10 Widespread Myths about Happiness — Do You Believe Any of These?

Every Wednesday is Tip Day (or List Day, or Quiz Day).
This Wednesday: 10 myths about happiness — which do you believe?

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.

No. 1: Happy people are annoying and stupid.

No. 2: Nothing changes a person’s happiness level much.

No. 3: Aggressively venting anger relieves it.

No. 4: You’ll be happier if you insist on “the best.”

No. 5: A “treat” will cheer you up.

No. 6: Money can’t buy happiness.

No. 7: Doing “random acts of kindness” brings happiness.

No. 8: You’ll be happy as soon as you…

No. 9: Spending some time alone will make you feel better.

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.

No. 10: The biggest myth: It’s selfish to try to be happier.

Agree? Disagree? Am I missing an important myth?

* I may miss a few posts, but you can still get a daily Moment of Happiness with a happiness quotation in your email inbox! Sign up here or email me at gretchenrubin1 at gmail.com.

  • Nadine

    The only one that is not a myth for me is spending time alone will help me feel better.   I am a fairly introverted person and require a fair amount of time to myself.  When I am feeling unhappy it is often because I feel stretched too thin and need some time to just be alone with a good book and my pets though I can sense the difference between being unhappy because I have been alone too much then I just find fault with everything and realize hmm… time to get out of my own head and have some time with friends.

    • I agree with you Nadine. Alone-time for me is needed also. I tend to feel overwhelmed when being around many people for long periods of time. I’m self-employed, work alone and love it that way.

      Alone-time is a blessing and makes me happy. And yes, being with my companion animals too!

      • Being with companion animals isn’t exactly being “alone” though, right?

        • Zupamum

          Having a companion animal is the best therapy

    • Same here.

      Some of the things I do are jogging in nature (around a lake), meditation, read a book at coffee shop, and napping.

      I thing even if you are an extrovert these things can bring much joy to your life.

    • Yes, definitely. I prefer to spend about 70-80% of my time alone. That’s where I find the most satisfaction – being able to be creative and thoughtful in solitude. Of course, it doesn’t mean I don’t need to socialize too (introvert-extrovert spectrum is connected, we all just need our own balance)

  • Ebrandin

    I do believe that ” Doing a random act of kindness” can bring moments of join which contributes to happiness.  So for me, that is not a myth. 
    Also, in regards to number 4, there’s a german expression, ” gut genug ” meaning good enough, which I need to be more mindful of.  I tend to go overboard in my quest for the best.

    • Nadine

      I agree, random acts of kindness can be very happy inducing recently at a coffee shop a teenager was counting out every last penny to buy himself a hot chocolate so I quietly put it on my tab.   As I left the shop I caught the look of delight on his face when the server told him his drink was covered.  Honestly it made my day.  

    • Crimson

      Implusive Random acts of kindness does bring me happiness. It justifies to a small extent my existence.

  • I agree as to how people feel regarding, #1 statement. I find people who are happy being made fun of a lot. I brought this subject up on my WordPress blog before.

    It seems to be “cool” if you complain all the time, and is unhappy. I see on social networks where many super-popular people are ones who are always complaining and being mean-spirited. Happy people who talk about positive things are looked on with jealousy and considered “Pollyanna” and naive.

    Gretchen and anyone else, have you ever seen the 2009 British film, “Happy-Go-Lucky”? It’s my current favorite film of all time. It stars a character named Poppy who is always cheerful and is very happy with her life. She’s delightful and so endearing! I read reviews at websites and many found the character to be, and I’m quoting, “Retarded”. Others said she’s delusional, naive, silly. But there were others who like her as much as I do.

    Happiness is looked on as childish and even corny by many people. So yeah, to me #1 isn’t a myth; MANY people feel this way, unfortunately.

    • Nadine

      I think how you project you happiness is key though I don’t think anyone has the right to put others down or crush their happiness energy because it doesn’t jive for them.  The truth is some people can be grating to me.  It is important though to recognize that is my issue to deal with not theirs.  In my quest for happiness I set out to stop being negative and critical and began doing that by putting a positive spin on everything.  I realized quite early on that did not work for me and instead what did work was simply looking at things from either a positive or neutral perspective with the exception of the truly odious i.e. murder.  Sitting in a restaurant anticipating an amazing meal and then really getting horrible food instead of going on a rant about the food now I am apt to say no the food wasn’t great and leave it at that but focus on how nice it was to have an evening out in good company.   I saw the movie you mentioned and also quite liked Poppy.  I didn’t find her a simpleton at all.

    • CB

      I saw this movie and like it, like the Poppy character, but I thought she was a bit of a motormouth. Really, it’s not required to comment on everything, but I’m an introvert and like the silence.

  • For me, Being alone makes me happy also. Especially, Happy time when find a restroom when needed ^^.

  • Unfortunately most people believe in these myths

  • I can’t believe people think it’s selfish to be happier. AS IF the world would benefit from your misery.

  • LouLouBelle

    I definitely don’t think that happy people are annoying or stupid. I admire them so much. I have a friend whose sister just passed away from cancer. It was a very stressful and sad time for her but when she came into the office to tell us she put on a brave front. This person is always happy and even at this very sad moment in her life I could tell she was considering how we would react to her very sad news. I knew others who thought that, “it is so easy for her” to be happy, however, I know she has had as difficult a life as any of us but she has made the choice to be happy. Because of this, she has many friends and strong relationships with people. I admire that immensely. When I was little my older sister read the story of Pollyanna and then started calling me “Pollyanna” in a mean, jealous way. I cannot understand her desire to be unhappy and to belittle those who try to make the best of things as they are. I feel sorry for her actually. For awhile in my life I was extremely miserable and still go through bouts but after a while I get fed up with myself. I give myself a good Joan Rivers’ chewing out and say, “Oh, just grow up!”

  • Cathy from Arlington

    No. 11:  Happiness is not a duty.
    Nothing on this blog opened my eyes more than Robert Louis Stevenson’s quote, “There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.”

    I had never thought of happiness in that way before.  The concept of happiness being a duty rocked my world because now I thought of happiness as part of being a good citizen, like obeying speed limits, being honest with your taxes and helping old ladies cross the street.

  • I really get a lot out of reading your work, here, Gretchen. Thank you for all the time and insight you bring to the subject!

    I actually do agree with Myth #7: doing “random acts of kindness” brings happiness, though. But it is a qualified agreement. If the guy is performing a random act of kindness because the girl is cute or for some personal self-help tactic to become happier, then the act will not as likely produce the desired happiness.

    If, however, the act is a natural expression of who you are, a SPONTANEOUS random act, then the reaction of the person receiving the kind act won’t matter all that much. I act kindly because I’m kind vs, I act kindly to get what I want. Kind peoiple act kindly because that’s who they are. So it matters a lot less if the person to whom the kindness is directed acts suspisciously or not. As a matter of fact, the giver of kindness might even find the reation funny.

    Here’s another point: There is a difference between how we feel at the time of the random act and how we feel about who we are as someone who simply acts kindly, random acts being random only to those receiving the kindness, not to those who regularly act kindly to others.

    In such a case, I believe the doer of kindness will be much happier than the reticent withholder of kindness, all other things being equal.

    • Shalyn Olsen

      I agree. I was once put to this test of doing something nice for someone every single day for a couple weeks, and I couldn’t tell ANYONE, so there was no glory in it for me. It had to be completely random and with no possible way of the recipient knowing who was behind the good deed…

      When the challenge was over with, I concluded that doing service for others or random acts of kindness brought so much happiness into my life..and I continue trying to do selfless acts in secret still. Thanks for your comment.

  • Al Pittampalli

    “Happiness is all mental” — it’s also physical. Physical activity, the way you use your body, your physiology has a direct effect on how happy you are. So much so, that I would say Happiness is as much a physical state as it is a mental one.

  • Great post Gretchen and happiness lies with in our mind and we can be happy at whatever place we are and make others to feel happy with our gesture. 

  • Yes, these all ring very true for me. Especially 10. In my opinion, you need to be happy before you can make others happy. Happiness therefore isn’t selfish, but the first step toward true altruism. 

  • I think our culture promotes the idea that those who complain or point out others weaknesses or are crass or sarcastic somehow have more intellectual depth than those who are happy. I think this is sad. Happy people aren’t selfish (#10) or stupid (#1). Happiness will never magically occur from venting anger (#3) because it keeps you mired in your discontent rather than lifting it from you shoulders. Spending time alone can make you happy if it is, as has been mentioned-an act of personal restoration rather than a rejection of others. Personally-the most consistent road to happiness for me is getting out of myself and giving to others-whether random acts of kindness or intentionally planned ones. 

  • I think myth #12 (if I’m counting right) is that you have to be happy all the time.

    For instance, I’m a person with a generally optimistic outlook on life. When difficult things happen to me my natural tendency is to think of the bright side, or to say “well, that is bad but at least it isn’t XX.” But sometimes I think I do this at the cost of allowing myself to just feel down for a little bit. It’s hard to remember that being happy doesn’t mean you are happy every minute of every day. It’s okay to have some down times and to feel bad about things when bad or difficult things happen. Happiness is more of an overall philosophy or way of being (at least for me) that can help give you the resilience you need to experience the unhappiness and then bounce back from it.

  • SylviaBlack

    I fall into the trap of #8 frequently, even though I know it’s a myth. It’s hard to balance choosing to happy now with my valid desire to change and improve many aspects of my life. The trick is enjoying the journey, I guess.

  • Phoenix1920

    I love how you phrase #3 and agree with it fully!  Sometimes I need to vent to get it out of my system, but if I’m venting aggressively, it is reliving the frustration–as opposed to trying to move beyond it.

    I disagree with #7–I can’t think of anytime that I did some random act of kindness that it didn’t make ME feel better.  It may or may not have a similar effect of the receiver, depending on the situation and the receiver.  But if the focus is on the giver, I can’t think of a single situation that it didn’t make me happier.  Some of the acts are so easy to do: letting a person who is in a hurry go ahead of you in line, opening the door to a mom who has her hands full of baby and supplies, etc. 

    As to #9, from your clarification, it seems like you’re referring more to depression or a mini-depression, but if that is the point, it seems odd to include that among this list.

  • Cheryl

    Happiness is a state of mind that you can enjoy now. That’s a big statement but I have recently found it to be very true. For too many years I had dozens of thoughts flying around my mind constantly, I could not get any peace from them at all. I read a book by a guy called Andy Shaw and he explained a new way of looking at my life and thoughts. Unbelievable! I now have found peace and happiness. Happiness is now, not somewhere in the future. Try http://tinyurl.com/6y48efe and you will find happiness now and therefore also  into the future. Keep up the great work! Fondest regards, Cherie

  • Leslie

    I’m glad you qualified #9, because for me, spending time alone can definitely make me happier.  Although, having also experienced that drained, can’t-get-off-the-couch feeling, I have to say that for me, forcing myself to get out and do something with other people is often not the answer – I’ve found on several occasions that it has made me feel worse.  Getting off the couch to take a nice long walk, however, could be just the thing to clear my head and make me want to hang out with people again.

    About #6 – I know this one’s false, because I bought the 3-month unlimited classes package at my local dance center this summer, and dancing is making me ridiculously happy. 🙂

    • @ Leslie – I’m with you on that. Money can buy experiences that make you happy. It can also keep a lot of pain and suffering at bay.  It’s hard to be real happy if you can’t afford to get your root canal done, for example.  I’m glad to hear you are enjoying your dancing so much!  Ellyn Deuink

      • Zupamum

        There is a huge difference between pleasure and happiness, one is fleeting and one has the possibility to be constant!

  • Rich Colvin

    I have always lived by a simple creed :  “Happiness is a choice”.  I choose to be happy rather than angry or upset.  It does not mean that I am never sad, nor occasionally upset; rather, it means that I must learn to address them and then choose to be happy.

  • Nick

    Re No. 4: You’ll be happier if you insist on the best. 
    My dear Aunt Jill (who only stopped teaching classes in England’s Cambridge University at age 82) had a quote on her wall which now I have on my own: –“Find happiness by settling for second best”.
    My wife – who is 12 years younger but MUCH wiser than me – expresses it differently: “You are perfect for me because I accept your imperfections”.
    So she has never tried to change me, nor improve me; but loves me despite myself.  That is why I adore her so much!

  • Jo

    No. 8: You’ll be happy as soon as you…
    I can definitely admit I wait a lot for happiness when really no one should.   

  • SandiH

    One more myth – happy people can help negative people.  Unfortunately, in my experiences they just bring me down and drain me of all my energy.

  • Christie

    No. 11: To be happy, follow your heart

  • Prof Sonja Lyubomirsky, a renowned researcher on positive psychology and happiness, would say doing “random acts of kindness” brings happiness, based on empirical data. How come her work is not being mentioned here?

  • Miguel Angel

    Excelente video. Ya lo hice con mi pensamiento, ahora quiero dejarlo reflejado en un escrito. Muchas GRACIAS:: Miguel Angel

  • Zupamum

    A “happy” pill such as an anti-depressant does not always work for making people happy

  • Jennifer Zapf

    I enjoy performing random acts, and they make the world more pleasant. Money may not buy happiness but it puts it closer to my reach and eases some pains. And, I absolutely need my alone time to recharge, I am an introvert and having to be around people drains me.
    These items are not myths for me they are truths.
    Who told you these are myths? Are they your myths?