I’m leaving my desk for a few days, so in my absence, thought I’d re-post one of my favorite round-up pieces, about ten widespread myths about happiness.
A while back, each day for two weeks, I posted about Ten Happiness Myths. Here they are, for your reading convenience. (Click on each myth to read a longer explanation of it.)
Wrong. Actually, studies show that people find happy people much more likable than their less-happy peers. Happy people are viewed as friendlier, smarter, warmer, less selfish, more self-confident, and more socially skilled — even more physically attractive.
It’s true that there’s a powerful genetic link to happiness — usually it’s estimated to be about forty to fifty percent. Some people are born more Tigger-ish, and others are born more Eeyore-ish. And it’s also true that people are amazingly adaptive, both to good and bad fortune. Human resilience is extraordinary.
However, adaptation has its limits.
Wrong. Contrary to popular notion, aggressive “venting” doesn’t relieve bad feelings, but fuels them. Studies show that blowing up, punching a pillow, yelling, or slamming doors makes you feel worse, not better.
Although we think we act because of the way we feel, in fact, we often feel because of the way we act.
Maybe not. As Barry Schwartz explains in his fascinating book, The Paradox of Choice, there are two types of decision makers. Satisficers (yes, satisficers) make a decision once their criteria are met; when they find the hotel or the pasta sauce that has the qualities they want, they’re satisfied. Maximizers want to make the best possible decision; even if they see a bicycle that meets their requirements, they can’t make a decision until they’ve examined every option.
It depends on what you choose. Treating yourself to a long walk in the park, say, is a good idea – but the things we choose as “treats” frequently aren’t good for us. When you’re feeling blue or overwhelmed, it’s tempting to try to pick yourself up by indulging in a guilty pleasure, but unfortunately, the pleasure lasts a minute, and then feelings of guilt, loss of control, and other negative consequences just deepen the blues.
Well, money can’t buy happiness, but it sure can buy lots of things that contribute mightily to happiness.
As the current financial downturn is making vividly clear, money contributes to happiness mostly in the negative; the lack of it brings much more unhappiness than possessing it brings happiness. (Good health is the same way – it’s easy to take money or health for granted until you don’t have it anymore.) People’s biggest worries include financial anxiety, health concerns, job insecurity, and having to do tiring and boring chores. Spent right, money can go a long way to relieving these problems.
Half wrong. It is true that studies show that if you commit a random act of kindness, you’ll feel happier. What’s considered a “random act of kindness”? Giving a flower to a stranger, paying the toll for the car behind you, or putting coins in someone’s meter are typical examples.
Doing something thoughtful for someone else is a surefire way to make yourself happier. Do good, feel good.
We often imagine that we’ll be happy as soon as we get a job/make partner/get tenure/get married/get that promotion/have a baby/move. As a writer, I often find myself imagining some happy future: “Once I sell this proposal…” or “Once this book comes out…”
In his book Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar calls this the “arrival fallacy,” the belief that when you arrive at a certain destination, you’ll be happy. (Other fallacies include the “floating world fallacy,” the belief that immediate pleasure, cut off from future purpose, can bring happiness, and the “nihilism fallacy,” the belief that it’s not possible to become happier.) The arrival fallacy is a fallacy because arriving rarely makes you as happy as you expect.
Wrong. Although it can be tempting to take a “personal day” when you’re feeling blue, or to isolate yourself until you feel better, you’re better off doing just the opposite.
Note: I wish that in this post, I’d made it clearer that I wasn’t talking about restorative, peaceful solitude, which most people crave to a greater or lesser degree (I certainly need enormous quantities, myself) — but rather the drained, can’t-get-off-the-couch kind of isolation that sometimes sets in when you’re feeling too blue to connect with others. In that state, pushing yourself to see other people is likely to give a lift.
Myth No. 10 is the most pernicious myth about happiness. It comes in a few varieties. One holds that “In a world so full of suffering, you can be happy only if you’re callous and self-centered.” Another one is “Happy people become wrapped up in their own pleasure; they’re complacent and uninterested in the world.”
Wrong. Studies show that, quite to the contrary, happier people are more likely to help other people, they’re more interested in social problems, they do more volunteer work, and they contribute more to charity.
Agree? Disagree? Am I missing an important myth?
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