The Myths of Happiness
Wow! Oh, wow! I was impressed with psychologist and associate editor of the Journal of Positive Psychology, Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book, The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does. I felt stunned by the depth to which Lyubomirsky uses research findings to challenge our biases, fallacies, assumptions, and misconceptions.
The Myths of Happiness Overview
In a culture that tends to be addicted to the idea of continual happiness and avoidance of uncomfortable feelings, Lyubomirsky gives us a healthy dose of wake up to the facts! She gives structure to myriad happiness myths by focusing on several significant adult events she refers to as crisis points.
Success and Struggle
We humans tend to believe that our accomplishments and successes will create happily-ever after happiness, while believing hardships, failures, and disappointments will create forever misery. But overcoming struggles prepares us for inevitable big and small future challenges.
Uncomfortable emotions such as grief, sadness and the events that often caused them are interwoven with our joys and pleasures. There’s an old expression, “What I thought was the worst thing that happened to me turned out to be the best.” I recall feeling devastated when I was laid off from my family counselling position only to find a significantly more rewarding position as a facilitator of a women’s career readiness program.
Our happiness myths can sway critical decisions about our next steps, often with significantly disappointing results.
Life is Complicated
Life includes moments of joy, success, failure, loss, pain, and often confusion. Yet science, self-awareness, and contemplation can help us make sense of our lives.
Predicting Our Happiness is Difficult
We tend to poorly predict which decisions will generate happiness and satisfaction. For example, before having a baby it is difficult to imagine the sleepless nights and the smell of diapers. Our experience of distress is difficult to foresee.
Also, something called psychological immune system often kicks in when we experience setbacks. We often unconsciously and habitually demonstrate resilience and minimize troubles, even turning them into meaningful learning.
Hedonic adaptation means we tend to adjust to the good stuff–a new job, a promotion, a new love, or home. Since we are wired for novelty, after a certain period, excitement, and pleasure wear thin. Therefore, Positive Psychology research suggests that we should savour our positive experiences while seeking to understand our distressing experiences.
Avoid Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink
It is better to give significant life decisions reasoned, sound consideration rather than only operate from instinctual gut feelings. Lyubomirsky wrote, “My approach is, ‘Think, don’t blink.’” That is just what The Myths of Happiness invites us to do; to consider what research has discovered on our behalf.
We are invited to challenge our happiness myths, confront our inaccurate beliefs, and prepare our minds for a clearer view of reality. A first step is to ponder the myths described in the chapter titles and the corresponding quotations.
Sonja Lyubomirsky Quotes
Ch 1: I’ll Be Happy When . . . I’m Married to The Right Person
- “Novelty in relationships is like a drug . . . the beginnings of relationships hold a million surprises.”
- “The decline of passionate love — like growing up or growing old — is simply part of being human.”
- “The importance of touch is undeniable, yet it is remarkably undervalued.”
- “Flourishing relationships have been revealed to be those in which the couple responds actively and constructively — that is, with interest and delight — to each other’s windfalls and successes.”
- “In sum appreciating, validating, and capitalizing on our partner’s good news is an effective strategy to bolster our relationship and thereby to intensify the pleasure and satisfaction we obtain from it — in short to preclude hedonic adaptation.”
Ch 2: I Can’t Be Happy When . . . My Relationship Has Fallen Apart
- “True forgiveness has been found to reduce grievances, minimize intrusive negative, angry, or depressive thoughts, bolster optimistic thinking, foster contentment with life, promote commitment and satisfaction in a marriage, improve physical health, and even boost productivity at work.”
- “But if all the signs indicate that your partner feels no remorse and will misbehave again, then forgiving will not be the divine thing to do.”
- “After divorce, you will cope and grow.”
- “Children do better when able (via divorce) to escape their parents’ fighting, screaming, and the pressure to take sides.”
- “Before making any pivotal decision, you need to consider how much of your marital unhappiness is due to you, how much of it is due to your spouse, how much of it is due to dynamics within your marriage, and how much of it is due to circumstances beyond your control.”
Ch 3: I’ll Be Happy When… I Have Kids
- “Having children is costly, exhausting, stressful, and emotionally draining.”
- “Marital satisfaction soars after the last child leaves the home.”
- “Daily hassles will make you unhappier than major traumas.”
- “Putting our emotional upheavals into words helps us make sense of them, accommodate to them and begin to move past them.”
Ch 4: I Can’t be Happy When . . . I Don’t Have a Partner
- “Married women spend less time alone than their unmarried peers and more time having sex, but they also spend less time with friends, less time reading or watching TV, and more time doing chores, preparing food, and tending to children.”
- “Newlyweds derive a happiness boost from getting married that lasts an average of about two years.”
- “The happiness myth that you can only be happy with a partner is as powerful as it is wrong.”
Ch 5: I’ll Be Happy When . . . I Find the Right Job
- “Two thirds of the benefits of a raise in income are erased after just one year.”
- “As we obtain less and less pleasure from our new position, another critical thing occurs — our expectations rise.”
- “Make occasional visits to your friends’, acquaintances’, or former colleagues’ places of business and unobtrusively compare them to yours.”
- “Keep a gratitude journal — a list in your head, on paper, or in your smartphone — that regularly helps you contemplate the positive aspects of your job.”
- “When it comes to our performance and specific accomplishments at work, we should always aim high.”
- “When we ask ourselves the question, ‘How good, successful, smart, affable, prosperous, ethical am I?’ those of us who typically rely on our own internal objective standards are happiest.”
- “Understand that everyone becomes habituated to the novelty, excitement, and challenges of a new job or venture.”
Ch 6: I Can’t Be Happy When . . . I’m Broke
- “Income and happiness are indeed significantly correlated, although the relationship isn’t super strong.”
- “The link between money and happiness is a great deal stronger for poor people than richer ones. That is, when our basic needs for adequate food, safety, health care, and shelter aren’t met, an increase in income makes a much larger difference for us than when we are relatively comfortable. Another way to put it is that money makes us happier if it keeps us from being poor.”
- “Growing evidence reveals that it is experiences–not things–that make us happy.”
- “Spend your money on many small pleasures rather than a few big ones.”
- “Instead of brooding about our misfortune, we can focus on the ways that we could be happy with less and spend money right.”
- “Homeowners are less happy than renters.”
Ch 7: I’ll Be Happy When . . . I’m Rich
- “Human beings are programmed to desire, not appreciate, and to strive for more, not be content with what they have.”
- “The more money we have, the more we get used to it, and the more we want.”
- “Spend money on others, not yourself.”
- “Spend money to give you time.”
- “The key to buying happiness is not in how successful we are, but what we do with it; It’s not how high our income is, but how we allocate it.”
Ch 8: I Can’t Be Happy When . . . the Test Results Were Positive
- “The scientific evidence delivers three kernels of wisdom– first, that short bursts of gladness, tranquility, or delight are not trivial at all; second, that it is” frequency, not intensity, that counts; and 3rd, most of us seem not to know this.”
- “Take at least one step each week in the direction that helps you attain purpose in your life and secures your legacy.”
Ch 9: I Can’t Be Happy When . . . I Know I’ll Never Play Shortstop for the Yankees
- “Coming to terms with our regrets can also bolster our sense of humor, strengthen our compassion toward those who have suffered, and imbue us with profound gratitude.”
- “Stop comparing.”
- “We shouldn’t expect perfection – not expect always to be right and not dwell on self-blame when a choice is not ideal.
- “Aim for options that are good enough rather than perfect.”
Ch 10: I Can’t Be Happy When . . . the Best Years of My Life Are Over
- “Older people are actually happier and more satisfied with their lives than younger people.”
- “Knowing that our time on earth is limited, combined with the increased maturity and social skills that come with every decade, motivates us to maximize our well-being and to control our emotions more successfully.”
After many more references to research, Lyubomirsky concludes:
“Exploding the myths of happiness means that there’s no magic formula for happiness and no sure course toward misery — that nothing in life is as joy producing or as misery inducing as we think it is.”
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Patricia Morgan MA CCC helps her readers, clients, and audiences lighten their load, brighten their outlook, and strengthen their resilience. To go from woe to WOW call 403.242.7796 or email a request.
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