Home > Affect/Emotion, Anxiety > The Myths of Happiness

The Myths of Happiness

I heard a review of this book on the radio, and thought you may be interested in the discussion. Sonya Lyubomirsky is a psychologist who has studied happiness. She has found that happiness is not “attainable” but rather a state that is maintained regardless of the highs and lows in ones life.

I’ll be Happy When

I get that job, get that girl, get that money, have that house, have that baby.  But those big events only give you a bump in terms of happiness, the little things over a sustained basis are the ones that really affect your happiness. Whether negative or positive.  So little bursts of daily positive things will help you more than winning the lottery.

Is Happiness Important?

Hedonic Adaptation means that human beings adjust to whatever pleasure/happiness they have in their lives.  Got a bigger car, fantastic!  The afterglow won’t last that long, because even with that car, you will go back to your normal level of happines.  This could mean that you are always searching for another fix…or you could accept your level of happiness and not try to live at that level of stimulation (and potentially become antisocial in the process).  So it turns out there is a set point for happiness.

What about Striving?

If we were all happy with our situation…I’m looking at you meditators, would we ever try or enjoy anything?  Why go to the moon?  Why find cures for diseases?     It turns out that the heritability index for happiness is 50%.  Which means the half of things that make you happy are NOT your genes. 

Making You Happy


What helps you get happy (or stay happy) is,  Relationships!  Primary, Seconary and Tertiary: Family, Friends and Associates.  Studies have shown that the poorest societies are still happy because of close family connections.  Richer societies often loosen the family connection when wealth arrives.  Nonetheless there is a certain level of wealth that removes draining problems and this contributes to more happiness.  It’s just that dynamic of happiness creation has a limit.  Which is why more and more wealth does not lead to ultimate satisfaction.  Spending the money on worthy causes can contribute to happiness!  According to the book, the happiest countries are in Latin America (7/10), probably up and coming in terms of wealth but maintaining strong social bonds.

But what is happiness anyway?  It has two components: Frequent Positive Emotions and that you are progressing towards your life goals.

This means that people’s happiness is subjective.  An introvert can be happy with limited social interaction while an extrovert would suffer at the same level, and vice versa.   However generally speaking extroverts are on average happier than extroverts.

 There is also a level of happiness that comes through contrast, such as only being able to pet a favorite animal once a day (hedonic adaptation in reverse).  Could this be why many spiritual leaders give away their stuff rather than hoarding it?   Why start the hedonic snowball?

I’m not happy

If you are already not happy, how can you get it back? 

  • Do things you like
  • Serve others, volunteer, or bake!
  • Stay away from social comparison (Facebook)
  • Remember it’s the journey and not the destination
  • Replay good memories
  • don’t dwell on bad ones
  • Join a supportive group (like church, masjid, book club!)
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