Five half-truths about happiness - Happy + Well : Happy + Well

Five half-truths about happiness

Written by on November 27, 2014 in Happiness with 1 Comment

UnknownIs the glass half full or half empty? It depends, doesn’t it? On who’s being asked, and whether or not they’re in a good mood at the time. According to best-selling author of The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin, who’s presenting here and is a featured keynote at Happiness & Its Causes 2015, both answers are correct, or rather “half-truths”, as indeed are these five other statements often made about happiness:

  1. Hell is other people. This is actually a quote by French philosopher and author, Jean Paul Sartre, who definitely has a point. Hell is other people when you argue with them, when you don’t like their politics, and when they cough on public transport without covering their mouth. But as Rubin says, “heaven is other people too. Ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree that a key, maybe the key to happiness is strong relationships with other people. To be happy, we need to have long term intimate relationships; we need to feel connected, to belong; we need to be able to get support and we need to be able to give support.”
  1. Happiness is all in your head. Certainly how you think about your life circumstances largely determines the quality of your lived experience. But, says Rubin, “your body also matters tremendously to happiness.” In particular, how much physical energy you have. This is where getting enough sleep is vital. Rubin notes “many adults are chronically sleep deprived which [adversely) affects mood, memory, focus, immune function.” Staying active, even if it’s just walking 15 minutes a day, also promotes physical wellbeing. And if you need a quick pick-me-up, Rubin suggests you “just jump up and down a few times. It’s light-hearted, energetic and childlike. And you will get that fix of good cheer and energy right away.”
  1. A messy kitchen is too insignificant to matter to my happiness. Maybe so, says Rubin, but “I find myself – and many people say they feel the same – that outer order contributes to inner calm more than it should. There’s something about getting control over the stuff of life that makes you feel more in control of your life generally and if that’s an illusion, it’s a helpful one.” To this end, Rubin follows what she calls “the one minute rule” whereby if there’s something she can do to create order in her external world that will only take one minute to do, she’ll do it. This might be hanging up a piece of clothing, dealing immediately with mail, or making the bed, the latter being especially popular with people because “it’s manageable, realistic, a room looks so much better with a bed that’s made. Plus you can find your shoes,” says Rubin.
  1. Happiness should make me feel happy. Not necessarily, says Rubin. On the contrary, happiness, a state that researchers say we often experience when we successfully challenge ourselves, or get out of our comfort zone, may also paradoxically produce feelings of “fear, anxiety and confusion.” It’s nerve wracking jumping out of an airplane the first time, or travelling on your own if you’ve never done it before, and it’s frustrating trying to learn something new like playing an instrument or speaking another language. But as Rubin says, that sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when you do, are well worth any earlier feelings of resistance and discomfort.
  1. One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make others happy. This is undeniably true. All the great beings say it plus we know from personal experience that we often feel happiest when we’re being kind and helping others. But it’s not the whole story. “One of the best ways to make others happy is to be happy yourself,” says Rubin. And no, wanting your own happiness doesn’t mean you’re selfish, or indifferent to the suffering of others. The irony is, says Rubin, “happy people are more interested in the problems around them and more interested in the pain of the world. Happiness does not make people want to drink daiquiris on the beach. It makes them want to volunteer for organisations that distribute malaria nets.”


Gretchen Rubin will be speaking at Happiness & Its Causes 2015. For more information and to register, please click here


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  1. Jane says:

    Hi Kathy
    I always really enjoy and value your incisive and insightful blogs. They are a great way of getting a quick overview of what are sometimes complex subjects. I appreciate the effort you put in to make these valuable subjects so available. Best wishes, Jane

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