Myths of happiness

12.11.2015 |

Episode #3 of the course “The science of happiness” by Manuel Kraus


Nearly all of us buy into what Sonya Lyubomirsky – one of the leading happiness researchers – calls the myths of happiness. Those myths are beliefs that certain achievements in our lives will make us forever happy and that certain failures will make us forever unhappy. People believe they will be happy once they’re married or have a certain job or income. At the same time, many people tend to believe that having health problems or having only little money will leave them forever unhappy.

The beliefs are called myths because research has convincingly shown that they are wrong. There is no ultimate life event that changes people’s feelings forever. The myth is not that achieving those dreams won’t make us happy. They almost certainly will. The myth in this belief is that we tend to think the happiness we get will last forever. The problem, though, is that the happiness we get is not as intense and by far not as long-lasting as we believe it will be.

So here are the two kinds of happiness myths: The first myth of happiness is our mistaken belief that we need certain events or situations in our lives to finally become happy. It is the notion that I’ll be happy when ____ (fill in the blank). I’ll be happy when I get that promotion, when I have a baby, when I’m rich, and so on.

Similarly wrong is the other kind of happiness myth. This myth is the belief that I can’t be happy when ____ (again, fill in the blank). For example, I can’t be happy as long as I don’t have a partner. I can’t be happy when I’m broke. Or I can’t be happy as long as I’m so much overweight.

When something negative happens in people’s lives, they often overreact. They feel that they can never be happy again, and that their life as they know it is now over. That’s the second type of happiness myths and it’s equally wrong. People adapt to almost all circumstances over time. Lottery winners for example are just as happy as people who never won the lottery. Even many people with paraplegia return – after some time – to the level of happiness they had before they became disabled.


Recommended book

“The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does” by Sonja Lyubomirsky


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