Many of us buy into what they call “myths of happiness”. Two of the biggest happiness myths are – wealth, fame and achievements can make us forever happy, and adversities could hinder us from experiencing bliss. But a growing body of research suggests otherwise. Today, many scientists agree that running away from difficulties may actually prevent us from being happy. They also give credence to the cliché “money can’t buy happiness”.
It’s true – there’s no magic formula for happiness. The ‘summum bonum’ results from a variety of factors, including traits, perceptions, beliefs and habits that we incorporate in our daily life. Below are some of the most common happiness mistakes that many of us are guilty of. Correcting these mistakes is essential to achieve genuine happiness and satisfaction in life.
You believe that being married will make you happy. Research on happiness has shown that married people are happier than unmarried ones. That’s true. But that doesn’t mean having no partner can make our life miserable forever. Multiple studies suggest that singles enjoy great happiness in other relationships and pursuits. Maybe you don’t want to grow old “alone” but being single should not hinder you from being happy. Whilst you are still looking for Mr/Ms Right, take the opportunity to discover yourself further, try new things, find your passion, connect with friends, reach out to others, and make your life as colourful as it can be.
You’re not being mindful. Giving time to practise mindfulness can significantly increase your happiness and sense of well-being. Among the many benefits of meditation include promoting relaxation, reducing stress, anxiety and other negative emotions, and fostering gratitude – all are essential to being happy and staying happy.
You’re trying to be a superwoman/man. Many people think that doing it all – working, taking care of kids, doing the errands, socialising, and engaging in various activities all at the same time will make their lives more complete and meaningful. But the opposite happens. Trying to ‘have it all’ quickly undermines happiness. In 2011, researchers at the University of Washington found that working mums who try to be “super mums” are at a greater risk of depression than their more realistic maternal colleagues who accept that they ‘can’t do it all’. You may feel sad about the fact that you can’t have everything in the world. But then, you should be glad and happy to know that you can have the things that are most important to you.
You think landing on your dream job is real happiness. There’s this very dangerous myth that says although you are not happy now, you can be, once you have achieved your dream job or career. But the problem arises once you experience problems and realise that it isn’t the perfect job or career for you. The reason for this is the so-called “hedonic adaptation”. This theory suggests that we easily get used to life changes. You may feel elated for several weeks or months but that doesn’t guarantee you will be happy for the rest of your days. Happiness is not about the future. It’s in the now! Just as the old saying goes “happiness is not a destination, it is a journey”.
You’re keeping all the ‘pain’ inside. Being optimistic is indeed essential to happiness. But you should understand that pitfalls in life are inevitable. As they say – sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Keeping all the negative emotions is not going to help. Rather, it simply makes you more stressed and likely to be depressed. In times like this, the best thing to do is to seek social support or talk to a therapist.
You think happiness comes with fortune and success. Nearly all people believe that having a beautiful house, a new car, a profitable business, and everything the world has to offer will make them happier. But again, we go back to hedonic adaptation. Once we have achieved everything in our “wish list”, life can become somehow boring and ‘empty’. Many successful and prosperous individuals don’t understand this natural process so they come to the conclusion that they need more money and achievements to retain happiness. But the real measure of happiness is not how successful we are, but what we do with our success; not how high our income is, but how we allocate it.
You’re online 24/7. Vast studies have shown that social connection has a critical role in achieving happiness. But socialising through Facebook, Instagram and other social media websites may be hindering you from being happier. A study by the University of Michigan suggests that high engagement on social networks could lead to a decline in well-being and positive state of mind. The researchers also found that the more time people spent on Facebook, the worse they feel about themselves. Those who spent more time browsing their news feeds had lower levels of life satisfaction at the end of the study.
You think the best times of your life are over. They say happiness is a choice. No matter what age you are, you can be happy if you choose to. A lot of people believe that happiness declines with age. But scientific research says otherwise. Just recently, a survey of 340,000 people by the State University of New York in US showed that after the age of 50, people start to become progressively happier. What’s more surprising, happiness peaks at the age of 85! Last year, researchers at the University of Warwick showed similar results. This only shows that although our physical quality declines as we age, our mental quality gets better and better.
You’re always a ‘couch potato’. With everything we need just within our reach, many of us no longer have enough time for physical activities. But an overwhelming body of research tells us that exercising improves not just our physical health but also our mental well-being. You don’t have to be an athlete to reap the benefits of exercise. Something as simple as walking is a great solution to ward off anxiety, lower stress, increase creativity, and reduce symptoms of depression.
You’re resisting change. Many people avoid change simply because they are already comfortable with their life as it is today. But holding back can undermine your happiness. A study on psychology of choices which was published in the journal Science suggests that our brain naturally tries to avoid loss. But such resistance can cause a lot of stress. Allow change to come to your life. It may open more opportunities to make your life better and happier.
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