Want to Feel Happy? Just Say No

Medically reviewed in March 2022

Have you ever said yes when you wanted to say no? Chances are you have – and you’re far from alone. But giving yourself permission to turn down requests you don’t want to do or don’t have time to do can improve your mental health and boost your happiness quotient. Here’s why:

1. “No” sets boundaries. I recall how all four of my children learned to say “no” as toddlers and didn’t hesitate to use it frequently. In fact, learning to say no as children is one of the first ways in which we feel a sense of control. “No” sets a fundamental boundary that distinguishes you as a separate person with your own thoughts, feelings and needs. Having healthy boundaries is a basic element of mental health.

2. “No” helps set priorities. We all have limited time and energy. Saying “no” helps you to determine the things you value most. When you say “no” to one request, you’re saying “yes” to something higher on your priority list.

3. “No” prevents burnout. If you say yes every time some one asks you to babysit their kids or run an extra errand or volunteer for yet another committee at your kids’ school, you’ll eventually burn out from exhaustion. Ironically, when you try to please everyone you deplete your resources, compromise your immune system and have nothing left to give anyone.

4. “No” reduces stress. I know too well that feeling of dread when I open my calendar and realize I have too many commitments on a single day. The truth is that piling too many obligations on your plate can send anxiety and stress levels soaring. The simple act of saying “no” allows for needed downtime to practice self-care, be it through exercise, meditation, gardening or doing whatever it is that helps you to relax and recharge your batteries.

If you have a hard time saying no, try one of these helpful phrases:

  • I can’t give you an answer right now; could you check back with me next week?
  • I want to, but I’m unable to.
  • I’m not able to commit to that right now.
  • I really appreciate you asking me, but I can’t do it.
  • I understand you really need my help, but I’m just not able to say yes to that. I’m so sorry.
  • I’m going to say no for now. I’ll let you know if something changes.
  • I’m honored that you would ask me, but my answer is no.
  • No, I can’t do that, but here’s what I can do . . .
  • I just don’t have that to give right now.

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