The 8 myths to happiness and what you can do to feel more content
Feeling too happy can make you unhappy
You may not feel so happy when I tell you what ‘happy‘ really means. The root word for happy is luck, fortune or to come about by chance.
I don’t know about you, but hearing that happiness means the pursuit of luck, fortune or chance makes my happy chemicals reconfigure themselves into confused chemicals.
If you and I pursue happiness, which is based on luck, fortune or chance, none of these things are in our control. Is the pursuit of happiness, like a dog who pursues her tail: always running, never arriving?
Happiness is on my brain because it’s January, or as I call it, Saduary. It’s so easy to be pulled into unhappiness because of cold weather, long dark days, summer being six months away, money issues, personal problems (bla, bla, bla). It makes sense to put on your happy pants and think happy thoughts. Right? Not so fast.
Before we invest a lot of time and energy in the pursuit of happiness, let’s think about what we are pursuing.
The Eight Myths of Happiness
1.You can choose to be happy.
Life can slam you unexpectedly, even if you have a goal of feeling happy. Happiness is an emotion and you cannot control it.
2.It depends on how much money you make.
It’s probably not money because most of us feel about the same level of happiness, despite how much money we have. More money, more money problems.
3.You are either happy or unhappy.
In fact, moods have a wide range from very unhappy to very happy. Moods come, they leave and they will come back again. As Warrior-Monk Alexander Yarde says,
“I prefer to see happiness as a season, like spring or summer. Sadness, Anger are like Fall or Winter approaching but all transitory & cyclical. So why try to hold on to happiness? My trick is to see the beauty and value in all emotions like I try to do with the seasons. I don’t fear my emotions all are valid & valuable.”
4.Happiness will cure your mental health.
An important one, but no. You can be depressed yet have moments where you feel happy. Depression may lift and then return. If you laugh, that does not mean your depression is gone.
Depression is an illness that impacts your thinking, your outlook, your temperament, and your energy. You cannot choose your way out of depression, but you can work on your recovery and work to improve your habits of thinking and healthy behaviors.
5.Happy people are more successful.
Slight unhappiness is actually the most productive state we can be in. It drives us to improve our state, improve ourselves and our thinking. Being on either extreme (too happy or too unhappy) will become a distraction.
Slightly happy people are more successful in life and in relationships. They are simply more accurate and more in touch with reality than their giddy-happy neighbors. Wall street is littered with stupid-ass decisions made by happy obsessed traders.
6.Most people are happy.
Actually most people are moderately happy. Think about how you feel most days, moderate happiness will probably describe your state. If you pursue the giddy-high of happiness, you are setting yourself up for unhappiness.
Being mildly happy has several advantages (see reference section for source):
i. You are more attuned to yourself and your partner or your family. Slight happiness makes you open to the information from your changing moods. Mild happiness means that you stand on your own, but you know you need other people too.
Extremely happy people project a weird sense of “I’m successful and you need me” (or “I’m a psychopath and you are on my radar”) that will ironically push people, and potential friends or partners, away.
ii. You are appropriately sensitive to negative emotions when bad things happen. You feel it, take action and then return to slightly happy.
People who smile and exude happiness even when life sucks are unsettling and fake. The most attractive people are those who can be real and vulnerable.
7.You can pursue happiness.
Happiness is a state and I visited there once, but they rejected my visa.
Pursuing happiness is like pursuing summer. You know it will eventually get here but no matter how hard you work, it is still winter. Go ahead, chase it and see how far you get.
8.Happy is about laughter.
Comedians must be the happiest people, right? The super-hilarious Wayne Brady says that even comedians are not always happy, in fact they can be downright sad:
Sorry to burst your happy bubble, but being a comedian is linked with mental illness and addiction. Comedy is a tool that will make you and I feel momentarily happy, and that is always a good thing. Use it, but be mindful of what you are avoiding.
Before you click away because I am just too depressing with all of this serious talk about happiness, there are things that you and I can do to mildly happier.
We can’t control our feelings, but we can choose our focus.
a. Avoid people who put pressure on you to be more happy. They will make you less happy because they are comparing, controlling and not very nice. Ditch ‘em.
For more on the cult of happiness, read Men and the Resting Asshole Face.
b. New experiences and surprise – your last two weeks of experience is the seed bed of your current happiness. Get off your ass and start planting.
c. Our outlook – this is not a new one and can be overused. Positive thinking won’t make us feel happy. Realistic thinking will. Being overly happy is the state of what I call “Unrealistic positivity.” Positive thinking may feel good, but only realistic thinking will give you an honest assessment and actions that produce lasting results.
d. Learning – learning new things creates new brain connections and that can lead to greater satisfaction.
e. Ease up, relax, practice acceptance. Just makes sense, it’s tough to do in reality. I accept that acceptance is very difficult.
f. Remember what you are grateful for. Grateful people keep the good memories closer at hand.
g. Contentment is a better goal than happiness. You and I can choose to be more content, because contentment is a state of mind that we can bring to our lives as opposed to being dependent on an emotion.
Contentment is more about what is happening inside of us whereas happiness is about what is happening on the outside. Contentment is an antidote to comparison. Comparison and envy the fast lane to unhappiness and will erode your mental health.
Compare yourself to people who have more of what you want or with the “glory days” of your own life, and your current situation will dim and feel inadequate. Stephen Braun
h. Volunteer, because let’s be honest: you and I spend too much time thinking about ourselves.
i. Create something because creativity is more about a process rather than producing something. Creativity is never finished, whereas a project has an end date and will be evaluated. Think of yourself more as a creative process rather than a project and you will feel more happy in about two weeks (see #a).
j. Strive to be 1% more content, satisfied, happy. James Altucher talks about this concept in business and self improvement. You and I can rip it off and and use it as a guide: Rather than trying to be happy all of the time, strive for a 1% improvement. Shooting to be super successful or super happy is impossible. Instead, each day strive to be slightly more happy, slightly more satisfied or slightly more content than yesterday. You will be surprised, and your life will change.
k. Read more about the topic of happiness, but don’t worship it. If you are interested in a short and sensible book about mood, happiness and how the brain truly works, I highly recommend the book “The Science of Happiness” by S. Braun (2000). New York, Wiley. See chapter #2. And you can read my most excellent article, A Serious Guide to Humor at Work.
Happiness to me is: 1. Have enough 2. Know it is enough 3. Don’t get overwhelmed. Rosemary Forrest
How do you define happiness? I would love to hear from you in the comments.
Keep it Real
This post is republished on Medium.
Photo credit: iStock