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Happiness Myths Busted

It’s important to be able to separate the “truths” from the “myths” in regards to happiness.  We all want to be happy, right? Isnt that what we’re striving for on a daily basis? Doesn’t it seem like we keep needing more to fuel our desire to be happy? Maybe you think “If only had this or that or more of this and less of that…” I’d be happy?

Would you believe me if I said that much of the responsibility for our happiness falls on us?

I have outlined some common myths below that may be holding you back from experiencing happiness.  Starting now with the knowledge of realizing these eight myths may actually propel you towards increased happiness in your life.

Myth #1. Is happiness based on ones biology?

Studies show that genetics play a powerful role in our ability to be happy.  There is evidence indicating that genetics is responsible for 50% of your happiness baseline.  If you have a sibling that about the differences in your personalities that were apparent from an early age and have remained fairly constant regardless of your experience and environment.  One person may often view situations in a more optimistic and positive manner whereas the other may see things in a more bleak and negative light.  So you ask what is responsible for the other 50% of our happiness? Any goal in life takes effort and commitment, right? This concept applies to finding happiness both within ourselves and in our environment. Proven methods to improving our happiness are nurturing our current relationships, surrounding ourselves around positive and optimistic people, writing in a gratitude journal daily, engaging in acts of kindness (i.e volunteer) and having a weekly routine that includes one or more of these activities: meditation, yoga, pilates, mindfulness, visualization, exercise, martial arts (i.e. Qi Gong) and sports. Even if you start our making one small change you will see improvement in your overall happiness as long as you stick with it more than just a couple of weeks.

Myth 2. Is happiness a landing place?

Many of us think that happiness is a destination where if we get married, have more money, or move to a new and better location we’ll be happier. The truth is that these things absolutely contribute to our degree of happiness however they only make up about 10% of our happiness picture according to Dr. Lyubormirsk y. That leaves us with 40% of our happiness our responsibility. Lasting happiness has less to do with life’s circumstances and more to do with how we think and conduct ourselves in the world.  There are two ways to look at happiness. 1) feeling good – a sense of pleasure, gladness, or gratification. 2) a less common meaning of happiness is “living a rich, full and meaningful life”.  When we make choices that truly matter deep in our hearts, navigate ourselves in directions that we consider worthy and valuable, clarify what we stand for in life and act accordingly, this is when our lives become rich, full and meaningful.

Myth 3. What does adaptation have to do with happiness?

Humans are fairly adaptable to positive changes in their lives. Due to evolution humans have evolved to pay more attention to novelty.  If we rewind to 100,000 years ago and look at our ancestors novelty indicated either danger or opportunity – for a new partner or sustenance. With active negative ways of thinking you can thwart adaptation, slow it down or prevent it all together by thinking and/or behaving negatively. Our lives can become really monotonous if we don’t make an effort to look beyond the surface. For example, you drive to work taking the same route daily, park in the same parking lot daily and as a result you stop noticing the simple pleasures that are surrounding you.  They aren’t pleasures that will pop out at you unless your attuned to noticing the finer details in things. Instead of blindly going through your morning routine drive to work, think about how you can feed yourself with change and pleasant experiences, for example you can make a point of listening to different music each day, once parked and on your way to work you can make a conscious effort to appreciate something such as a flower that may be budding in the cracks of the pavement, you can also parking further away from the entrance to get some exercise before you start your day. When we are feeling happiest we’re more adaptable. Another way you can work with the idea of novelty is if your home has become a bit boring aesthetically, you might try rearranging furniture or hosting dinner parties for friends.

Myth 4:  Being rich will make you happier.

Believe it or not studies show that among individuals earning over $50,000 a year, one’s happiness level is no higher if he is earning $250,000 a year or $55,000 a year. The key is ensuring that one’s basic needs are met.  Our consumer culture certainly likes to give the illusion is that wealth and expensive toys and trips bring happiness.  “While it’s true that the jump from poverty to middle-class yields substantial happiness increase, every additional dollar from that point forward provides ever decreasing benefit, and other factors such as job satisfaction and relationships become more important than ever.”  Richard Easterlin.

So if you ’re over the poverty hump then focus on what matters like family, friends and hobbies, and get off the overtime gravy train.

Myth 5:  Either you have happiness or you don’t.

Scientific evidence suggests that genetics are responsible for about 50% of our happiness baseline. In other words, consider you have two children with opposite personalities, one is sour and the other is sunny.  Half of their disposition is predetermined but we are responsible for the other half.  That is good news because if you are committed to making positive changes it can make a substantial improvement in your mood.  Dr. Lyubomirsky says “you probably won’t go from a 1 to a 10, but you can become happier.” One needs to work on nurturing their relationships, exercising, being kind to others and consider writing in a gratitude journal.

Myth 6:  Happiness is just a mood.

Happiness is an overall state of being. There are two types of happiness. There’s the present emotion of happiness, ones mood. And there’s the way in which we view our lives overall. For example, just because you may be feeling sad, angry or unhappy right now doesn’t mean you are unhappy with your life in general. You can learn how to manage and regulate your moods more effectively but if you are dissatisfied with your life overall managing your mood will unfortunately not be enough.

Myth 7:  Negative emotions always overshadow positive emotions.

Initially negative emotions can outweigh positive emotions because we tend to go into problem solving mode when we realize something needs to be fixed.  However the good news is that positive emotions appear to remain constant over time.

The more you experience positive emotions the less likely negative emotions will have a significant negative impact on your overall life satisfaction.  This is not to say that positive emotions will protect you from feeling badly about things but over time they can protect you from the consequences of negative emotions, Cohn says.

It’s important to keep in mind if one is suffering from depression or another mental disorder this may not be entirely true.  But studies indicate that when positive emotions are coupled with psychotherapy there is benefit and improvement made.

Myth 8:  Happiness is all about self gratification.

Happiness is more than just having pleasurable experiences.  Studies have indicated when people volunteer their time or donate something whether it is money or clothes; they experience a “helpers high”.  Several chemicals in our brain are secreted when we engage in acts of kindness including serotonin, endorphins and oxytocin. These chemical changes leave us with euphoric and pleasurable feelings from the experience of giving. After experiencing the pleasure that the release of oxytocin brings, your brain will want to experience the biochemical change again.  Recently a study was released that indicated people who engage in volunteering experienced a decrease in physical aches and pains.

Keep in mind it takes only a minimal amount of altruistic behavior to experience the benefits.  Consider donating an hour or two of your time weekly to a cause you feel passionate about.  Walk a dog at an animal shelter, help coach a tee ball team, or clean up a beach, and see how great you feel. You might want to increase your commitment but it’s always wise to start small to optimize your likelihood of following through.

In 2006 a study showed that simply thinking about contributing to a charity of your choice triggers the mesolimbic pathway.  This is the brains’ reward center and is associated with feelings of joy. At the very least thinking about making a contribution or writing a check can increase ones feelings of joy; but actually engaging in face-face interactions appears to have a greater impact.  Post says, “I think that’s because they engage the [brain’s] agents of giving more fully through tone of voice, facial expression, and the whole body.”

Want to learn how to overcome these happiness myths? Here are some ways:

There isn’t a single way to im prove one’s happiness. We are complicated beings and what may make one person happy may not have the same effect on another, therefore it is important to know what will positively impact you.

When picking an activity be mindful of the significance the activity has to you. Whether you choose to engage in something that fosters a sense of gratitude, gives you the feeling of greater connectedness, allows you to forgive, or creates a sense of optimism, you’ll be most successful if your choices are personally relevant to you.

Assess your strengths; think about how you can feel most productive and effective.  Are you an athlete or play a specific sport?  Think about volunteering as a coach or mentoring a child in need. Do you enjoy knitting? Knit blankets that you can donate to a neonatal intensive care unit. Are you a retired teacher? Offer tutoring to a child or adult. Are you a good cook? Prepare meals for people who are unable to.

Make sure whatever activities in which you engage suit you well.  Check in with yourself so you don’t lose the desire to participate if you’ve chosen the wrong endeavor. Also think about balance. Volunteering is helpful in improving one’s degree of happiness, but neglecting your own personal needs because you’re caring for someone else can lead to resentment and imbalance.  Creating balance in your life should be at the forefront of your mind, and check in weekly to make sure you’re on track.

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