Two myths about happiness - Happy + Well : Happy + Well

Two myths about happiness

Written by on February 12, 2015 in Happiness with 2 Comments

images-1Everyone wants to be happy. Including those people who say they’d rather be rich instead, or beautiful, or famous or thin, which when you think about it means exactly the same thing. Even the His Holiness the Dalai Lama says the purpose of our life is to seek happiness. Yet when it comes to defining this oh so desirable state of being, there’s a lot of confusion in the general community, the upshot being that our attempts at achieving happiness are often tragically misguided.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Thanks to the efforts of many great minds including scientists, religious figures, psychologists and others, information abounds that’s easily accessible about both the nature of authentic wellbeing and what you can do to achieve it. One such expert with much to say on the topic is Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, a leading social psychologist and researcher into happiness, and author of two best-selling books, The How of Happiness and The Myths of Happiness. Lyubomirsky, who will be presenting at Happiness & Its Causes 2016, is being interviewed here.

Having defined happiness, a mental state that has two components, the first being the experience of positive emotions, the second being a combination of satisfaction with your day-to-day life and a strong sense that you’re moving in the right direction, Lyubomirsky describes two of the most common myths about happiness.

“The first one is the idea that ‘I’m not happy now but I’ll be happy when X, Y and Z happens to me’”, she says. Certainly there might be some truth in this. Getting married, having a baby, living near the ocean, these things can and do bring us considerable joy. But Lyubomirsky’s point is that due to a phenomenon known as hedonic adaption, the propensity humans have to “get remarkably used to the positive [and indeed negative] changes in their life,” this joy is relatively short lived in that after a while, having a husband, child and water views don’t produce quite the same rush they initially did.

The second myth, says Lyubomirsky, is a belief that “if certain bad things happen to me, I’ll be forever unhappy.” Clearly this is setting ourselves up for everlasting unhappiness because bad things inevitably happen to all of us. We get sick, our spouse leaves us, someone we love dies, our house burns down in a bush fire. Happy people on the other hand are notably resilient, able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult circumstances because they tend to regard life’s slings and arrows in a more philosophical light. Lyubomirsky says, “One of the biggest themes of my books is how we reframe, how we construe, how we perceive ourselves in the world and others around us, perhaps matters more than what actually happens to us.”

One of Lyubomirsky’s favourite quotes is this one by the philosopher William James: My experience is what I agree to attend to. Lyubomirsky concurs. “Learning to direct your attention towards the things that really matter, that are more positive, the things you’re grateful for, is one of the main strategies that resilient people use. It doesn’t mean we have to deny the bad stuff, but really it’s in our control, in our power to choose what to think about, what to direct our attention to, how to perceive the world around us.”


Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky is a leading psychologist and researcher into happiness, and author of The Myths of Happiness and The How of Happiness. She will be presenting a session and a post-conference workshop at Happiness & Its Causes 2016. To register, click here.

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  1. Cant agree more, the deeper lavel of hapiness depends only on the personal approach:

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