5 Misconceptions About Happiness that Stress You Out
I was checking out at the grocery store yesterday and the cashier and the bagger (both maybe 18 year old boys) were having a disagreement about whether rich people or poor people are happier. The cashier thought that poor people are happier because #momoneymoproblems while the bagger thought rich people were happier because they could basically do anything they wanted and not have to work. Their conversation got me thinking about some of the misconceptions about happiness that we have and whether or not these beliefs themselves are actually causing unnecessary stress in our lives. What sorts of beliefs or standards are people trying to live up to in the pursuit of happiness?
Misconception about Happiness #1: Happiness comes when you have everything you want
Have you ever said “I’ll be happy when [fill in the blank]…”? Many of us think that we’ll be happy when we get to the place in our lives where we want to be. For some of us that’s landing their dream job, buying a house, getting married, selling their business or all of the above combined. We think that when we finally get the things that we’ve been striving for and working hard for all these years that happiness will follow. I mean, it does make sense, right? When we get something you want, like, say, a big raise or promotion, you feel happy. You get that car you’ve always wanted, you feel happy. So it would make sense that when you get everything you’ve been wanting in life that you would be happy.
But, often people who have everything they want in life still say they feel unhappy. Why is that?
Because this kind of happiness is fleeting. It comes from external sources and isn’t sustainable. If your happiness depends on external factors then its actually out of your control and you’re destined for disappointment. There’s even a term for this that psychologists call the hedonic treadmill (yikes!). Basically we’re running on these treadmills, pushing our asses to get further ahead but we just keep ending up in the same spot. The theory is that our happiness levels may increase short term but they will fall back to where they were before, if we rely on external factors to bring us happiness.
So what can you do instead? Focus on your inner being. True happiness comes from reaching a place within you where you accept the way things are, where you rely on yourself for feelings of happiness. Focus on finding inner peace, a state where your happiness isn’t affected by external forces by practicing mindfulness, optimism, gratitude and love every day.
Misconception about Happiness #2: Happiness comes from being rich
Similar to the first misconception but with a focus on just money. We’ve all heard the saying money doesn’t buy happiness and most of us believe it because we’ve all heard the stories about rich people being unhappy. Yet many of us still think, if I won the lottery tomorrow or if I just had a million dollars, all my worries would be gone and I could finally be happy. Most of us just don’t think the saying applies to us. Because hell, if we had all that money we’d certainly know what to do with it to make us happy. I know I’ve had these thoughts before! Life would be so much easier with a whole lot of money, right?
But truth be told, happiness doesn’t come from being rich (or even from being poor, like that cashier at the grocery store argued). In fact, I’m making the least amount of money right now then I ever have and I’m actually happier than ever. Crazy, right? I’ve come to realize that happiness comes from within, it’s a choice we can make every day. While there are definitely things we can do to increase our happiness, like working towards goals, spending time doing things we love, being around friends and family, at the end of the day it comes down to a choice we make internally.
Related Post: What’s Blocking Your Happiness: Self-Awareness
Misconception about Happiness #3: Happy people are never negative or upset
This is something I’ve actually struggled with on my journey because I would find myself getting upset about something or saying something negative and then feeling all ashamed because that must mean I’m not actually happy. Happy people are happy all the time, right? Wrong! Happy people experience the same emotions everyone else experiences: sadness, grief, anger, worry, etc…, but what’s different about happy people is the way they respond and react to those emotions. Happy people can experience these feelings, accept them and then move on. They can experience anger or frustration just like anyone else, but instead of lingering on these feelings and having them snowball into worse feelings of despair and hopelessness, they give themselves permission to feel those feelings and focus on the fact that things will get better.
So now, whenever I find myself getting upset or sad over something, I take a second to allow myself to feel those real emotions but then I take a deep breath and look at the bigger picture. What helps me keep things in perspective is thinking about my life 5, 10 years from now. Will this incident that’s making me upset matter then? Chances are, no, and I can move on quickly.
Misconception about Happiness #4: Happiness is fleeting and doesn’t last long-term
Many of us view happiness as a momentary, fleeting feeling because this is what we’ve experienced throughout life. We’ve aced an exam, we won a championship, we got a raise, we feel happy but then the happiness fades and we go back to life as usual. This goes back to the hedonic treadmill theory I mentioned earlier. Because these fleeting moments of happiness are all most of us ever know, it’s all most of us strive for. Many people don’t think there’s more happiness that can be achieved so they simply stop trying, they’re just content being happy for those fleeting moments.
There’s nothing wrong with living life that way, but there is more happiness available to us. I think people too often devalue happiness because they can’t quite define it. What gives them happiness seems to always be changing and it never lasts. But if we start to define happiness as something that we create and that we choose then it drastically changes our perception of it and we see that it can actually last exponentially, if we so choose.
Related Post: What’s Blocking Your Happiness: Self-Confidence
Misconception about Happiness #5: Happiness is something to be found
Ah, the pursuit of happiness. Out of all the misconceptions about happiness, I think this is the one that creates the most stress. We have been conditioned to believe that we need to find happiness. That it’s some elusive magical creature that exists somewhere out there in the vast universe, that only a few people have found. This belief makes happiness seem like something that’s really hard to get your hands on, when really it already exists within you. I won’t harp on this one too long because I’ve already said it a few times…but happiness isn’t something to be found, it’s something we actually create. That’s not to say it’s easy – creating things is difficult. It takes practice and patience and it should be seen more as a journey, not a destination.
You can learn to see and feel happiness in every day life. You can create it, you can wake up and choose to be it, you can practice it, you can gravitate towards the things that make you feel it and away from those things that don’t. You can practice gratitude, self-compassion, love, joy, optimism, and kindness in your every day life. These little choices and practices will add up and have a cumulative effect on your life, until one day you’ll wake up and realize how happy you are. 😉
What are some of the misconceptions about happiness that you have believed in your life?