One of my favorite positive psychologists and writers on the subject of happiness is Sonja Lyubomirsky. What I love about her books like The How of Happiness is that she perfectly balances scientific research with its practical application.
So when her publisher offered me a free copy of her most recent book, The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t and What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does, in exchange for a review, I was VERY happy.
She covers many of what she calls the “myths” of happiness, and I found myself cheering as she took on the all-too-common belief that “I’ll be happy when…(fill in blank).” Or the equally pervasive “I can’t be happy until….(fill in blank).”
As Lyubomirsky explains, the problem with this way of thinking is that while it may appear that any major challenges (think financial or health related) we’re facing in the present will change our lives for the worse, that’s not the biggest danger. Because in fact our responses to life’s challenges create the conditions for our despair.
She argues that instead of being frightening or depressing, your challenges can be opportunities for growth and meaningful change. And here’s the thing: how you meet them really matters. As Louis Pasteur once said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” So let’s start preparing, shall we?
Research shows that a life that has included at least several devastating moments (what Sonja calls “crisis points”) instills resilience in the face of future challenges.
That sort of challenging history also anchors our identities, which in turn bolsters optimism about our futures and makes us better at coping with future stress. Essentially, the research tells us that what doesn’t destroy us makes us stronger. Very cool, right?
Problem is, in the face of our challenges we often make one key error: we overestimate how long and how intensely a particular life event will affect us. It seems “nothing in life is as important as we think it is while we are thinking about it.”
When we get the promotion or receive a cancer diagnosis, we think that experience will color our days forever, but, as it happens, other quotidian events (you’re stuck in traffic or run into a friend) are just as likely to affect our mood.
Bottom line: human beings are really bad at predicting whether any event is likely to cause them happiness or despair.
When it comes to good news, psychologists talk about something called “hedonic adaptation” – our tendency to get used to, and even take for granted, almost everything positive that happens to us.
The big promotion or the new love relationship or the smaller dress size – all the things we thought would just make us so happy if we only could have them actually lose their bloom very quickly.
There’s a flip side to hedonic adaptation, however: human beings can also be quite resilient – they usually bounce back nicely after a setback and are even quite good at transforming a negative experience into something positive – like the realization that we had strength we didn’t even know we had.
With all these misconceptions and biases that predispose us to feeling unhappy or dissatisfied with our lot (and the worst offender, in my opinion, being the “I’ll be happy when…”), it’s fortunate that Lyubomirsky looks at 10 common crisis points and clearly shows how we can choose different ways of thinking and being to create our own definitions of happiness and success.
No matter what your challenging situation, The Myths of Happiness offers some guidelines for making decisions about next steps and feeling better.
First, make a mental note of your initial intuitions or gut reactions about the path you should be taking – perhaps even write them down – and then shelve them for a while.
Second, seek the opinion of an outsider (an impartial friend or counselor/coach/mentor) or simply make an effort to take an objective observer’s perspective.
The key is to liberate yourself from the oh-so-unique-and-compelling details of your particular problem and try to consider the broader class of problem to which yours belongs (say, lack of satisfaction in a long-term relationship or job).
Third, consider the opposite of whatever your gut instinct is telling you to do, and systematically play through the consequences in your mind.
Although these recommendations are not panaceas, they have the potential to launch you in the direction of better-feeling decisions about the road to take in the face of life challenges and turning points.
And perhaps most importantly, we must be careful (even vigilant!) that our thoughtful, systemic analysis doesn’t devolve into rumination or overthinking about our life’s choices.
Research unequivocally shows that rumination is a very bad habit that is likely to trigger a vicious cycle of increased worry, gloom, hopelessness and despair and has been given the not at all scientific, but spot-on term “paralysis by analysis.”
So if you feel you can’t be happy or feel worthy except under certain conditions, I hope you will read The Myths of Happiness and get some relief.
Women are incredibly strong and resilient creatures, but the sad fact is that they often use their strengths and talents to exert control over external factors, especially when it comes to their body image.
Remember how I talked last week about my decade-long struggle with food and weight? It all stemmed from the fact that I was looking outside of myself for validation.
Focusing on diet and exercise to lose weight and feel better about yourself can be effective, but there’s an easier way: We can learn to connect with our inner wisdom and enjoy food and our lives no matter what.
What I learned in the journey to self-acceptance and self-love made a huge difference in my life, and I hope it can in yours, too.
Again, I’d love to share the real science-based processes I used to release my struggle with food and with weight forever (or at least the last 20 years and counting!) and feel happy and successful.
You can find out more about my FREE Miracle of Mindful Eating Teleseminar and register here.
If you liked this post, I think you’ll enjoy the free weekly Special Delivery eZine. Just sign up here and it will be delivered to your inbox every Tuesday!