People assume that if you are happy, you must be smiling, laughing, or doing something upbeat like dancing in joy.
However, happiness is not always a smile, and a smile does not always belong to a happy person.
You can be happy without smiling or being loud and obvious.
You may express your happiness with a pleasant surprise or a contented sigh.
Happiness can be sitting on a hilltop bench, watching the sunset. It can mean being so deeply immersed in something that you lose track of time. It may even show up as tears.
Happiness is not one-dimensional. Quiet joy, serene contentment, and boisterous excitement, all contribute to our overall well-being.
10 Myths of Happiness Debunked
Do not wait for something important (such as a large sum of money, a new job, or a new partner) before allowing yourself to be happy.
Perhaps the biggest myth of happiness is this: “I will be happy when…”
Here are the ten most common myths of happiness:
Myth 1. Happiness is a constant state.
Truth: No Sirs and Ma’ams, happiness is not a constant state.
You may often fall for the idea that once you have achieved a particular thing, you will be happy forever.
The truth is that you may be giddy with joy when you find success or acquire something you have long desired. But after a while, you start to feel less cheerful, then almost normal, and finally nearly sad. This is known as the arrival fallacy.
Happiness is actually a fluctuating state that can change based on your mood, thoughts, and experiences.
Happiness is a fleeting experience for a reason: if our ancestors were always in a happy mood, they would have probably ignored the dangers of predators lurking nearby.
So, by evolution, all human emotions are natural. Our moments of joy, contentment, and satisfaction balance our moments of sadness, disappointment, and frustration.
- Don’t think that once the happiness butterfly settles on you, it will stay with you forever.
- You will never find happiness that stays at the same level forever. Life is designed that way.
Myth 2. Happiness depends on circumstances.
Truth: Happiness is not solely dependent on external circumstances.
Many people believe how much happy we depend on how good are our external factors such as wealth, fame, or success.
While external factors can bring temporary pleasure, true happiness comes from within.
In fact, according to The Happiness Formula, only 10% of your total happiness depends on your circumstances.
Your happiness depends more on things within you, like your mindset and your biases.
- You can cultivate a positive mindset through practices like mindfulness and self-care.
- You can learn to recognize your biases and avoid them to make better decisions.
Myth 3. Money can buy happiness.
Truth: Money can bring temporary pleasure and lift us out of poverty-induced misery, but it can’t buy long-term happiness.
- We are often led to believe that once we get rich, we will never have to worry about being sad again.
- We are taught that if we had enough money, all our issues would get fixed and we would be happy for the rest of our lives.
But research has shown that once our basic needs are met, additional wealth does not lead to any significant increase in overall happiness.
To know more about it, read this: Psychology of “Happy Money”: How Can Your Money Buy Happiness?
- A purchased item sits on your shelf, gathers dust, and loses your attention due to over-familiarity.
- Memories of a trip you took years ago grow fonder, and you feel good seeing those pictures again.
True happiness comes from the joyful challenges we face, the time we spend with our friends and family, and our ikigai (our reason for existence), not our material possessions.
Myth 4. Happiness is getting rid of negative emotions.
Truth: Happiness is not merely an absence of negative emotions.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as follows:
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.— WHO
You may not have any illnesses, but it does not automatically mean you are completely healthy. It’s the same with happiness and mental well-being.
“Why look sad? Why can’t you just smile? Try smiling and see how it makes you happy.”— Wrong Advice
People may believe that happiness is the absence of negative emotions such as sadness, anger, or anxiety.
But it’s not so. Our negative emotions have intrinsic value; we need them.
Though happiness is having fewer negative emotions and more positive ones, it’s not healthy to suppress your negative emotions.
Moreover, it is not possible to eliminate negative emotions entirely.
Myth 5. Happiness is only for special people.
Truth: Happiness is not just for special people.
No matter what anybody tells you, happiness is not just for like the lucky or the wealthy ones among us.
Happiness is a universal human experience that is available to everyone, not just special people.
More surprise: The common belief that poor people are unhappy by definition is wrong.
- In fact, this study found that people living in slums have greater levels of life satisfaction than we might expect, given their poverty and circumstances (Sulkers & Loos, 2022).
- Similarly, in a study among the poorest of the poor in South Africa, researchers found that landfill waste pickers scored higher on life satisfaction than the national average (Blaauw et al., 2020).
Some people may have a natural disposition towards happiness, but it is a state that can be cultivated and nurtured through various means.
Myth 6. Happiness is for those who know how to be “happy.”
Truth: Happiness is not just for those who are “happier” types and know how to be “happy.”
Even those who have difficulty expressing happiness, showing positive feelings exuberantly, or appearing plainly cheerful and hopeful can be joyful.
Happiness can be found through, among other things, gratitude, forgiveness, good memories, the “flow” of being immersed in an activity, and having a feeling of purpose in life.
Even people with depression, who have low hopes for the future and often overthink, can feel happier through interventions like The Three Good Things.
Some people are terrified of being happy; this is called cherophobia. Even these people can find help in shifting their perspective and letting themselves be happy.
Happiness-boosting activities can help almost anyone to be happy, even if they are not too good at expressing it or finding it in their daily lives.
Myth 7. Happiness is only for the present moment.
Truth: Happiness is not just for the present moment.
Some say, “If you’re not happy about this now, you can never be happy about it ever.”
And they are wrong.
Happiness is not only for the present moment, it also includes being satisfied with the past as well as being hopeful for the future.
A sense of well-being comes from feeling content with past experiences and having a sense of purpose for the future.
Myth 8. Happiness is only for the young.
Truth: Happiness is not just for the young among us.
Happiness can be experienced at any age and stage of life.
While age may bring different challenges and experiences, happiness is a state that can be cultivated and nurtured regardless of age.
In fact, studies have found that our happiness increases with age.
Research has shown that people’s overall life satisfaction tends to increase as they age, up to a certain point.
A study by the University of Warwick suggests that people in their mid-50s tend to be the happiest, with life satisfaction then declining in old age.
This is often referred to as the “U-shaped curve of happiness” as satisfaction tends to be lower in youth and old age and highest in middle age.
Myth 9. Happiness is only for the religious or spiritual.
Truth: Happiness is not only for the religious or spiritual.
Happiness can be found through various means such as mindfulness, self-care, and personal growth.
The practice of these can bring a sense of inner peace and well-being regardless of one’s religious or spiritual beliefs.
An atheist can be as happy as anyone who follows a religion or faith.
Myth 10. Happiness is the ultimate goal.
Truth: Happiness is not the ultimate goal.
Happiness is an important aspect of a fulfilling life, but it is not the ultimate goal.
Meaning, purpose, and connection with others are also important elements that contribute to a fulfilling life.
While happiness is desirable, it should not be the only focus and should be balanced with other aspects of well-being.
Eleventh Myth: Happiness Is Just One Type
Truth: Happiness is not a single thing or of a single type.
Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina begins with this line:
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
It gave the Anna Karenina principle, which holds that happy people share some common attributes that lead to happiness, while unhappy people are so because of a variety of attributes.
If you think about it, it implies that what makes us happy is more difficult to get than what makes us sad. Because we can fail in many ways but succeed in only one way to reach happiness.
Aristotle expressed a similar thought when he observed in The Nichomachean Ethics, “For men are but good in one way, but bad in many.”
Both Tolstoy and Aristotle are wrong, according to science.
Positive psychology teaches us that all of us are a mixture of strengths and weaknesses. No one has it all, and no one lacks it all.
Happiness is a complex emotion and can be influenced by various factors like our health, social support, and financial security, which may change as we age.
Happiness doesn’t have to be all smiles and laughter. Your happiness can be a sense of calm and contentment.
Happiness is also in bouncing back from adversities. In fact, most people are resilient and recover well after experiencing traumatic events (Bonanno, 2004).
• • •
• • •
Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher, who writes on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).
√ If you liked it, please spread the word.
Disclosure: This post may include affiliate links.