🙃 5 Fibs we tell ourselves about being happy
Time to let go of these false notions and limiting beliefs.
We're a funny lot, us humans. We claim to prize happiness, only to frequently postpone, trivialise, and altogether misunderstand it. What's going on? Why do we deceive ourselves?
We all have a tendency toward self-deception when it comes to what we think will make us happy. Our most widely-held – but nonetheless faulty – beliefs are handed down to us from the systems that shape our society. We confuse happiness with a reward for productivity (thanks capitalism!), we put our own well-being last (thanks patriarchy!), and we engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms (Thanks *gestures wildly towards everything*).
Today’s Happiness Letter addresses the five lies we most commonly tell ourselves about happiness. And provides some guidance on how to climb out of these mindset traps.
1. 👎“Pursuing happiness results in happiness”
“The relentless pursuit of happiness is actually a fairly good way of producing its opposite,” warns psychologist Randy J Paterson in How To Be Miserable:
“If you believe that you can be unfailingly, unremittingly happy all of the time, reality will smack you in the face with the fact that you are simply not wired for good cheer. The disappointment will, instead, propel your mood in the opposite direction.”
Psychologist Susan David agrees: “People who have a goal to be happy become less and less happy over time because happiness is not borne out of chasing some ideal,” she says.
Oh dear! So, if we desire happiness but its pursuit makes us unhappy, what should we do?
David believes that the secret to happiness is living a life that aligns with one’s personal values: “Happiness is borne out of living life in ways that feel concordant with what you value.”
2. 👎“I’ll be happy when I… lose weight/get a promotion/move house…”
“I’ll be happy when…” or “I’d be happy if…” are examples of conditional happiness, the belief that one needs to satisfy a condition in order to be happy. But we often misjudge what will make us happy, or overestimate how much happier we’ll be once we achieve a goal. This concept is known as ‘Arrival Fallacy’.
“Arrival Fallacy is this illusion that once we make it, once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach lasting happiness,” says happiness expert Tal Ben-Shahar.
But in reality, Ben-Shahar says, we derive greater happiness from setting goals than from achieving goals. This is because setting goals provides us with purpose and meaning, which generate greater satisfaction. Ben-Shahar recommends choosing multiple concurrent goals so we don’t fixate on one thing. And he says one of our goals should be to spend time with loved ones:
“The No. 1 predictor of happiness,” he says, is the “quality time we spend with people we care about and who care about us. In other words, relationships.”
3. “Once I’m on top of things I’ll have time for what really matters”
“Merely to be alive on the planet today is to be haunted by the feeling of having ‘too much to do’,” writes Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals.
“There’s no reason to believe you’ll ever feel ‘on top of things’, or make time for everything that matters, simply by getting more done,” he continues. “If you succeed in fitting more in, you’ll find the goalposts start to shift: more things will begin to seem important, meaningful or obligatory.”
So, what’s the solution? If we’re never to catch up on everything, are we never to have time for what matters?
It turns out the solution is putting joy, rest, and fun at the top of our to-do list, rather than making them rewards for completing it. Because happiness doesn't have to be a prize for productivity. And rest doesn’t need to be earned. Who knew?!
4. “To be happy, I need less stress in my life”
We dream of a life with less stress. Less work stress. Less family stress. Less *gestures wildly towards everything* stress. But wellness researcher Emily Nagoski maintains that stress is not the problem; the strategies we use to deal with stress are the problem.
Rather than eliminating all stressors from our lives, which isn’t a realistic option, Nagoski says we need to develop healthier strategies for coping with stress. “Stress is not bad for you; being stuck [feeling stressed] is bad for you,” she writes in her book Burnout.
Nagoski recommends swapping unhealthy coping mechanisms for healthy ones. Unhealthy copy mechanisms – like drinking alcohol, zoning out on devices, etc. – only provide a temporary distraction from stress and ultimately make us feel worse, while healthy strategies genuinely relieve stress and make us feel better.
Nagoski recommends trying one of these proven stress relievers next time you’re feeling overwhelmed:
30 minutes of physical activity
Positive social interaction
A good ol’ cry
5. “To be happy, I need to avoid feeling sad”
I can see how someone might mistake me, the writer of the Happiness Letter, for an upholder of #GoodVibesOnly. But nothing could be further from the truth. I’m here for all the vibes; good, bad, and otherwise. Awkward vibes are actually my specialty, but I’m down for wallowing in a bad vibe when the occasion calls for it.
But still, I sometimes fall into the trap of hiding my negative emotions so others don’t feel uncomfortable. Science shows that suppressing negative emotions or isolating ourselves when we’re feeling down makes us feel worse, though. When we avoid talking to others about our everyday sorrows, we miss opportunities for authentic social connection – the very thing that’s been proven to brighten our mood.
So next time you’re feeling low, remember that bad vibes are welcome too. Acknowledge your feelings and have a good ol’ cry! 😭