Happiness is a serious moneymaker. People around the world spend hundreds of billions of dollars trying to avoid the tough stuff and feel good about themselves, whether that's through prescription pills, going crazy with dieting and fitness, or that time-tested elixir of life: alcohol.
As a psychotherapist who helps people bump their overall happiness level up a few notches, I've heard pretty much all of the myths out there about happiness. The worst part is that these myths actually make you unhappy (messed up, right?) -- so ditching them is, paradoxically, part of finding happiness.
When you achieve [whatever goal you're going after], you'll be happy
Land the promotion, the spouse, the Lambo, the goal weight, the condo, whatever it is -- you’ll finally experience eternal happiness. Hey, it’s not your fault for believing this, since you've likely been fed the American dream since the moment you escaped from the womb.
But this logic is flawed. Achievements don’t protect you from feeling like crap, and they definitely don’t make you superhuman. Multimillionaires still get depressed. People with "perfect" bodies still get dumped. Steady, passive income doesn’t protect you from losing someone to cancer. If you can start appreciating where you are, rather than basing your sense of fulfillment on some future accomplishment, you’ll be much closer to happiness.
When you find the right person, you'll be happy
If you think being in a relationship is necessary for happiness, you’re going to feel inadequate and probably anxious when you're single. There’s no doubt a strong relationship can make your life better in a lot of ways, but it’s certainly not a requirement. In fact, many people feel lonelier and more disconnected in a relationship than outside of one.
When you’re unhappy, it’s natural to blame your relationship status, but try not to -- instead of waiting for your "soulmate" to bump into you like your life is a John Cusack movie, see if there are other ways to meet your needs. You know, ways that are in your control.
The only thing that matters in a partner is that he or she makes you happy
More relationship fun! This one is just mythical, for three main reasons: first, because only in a world of constant butterflies and rainbows is a partner going to make you soooo happy all the time. In reality, sometimes they’re going to annoy the shit out of you. Sometimes you’re going to feel super turned off by them. Sometimes you’re going to feel underappreciated.
Second, love doesn't conquer all. Sorry to ruin that John Cusack movie for you (again). No matter how much you love someone, it usually doesn’t resolve a conflict over deciding to have kids, or living on different sides of the world with no plans to move, or not believing in monogamy. The list is limitless.
Finally, see above: you should find ways to be happy regardless of your relationship.
Being happy means you'll never feel like crap
It's no coincidence that a lot of these myths are cliches from fairytales, and nowhere is that more evident than humankind's steadfast belief in happy endings. No! Not that kind!
The "happily ever after" stuff just isn't real. To be human is to feel, and it's a guarantee that you'll feel disappointment, loss, anger, guilt, sadness, fear, conflict, embarrassment, frustration, and so on and so on. These feelings are universal; happiness is about being able to make space for ALL these shitty emotions, not just the positive ones. They’re not a sign of brokenness or pathology. They mean you’re not a robot or a psychopath. Nice work!
True happiness doesn't need any validation from external people or achievements
Just because achieving your goals won't bring you happiness doesn't mean that a total detachment from the world is a sign of true contentedness. Humans need connection, and it's not a sign of unhappiness if you happen to want a family or really take pleasure in getting a promotion at work. Don't confuse this with a romantic connection, though -- the essential thing here is that connection makes you more human, whether that's through platonic friendships, volunteering, stamp collector swap meets, a backgammon club, or whatever you enjoy.
Happiness is merely a state of mind
There are few things that get me more riled up than "inspirational" quotes like "Choose happiness" or "It’s all in your head." You know how that makes a person with depression or anxiety feel? REALLY FUCKING SHITTY.
Of course your outlook has a significant impact on mood, but so do hormones, neurotransmitters, sleep, exercise, diet, drugs, breakups, death, stress, transition, that John Cusack movie you can't stop talking about -- you get the idea.
You can’t just "choose" happiness. Rather than telling yourself it’s all in your head when you’re feeling anxious or low, practice self-compassion, hang around with people who won't judge you if you're not a ball of positivity, and consider all the other reasons besides "your attitude" that might be contributing to your mood.
Gratitude will make you happier
Have you ever felt really crappy, and some well-meaning person attempts to cheer you up by saying, "Be grateful for what you have!" Or, "Those are first-world problems!" Well, problems are still problems, and telling yourself you should feel differently is a recipe for adding shame on top of everything else. So now you’re not only feeling sad, anxious, or lonely -- you’re ashamed, too.
There’s no doubt that practicing gratitude can make you happier, especially when you’re doing it after waking up on the right side of the bed. But when you’re feeling low or anxious or heartbroken, there’s an art to it. Don't beat yourself up because there are millions of people around the world whose lives are worse than yours. Otherwise, it could make you feel even worse.
So, the next time you find yourself seeking happiness, double-check to make sure you’re not looking in all these wrong places.
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