The Pursuit of Happiness: 3 Myths Everyone Should Stop BelievingBy Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D.
Have you ever thought to yourself, "I'll finally be happy when I'm married." Or "If I land this job, I'll finally feel totally fulfilled." Or maybe you relate more to the opposite side of this coin: "I'll never be happy now that I have this medical diagnosis." Or "I can't be happy when I'm struggling to pay my bills." Psychological research has revealed two important findings when it comes to these beliefs: Things that we think will make us happy never make us happy for as long as we think they will. Conversely, negative life events and challenges don't have as enduring an impact on our happiness as we believe they will, either.
To get your brain off autopilot when it comes to your beliefs about what will—or won't—make you happy, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D. shares 3 valuable lessons from her book, The Myths of Happiness:
Happiness Myth #1: I won't be happy until I get a promotion or land my "dream" job.
Think back to the moment when you were hired at your current job—you probably felt a big boost of well-being, and you were excited by the opportunities and challenges of your new role. Unfortunately, the excitement we feel happens less and less as we turn our minds toward the countless daily hassles, uplifts, and distractions of life. We begin to feel our novel and stimulating work experiences have simply become our "new normal."
One way to prevent yourself from taking your current job for granted is to remind yourself on a regular basis what your former (less satisfying) work life was like. If you were paid less, set certain time periods (say, one week per month) to limit your spending to match your earlier consumption habits. Or if you used to have unfriendly colleagues, have lunch by yourself once in awhile. Such re-experiencing will encourage you to appreciate your current job and to obtain more pleasure from it simply by mentally transporting yourself to (less fortunate) times past. And remember, a "dream job" isn't necessarily the best reference point because we tend to create a fantasy job in our minds of something that doesn't really exist. For example, films tend to glamourize working at the CIA as one James Bond adventure after another, but real CIA workers often find themselves sitting in cubicles for much of the day.
Happiness Myth #2: I'm going to lead a sad, lonely life because I'm single.
Imagining a solitary life, sitting by the window with just the cat for company? Erase that picture from your mind! People who remain single all their lives draw value and purpose from other sources in their lives—from friends, siblings, extended family members, communities, jobs, or dedication to a great cause. In fact, research has found that relative to their married (or once-married) peers, single people tend to be closer with their siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews, and they continue to develop new friendships as they age as well as stay in better touch with friends. Research has found that older women who have always been single typically have up to a dozen important, meaningful friendships, which they've maintained for decades.
Happiness Myth #3: I can't be happy when…
...I'll never be thin.
...I'll never have kids.
...I'll never be a doctor or an astronaut.
We all have dreams that we've harbored since the early years of our lives, but we often have flawed assumptions about whether we can still be happy despite not achieving those dreams. Psychologists argue that to be truly unburdened by regrets involves freeing ourselves from our "lost possible selves"—the neurosurgeon self, the grandparent self, the small-business owner self. To do this, we need to reflect on our lost promises to gain a new perspective, which in turn, enables us to understand ourselves and our lives better, and to set new priorities and envision new futures for ourselves.
It can take time to shed a "lost possible self," but you might use journaling or a "Dear Diary" format to describe the facts about your experiences, as well as your thoughts or feelings about them. You could create lists of the pros and cons of what happened or what might have happened. Or you could even imagine—or draw—a life map of dates, locations, goals, and situations. When a particular goal becomes untenable, you might refer to that map and ask yourself, "How did I get here?" and most importantly—"Where am I heading?" That's the critical next step: To move on by committing ourselves to new pursuits, and the exciting possibilities that lie ahead of us.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside. She received her B.A. summa cum laude from Harvard University and her Ph.D. in social psychology from Stanford University. Lyubomirsky and her research on the science of happiness have been the recipients of many honors, including the Templeton Positive Psychology Prize and a Science of Generosity grant. She lives in Santa Monica, California, with her family. Her latest book, The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn't, What Shouldn't Make You Happy, but Does, is translated (or will be) in 18 countries.
You May Also Like:
7 Simple Ways to Increase Happiness in One Minute or Less
What is Happiness, Anyway?
INFOGRAPHIC: Why Happiness is Good for Your Health