it one step at a time. Be patient with yourself and celebrate the progress you make along the way.