Ten Myths about Happiness — Which Do You Believe?

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 10 widespread myths about happiness.

Each day for two weeks, I posted about Ten Happiness Myths. Today, for your reading convenience, I’m posting the entire list, with links.

No. 1: Happy people are annoying and stupid.

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

No. 3: 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.

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

Agree? Disagree? Am I missing an important myth?

A kind reader send me the link to Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish which features a very interesting U.S. map showing how happy each state is. I’m from Missouri, and I was surprised to see that it’s on the low end. New York is near the high end.

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What I Learned about Happiness at the SXSW Conference.

I just got back to New York City; I was out of town for a few days at the SXSW conference in Austin. This is one of the biggest conferences for bloggers, and I’d never been, so I decided to take the plunge this year and go.

It was a lot of fun, and a very valuable experience, and from a happiness-project perspective, it reminded me of several things:

Novelty and challenge boost happiness. Going to a new city, meeting a lot of new people, being in a different environment, all boosted my happiness. Along the same lines…

— An atmosphere of growth brings happiness. I learned a lot at the conference, both from the official panels and from the unofficial conversations I had, and that gave me a feeling of intellectual excitement and growth.

— Taking a break from a common thing can make it seem like a treat. When I got home, just having a kitchen again felt very exciting.

— Used right, technology helps build relationships. Although it might seem that technology pushes people apart, or allows them to avoid interacting, actually people use technology to try to connect. Every single person at the conference was eagerly trying to meet in person the people they already knew well on-line.

Sleep is important to happiness. Away from my children and my usual schedule, I got more sleep than usual, and I could really feel the difference in my energy level — and I make a big effort to get a lot of sleep, as it is.

One of my ongoing happiness-project challenges is to fight my instinct to say dismissively, “Well, doing X or Y might be useful or fun, but it would be a big hassle, and it would take a lot of time, and probably cost a fair amount, and maybe it would be a big waste.” In fact, I’m always glad when I push myself to try something new. I debated a long time about whether to go to the conference, but I’m very HAPPY that I did.

It was terrific to meet up with a lot of my fellow bloggers and to hear others speak. Some highlights: Communicatrix, Tony Hsieh, The Fluent Self, Chris Brogan, Career Renegade, IttyBix, Work Happy Now, Escape from Cubicle Nation, Wine Library TV/Gary Vaynerchuk, Shama Hyder, Penelope Trunk, David Eckoff.

If you want to partake in the SXSW vibe even though you’d never go, start using Twitter.

Happiness Myth No. 10: The Biggest Myth — It’s Selfish To Try to Be Happier.

As I’ve studied happiness over the past few years, I’ve learned many things that surprised me. Each day for last two weeks, I’ve been debunking one “happiness myth” that I believed before I started my happiness project. Yesterday I wrote about Myth No. 9: Spending Some Time Alone Will Make You Feel Better.

Happiness Myth No. 10: The Biggest Myth — It’s Selfish and Self-Centered To Try to Be Happier.

Myth No. 10 is the most pernicious myth about happiness. It comes in a few varieties. One holds that “In a world so full of suffering, you can be happy only if you’re callous and self-centered.” Another one is “Happy people become wrapped up in their own pleasure; they’re complacent and uninterested in the world.”

Wrong. Studies show that, quite to the contrary, happier people are more likely to help other people, they’re more interested in social problems, they do more volunteer work, and they contribute more to charity. They’re less preoccupied with their personal problems. By contrast, less-happy people are more apt to be defensive, isolated, and self-absorbed, and unfortunately, their negative moods are catching (technical name: emotional contagion). Just as eating your dinner doesn’t help starving children in India, being blue yourself doesn’t help unhappy people become happier.

I’ve certainly noticed this about myself. When I’m feeling happy, I find it easier to notice other people’s problems, I feel that I have more energy to try to take action, I have the emotional wherewithal to tackle sad or difficult issues, and I’m not as preoccupied with myself. I feel more generous and forgiving.

As I’ve worked on my happiness project, one of my biggest intellectual breakthroughs was the identification of my Second Splendid Truth. There’s a circularity to it that confused me for a long time. At last, one June morning, it came clear:

One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy;
One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.

Everyone accepts the first part of the Second Splendid Truth, but the second part is just as important. By making the effort to make yourself happier, you better equip yourself to make other people happier, as well. It’s not selfish to try to be happier. In fact, the epigraph to the book The Happiness Project is a quotation from Robert Louis Stevenson: “There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.”

On a positive psychology listserv, I read comments by Professor Todd Kashdan, and I see he did an interesting study on the relationship of gratitude to happiness — and how men are much less likely to feel and express gratitude than are women.

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Happiness Myth No. 9: Spending Some Time Alone Will Make You Feel Better.

As I’ve studied happiness over the past few years, I’ve learned many things that surprised me. Each day for two weeks, I’m debunking one “happiness myth” that I believed before I started my happiness project. Yesterday I wrote about Happiness Myth No. 8: You’ll Be Happy As Soon As You…

Happiness Myth No. 9: Spending Some Time Alone Will Make You Feel Better.

Wrong. Although it can be tempting to take a “personal day” when you’re feeling blue, or to isolate yourself until you feel better, you’re better off doing just the opposite.

Connecting with other people, even if you don’t feel like it, is more likely to improve your mood – and this is true even for introverts.

In fact, researchers reported that out of fifteen daily activities, such as exercising, commuting, or doing housework, everything is more fun with company. They found only one activity during which people were happier alone rather than with other people — and that was praying. To my mind, that’s no exception; the point of praying is that you’re not talking to yourself!

I’ve certainly found this to be true in my own life. I spend most of my days by myself, reading and writing, and I’ve noticed that I always get a big burst of energy and cheer when I have a chance to be with other people. Even if I leave my desk feeling enraged, annoyed, or insecure, I feel better after talking to someone else – not talking about what’s bothering me, but just talking about anything at all. In fact, I usually feel better if I’m distracted from my concerns, rather than try to discuss them.

So if you just went through a painful break-up so are tempted to not meet your friends after work but instead stay home on the sofa with the remote control, or if you just lost your job so don’t want to deal with going to the the neighborhood BBQ, make the effort to push yourself out the door. Most likely, you’ll feel better if you do.

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