20 Biggest Myths About Happiness
No wonder 67 percent of Americans aren't happy.
Only 33 percent of Americans reported being happy in 2017, according to The Harris Poll. The survey has measured happiness among Americans for nearly a decade, and that number has never surpassed 35 percent. So why are the massive majority of U.S. adults not happy? Well, one major factor is that there are so many myths about happiness.
Without a clear idea of what it is we’re after—or how to get there—it’s no wonder so many people don’t feel happy. So, in the hopes of getting you back on the right track, we’ve compiled some of the most pervasive myths surrounding happiness that could be getting in your way.
“Achieving your goals will make you happy.”
“People always think that once they achieve their goals, they will be happy,” says life coach Stacy Caprio. “They see happiness as a final result once they pay off their debt, graduate school, get that promotion, or find a husband.”
But, according to Caprio, accomplishing these goals will only provide short-term happiness that’s likely to fade in the face of your next obstacle.
For that reason, she urges clients to base their happiness on something other than a long- or short-term goal. “Enjoying the process is where true happiness can be found,” she explains.
“You must be self-sufficient to be happy.”
“That personal strength, independence or—worse—self-sufficiency are essential ingredients for or are synonymous with happiness is a pervasive and pernicious myth in our culture,” says psychoanalyst Mark Borg, co-author of Irrelationship.
Not only are these almost impossible feats to achieve for social animals like a humans, but focusing on independence tends to “cut us off from awareness of our emotional state,” he explains.
Plus, according to Borg, it’s counterproductive to attempt to be self-sufficient at times when you are incapable. In fact, he says, doing so is like “committing ourselves to an emotional straitjacket from which we fear to escape.”
“Having things will make you happy.”
“Society teaches us that having more will make you happy, and that having more is the measure of success,” says stress therapist Dee Doanes, owner of the Shanti Atlanta Ayurveda Stress Clinic.
But that isn’t the case. “Having more increases your level of stress because of the amount of energy it takes to maintain things,” she explains. So, “a lot of times when people get more things, the more they are unhappy.”
“Happiness is the destination.”
But that couldn’t be further from the truth. “If you cannot be happy right now, in the present, no matter what your circumstances, then you will never be happy ‘one day,'” she explains.
“There’s a path to happiness.”
“One of the pervasive myths about happiness is that it is linear,” says psychologist Rachel Tomlinson, founder of Toward Wellbeing. This is the idea that if you just continue on the right path, you will become happier and happier over time. But, Tomlinson urges, “This isn’t the case!”
There’s no sure path to finding happiness, and certainly none based on some idea of “doing the ‘right thing,'” she explains.
“The normal state for humans is happy.”
“The most unhelpful myth out there is that the normal state for most humans is to be happy all the time,” says Karly Hoffman King, a mental health counselor in Cincinnati, Ohio.
In reality, much of life is pain, she says, and the less you are able to embrace this, the more likely you are to struggle. “Those who are able to accept their pain as a part of life are much better equipped to handle it and move through it,” she explains. King urges clients to recognize happiness as a respite from struggle, not a state of being.
“Happiness decreases with age.”
“Most people think that the older you get, the less happy you are,” says Diane Lang, a life coach and inspirational speaker at DL Counseling. “But the truth is, the older we get, the happier we are.”
In her experience, that’s largely because when we’re older, we no longer seek acceptance and approval from others. “Women discuss how they will take more risks and get out there more,” Lang says. “Men discuss how they calm down a little and are less stressed.”
“You’re either happy or you’re not.”
“There are no ‘happy people,'” says Paul DePompo, a clinical psychologist at the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Institute of Southern California.
Despite others’ best efforts to convince you of this fact through their Instagram selfies, the fact is, “We all have good and bad parts of our day,” he says. The more you focus on this fictional dichotomy between happiness and a lack thereof, the more unhappy you will become, DePompo urges.
“If you have X, Y, or Z, you’ll be happy.”
It’s tempting to imagine that there’s just one thing missing in your life that’s the key to your happiness. But that’s not the case, says Samantha Waldman, MHC-LP, a therapist based in New York City who specializes in life transitions.
“While having a satisfying relationship or career may contribute to a person’s overall sense of contentment, not any one external thing can serve as the key to unlocking happiness in a person’s life,” she says.
“Happiness is a choice.”
“I see all over social media this phrase, ‘Choose happiness,’ as if we could just flip a switch and be happy all the time,” says King. While there’s value in practicing gratitude and enjoying the little things, King says that mantra is “far too simplistic.”
Most of the time, “happiness finds you, not the other way around,” she says. It’s not a voluntary action; it’s more of a serendipitous occurrence.
Actually, that idea is in the origin of the word itself. “‘Hap,’ the root word of happiness, means ‘by luck or chance,'” King says.
“Happiness comes from external sources.”
“Most people think that happiness comes from somewhere outside of themselves,” says Jennifer Jakobsen, a life coach in Phoenix, Arizona. “This could not be more untrue.”
According to Jakobsen, much of our happiness comes not from our circumstances, but how we respond to them. “Happy people don’t have all the best things,” she explains. “They make the best of what they have.”
“A simple life won’t make you happy.”
“There’s some idea going around that having a balanced, functional, ‘normal’ life is somehow boring or less than,” says Laura Dabney, MD, founder of Dabney Coaching. But, “there’s nothing wrong with aiming for a balanced, satisfying life if that’s what’s important you.”
Instead of comparing yourself to social media stars, startup founders, or international CEOs, it’s important to remember that “you are on your own journey,” Dabney says. “Dismiss the voice that says, ‘You’re not successful, just because you’re not going viral.'”
“Your career is enough to make you happy.”
Our society has put so much stock in finding a career, but a job is only part of your identity, says Dabney.
“I talk to many young people who experience a rude awakening upon entering the workplace,” she explains. According to Dabney, they are surprised to learn how unfulfilled their job has left them feeling, because they were under the impression it would provide them with the satisfaction needed for happiness.
“There are so many other aspects to life that, when combined, make a whole person,” Dabney says.
“The bumps in life impede on happiness.”
According to inspirational speaker Jodie Ashbrook, happiness requires “the ability to fully embrace the beauty of our own unique journey, including all its unexpected twists and turns.”
That means not despairing at all of life’s curve balls, but actually embracing the uncertainty and “recogniz[ing] the growth we experience along the way.”
“Happiness comes in retirement.”
“People believe once they retire, they will be able to do all of the things they truly enjoy because they won’t have to work anymore,” says Jakobsen.
While this might true for a select group, “most people need a purpose in life to feel happy,” she warns. Instead of waiting for retirement to live your best life, she recommends doing so now.
“Money will make you happy.”
Money certainly does make life easier. But, at a certain point, it stops making it any better.
According to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2010, the positive correlation between income and “emotional well-being” ceases once you’re making more than $75,000 a year. Thus, researchers concluded that “high income buys life satisfaction, but not happiness.”
“You can be happy alone.”
Being happy with oneself is, of course, important. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be happy in literal seclusion.
Research performed at the University of Oxford in the 1990s found that extraverts are generally happier than their peers, due to their “greater participation in social activities.” Therefore, the researches concluded that “happiness correlates strongly with extraversion.”
“Happiness is about accepting your circumstances.”
While coming to terms with reality is certainly a part of happiness, it isn’t the whole story. In fact, happiness might come from bringing about a change in your circumstances, as well.
If you’re unhappy, “no matter what your situation, trying out a change in very small ways initially is usually a good idea,” writes clinical psychologist Nick Wignall.
“It’s your fault if you’re not happy.”
If you find yourself unable to achieve happiness, it’s not always because you’re doing something wrong. The fact is, mental illnesses affect many Americans’ ability to achieve a state of satisfaction in their lives.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, for example, about 18 percent of the population is affected by an anxiety disorder. Meanwhile, 6.7 percent is affected by Major Depressive Disorder. So don’t blame yourself, but do consider seeking help.
“Happiness is a solo project.”
Happiness is no different than raising a child: It takes a village.
Especially as we age, having the support of others is pivotal in terms of maintaining happiness. “The quality and quantity of social support can be taken into account as proper determinants and predictors of happiness among elders,” one recent study in Iran found.
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