There are a few assumptions that many of us buy into when it comes to happiness. Let’s just go ahead and debunk them now. Some are surprising. Some you may resist. But raising your awareness about them will help you make decisions and set expectations that serve you. They will help you to be happy on your way to your life’s vision rather than simply holding your breath until you arrive.
Myth 1: You know what will make you happy
“If only” is a phrase that causes many women to stumble on the road to happiness. But research actually confirms that we are pretty poor predictors of what will make us happy. We think a relationship will make us happy; a new job will make us happy; being in charge will make us happy. But the truth is: happiness is a state of mind. What makes you happy is your attitude towards your life. In fact, happiness has been defined as “how you feel about the life you are living.” And if you can’t be happy while you don’t have everything you want, you likely won’t be happy when you get everything you want. Because if your happiness is based on checking off a list of things and people you need to arrive at, the list will magically keep growing.
Myth 2: Success brings happiness
Pretty much everything we pursue in life we do because we believe it will make us happier—whether it’s love or a career or weight loss or money. Success is no different. But the myth that success produces happiness is simply untrue. It is actually the other way around. The attitude, positive emotion and optimism that accompany happiness create success. Studies show that happier people are more likely to get promoted, make more money and persevere in the face of challenges.
Myth 3: Happiness is about what happens
Circumstances actually account for just 10 per cent of your happiness. Study after study shows that after difficult or even tragic circumstances, people bounce back to levels of happiness close to where they were prior to the change in circumstances. So the miserable ones remain miserable while happy people adjust to the new circumstances and regain happiness.
Myth 4: Women who work are happier and more fulfilled
This also is not true. Women who stay at home report greater happiness than those who work. I don’t find this particularly shocking. As much as I love what I do and know I’m living my purpose, there are days I daydream about not working at all. Can you relate? Fulfilment can be found in many ways, and millions of women have found it without 9 to 5.
Myth 5: Having children will make you happier
This is by no means to suggest that you shouldn’t have children, but multiple studies over multiple decades show that married women with children are less happy than married women without children. For that matter, you can imagine that single moms report higher stress levels and less happiness than single women without children. Children are a gift from God, but in today’s world, they also bring a level of stress and anxiety that impacts happiness.
Myth 6: If I could just make more money, I’d be happier
It’s true that if you are living in poverty and get a boost in your income, your happiness will skyrocket. That’s because meeting your needs is essential for happiness. However, beyond a certain threshold more money will not bring more happiness. Once needs are met, money is not the biggest determinant of happiness. Giving some away will make you happier. So will living below your means.
Myth 7: Marriage makes women happier and men feel confined
You’ve seen this stereotype on every sitcom. The married man complains about how he has to get his wife’s permission to go out with the guys or is frustrated by his wife’s nagging or incessant to-do list. You get the idea that men are dragged into marriage kicking and screaming. And the women, of course, are all just dying to get married. It is an intriguing cultural stereotype because study after study shows that men are actually happier in a marriage than women. And when men divorce, they are more likely than women to remarry—and they remarry sooner than women.
Myth 8: ’Having it all’ will make you happy
This is up for debate. By the looks of things, more and more women are opting out of trying—or have tried and just can’t seem to ‘have it all’ even if they want to. 43 per cent of generation X women who are college graduates don’t have children. Of the ones who do, record numbers are opting to leave the workforce and stay home with their kids. And the ones who are working and raising children face stressors and challenges that erode happiness. This is not to say there are no women who ‘have it all,’ but achieving ‘it all’—the husband, kids, stellar career, knockout body and happiness—requires an alignment of circumstances few women have.
So how about you? Which of these myths have you bought into? And how does it impact your feelings about where you are in your life? I invite you to drop the myths and start over with a new concept of what it takes to be happy. It is about renewing your mind and washing away all the beliefs that actually sabotage your happiness and learning the skills of happiness that actually work.
Adapted from Happy Women, Live Better by Valorie Burton. Published by Harvest House Publishers.
This was first published in the August 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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