Written By: Dr M. A. Wajid
If you'd like to be happier – who wouldn't – the first step may be to challenge your own views about happiness.
May be you think that to be happier, you need more than you have now – more freedom, more money, more love – and so on. Or maybe you've convinced yourself that this is as good as it gets. Such beliefs may be more myths than a fact. Although a myth usually contains a kernel of truth, it can also sprout and grow, spreading seeds of doubt that can ultimately crowd out your own growth.
Here are six common myths about happiness that may actually be downsizing your happiness. The truth may set you free for a happier life, starting right now.
Myth No. 1: Either you have it or you don't.
Two siblings raised under same environment, at times, have opposite personalities – one may be sour, and the other sunny. This makes it hard to dispute the fact that genes play a powerful role in each person's happiness. There's evidence that genetics contributes to about 50% of your happiness set point.
On the other hand, if you do any work, you can become happier, no matter what your set point is. You probably won't go from a one to a ten, but you can become happier. It just takes commitment and effort, as with any meaningful goal in life.
Myth No. 2: Happiness is a Destination.
Many people think of happiness as a destination or acquisition – whether it's marriage, money, or a move to a new location. Sure, things like these can contribute to happiness, but not as much as you might think.
Happiness isn't the emotional finish line in the race of life. It's a process and a resource. A data shows that when people are happier, they become healthier and more curious, sociable, helpful, creative, and willing to try new things.
Myth No. 3: You always Adapt to your Happiness Set Point.
It's true that people tend to adapt fairly quickly to positive changes in their lives. In fact, adaptation is one of the big obstacles to becoming happier. The long-awaited house, the new car, the prestigious job – all can bring a temporary boost, but then recede into the background with time.
Why does this happen? One reason is that we evolve to pay more attention to novelty. For our ancestors, novelty signalled either danger or opportunity.
To help thwart adaptation, you can also use novelty to your advantage. For instance, if your home has become a little old, you might try rearranging furniture or try to bring few changes without spending much of money. It shell start to look good – all new again.
Myth No. 4: Negative emotions always outweigh the Positive ones.
For quite some time, research has indicated that negative emotions are more powerful than positive ones. For example, studies show that people don't have equal reactions to gaining 100 and losing 300. The loss tends to have a stronger effect than the gain.
Negative emotions might edge out positive emotions in the moment, because they're telling you to find a problem and fix it. By contrast, positive emotions appear to win out over time because they let you build on what you have.
We found that as positive emotions go up, there comes a point where negative emotions no longer have a significant negative impact on building resources and changing life satisfaction. Positive emotions won't protect you from feeling bad about things, nor should they. But over time, they can protect you from the consequences of negative emotions.
This may not be true for people with depression or other serious disorders, although they do show benefits when positive emotions are added to conventional psychotherapy.
Myth No. 5: Happiness is all about Hedonism.
There's more to happiness than racking up pleasurable experiences. In fact, helping others – the opposite of hedonism – may be the most direct route to happiness.
"When people help others through formal volunteering or generous actions, about half report feeling a 'helper's high' and 13% even experience alleviation of aches and pains," says a professor of preventive medicine and director of the Centre for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care.
For most people, a pretty low threshold of activity, practiced well, makes a difference. This might involve volunteering just one or two hours each week or doing five generous things weekly – practices that are above and beyond what you normally do.
Mood elevation from helping is associated with a release of serotonin, endorphins – the body's natural opiates – and oxytocin, a "compassion hormone" that reinforces even more helping behaviour.
Could compassion be rooted in our neurobiology? A National Academy of Sciences study showed that simply thinking about contributing to a charity of choice activates a part of the brain called the mesolimbic pathway, the brain's reward centre, which is associated with feelings of joy.
Although just thinking about giving or writing a cheque can increase our levels of happiness, face-to-face interactions seem to have a higher impact. That's because they engage the [brain's] agents of giving more fully through tone of voice, facial expression, and the whole body.
Myth No. 6: One size Fits all
If you're seeking a magic bullet or mystical elixir to enhance your happiness, you're bound to be sorely disappointed. There is no "one size fits all" for happiness.
Instead, there are many ways to boost your happiness. Here are options to try:
• Pick an activity that is meaningful to you. Whether you choose an activity that promotes a sense of gratitude, connectedness, forgiveness, or optimism, you'll be most successful if your choices are personally relevant to you. And, this may also keep you from adapting to them too quickly.
• Assess your strengths and develop practices that best use these gifts. Are you a good cook? Deliver a meal to a handicapped. A retired teacher? Consider tutoring a child. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.
• Vary your activities, because promoting happiness is largely a question of finding a good fit. To that end, identify the happiness strategies that you're suited to, such as journalling or calling someone to express gratitude. You can lose your will [to do those activities] if it's not a good fit. And when it comes to happiness, maintaining your will – and acting on it – might just put a pleasurable, meaningful life well within reach.