Happiness. It is the topic of much debate. Everyone is looking for that elusive goal, to be happy. People spend their entire lives searching for it. But what is happiness? Is it really such a worthy goal? Dr. Russ Harris, author of the bestselling book The Happiness Trap and ACT trainer, has some answers. He discusses the three most prevalent happiness myths that can actually cause the opposite effect.
The first happiness myth is that people are naturally happy. Of course, the person must have his basic needs met, such as food, shelter, and even healthy, loving relationships. But why is the rate of depression and anxiety skyrocketing in an age where we take for granted luxuries that our grandparents only dreamed of? The answer is that happiness does not come from things and it does not come naturally. The natural state of emotions is not one emotion either. It is a range of emotions, all of which are helpful in the right circumstances. And happiness itself? Only ten percent of it stems from external circumstances. The rest is a mixture of genetics and internal actions and thoughts.
The second myth is that happiness means feeling good or pleasure. It’s that feeling you have when you bite into a delicious piece of cake or splurge on that gorgeous dress that you found. But how long do those feelings of happiness last? This is the difference between hedonism and eudaimonia. Hedonism is the pursuit of things that make you feel good. It’s always something else, always something more because it never stays. In contrast, eudaimonia is the feeling of contentment, of building something lasting. But anything that is permanent is not going to be built easily or quickly. Think of the most meaningful relationship in your life, whether that is a spouse, child, parent, or friend. At some point in the relationship, there was some unpleasant emotion, like anger or sadness. Therefore, if we define happiness as building rich and meaningful lives, our mindset would be different in that we can understand and expect that it will come along with some of those more difficult emotions.
The last happiness myth is that there is something wrong with being unhappy. This myth has led to a lot of people trying to look for solutions to their unhappiness unnecessarily. Of course, this is referring to everyday unhappiness, not depression. But regular unhappiness is a normal part of life, even expected when building a meaningful life. Life is not going to always be “happy”, rather we hope that it will be meaningful and purposeful. At times, unhappiness and even suffering may be part of that but it is purposeful unhappiness. Therein lies the difference between fleeting happiness and true contentment.