If this seems like a silly question, you’re ahead of the game, because a lot of people think happiness is a sign of foolishness, laziness, or selfishness. Here are some misconceptions that we heard all the time.
• Happiness is just plastering over reality with smiley faces and deluding yourself into believing everything is ok. You waste time and energy telling yourself stupid, untrue affirmations and believing in nonsense. I’ll take truth over happiness, thank you.
• Happy people are gullible suckers who just haven’t grown up yet.
• Good people work hard—they don’t have time to be happy.
• We’re not meant to be happy in this life. The more we suffer and struggle here, the more we’ll be rewarded in heaven.
In short, a lot of people believe that if you’re happy, you’re doing it wrong. They’re afraid of happiness because they think it means losing touch with reality, or being foolish, lazy, selfish, or bad. But that’s not how true happiness is. It doesn’t come from pretending. It doesn’t come from making a lot of money, being powerful, owning a lot of things, or sitting on the beach
all day eating bonbons, either. Real happiness is:
These are true virtues, they are the keys to enjoying life.
Few people are happy. Most of the people we know are neutral or unhappy, and most of the people we meet sure don’t look happy! Happy people really stand out, partly because they’re so rare.
Since hardly anybody does it, it’s easy to assume that being happy is complicated, or there’s some secret you have to know, or maybe you have to be born with a certain gene.
While people are born with an innate level of happiness or happiness set point, and circumstances also influence how happy you are, you still have the power to make yourself happier. Surprisingly, 50% of our happiness levels come from genetics, and only 10% from circumstances, leaving 40% that we can control.
It’s actually pretty simple. The thing that keeps most people from being happy is fear.
Think about it for a minute. Look over your life and what feels bad in it.
Do you get the blues every Sunday night because you’ll have to go to work Monday morning? That’s probably because you’re afraid you’ll have to do a lot of stuff you don’t like, or a lot of stuff you’re afraid you can’t do, or both. Maybe there are also unpleasant people at work and you’re afraid you’ll have a run-in with them.
When you sit down to do the bills, do you get a heavy knot of dread in the pit of your stomach? Chances are, you’re afraid you don’t have enough money to pay for everything.
When someone cuts you off in traffic, do you blow your top? Well, who wouldn’t—they could have killed someone! That’s fear, too—you’re angry because they put you in danger.
Most unpleasant feelings boil down to fear. If you’re stressed about work or money, your relationships, what people think of you, or all the things you have to do, it all comes down to fear. This is important: fear is the enemy of happiness.
People try a lot of things in attempt to become happy. Most of them don’t work, so people just try them again, harder! Here are a few.
• Getting more money or possessions
• Getting more power or status
• Pursuing indulgent pleasures
• Focusing on their weaknesses and trying to improve them (instead of playing to their strengths)
• Striving to be perfect (and accepting nothing less)
• Trying to force happiness, using false affirmations or other tricks
We’ve all heard that money can’t buy happiness, but most people don’t really believe it.
More money won’t make me happy—are you nuts? Come on, if I hit the lotto, I could pay off all of my debt, quit my crappy job, do what I’ve always wanted to do, and still have plenty to give to my family and charities. You’re telling me that wouldn’t make me happier?
Yes. It’s surprising but true. Lots of studies have been done on this. A year after winning, lottery jackpot winners are no happier than they were before they won. Amazingly, the same is true for people who are in terrible accidents and suddenly paralyzed: a year later, they’re no less happy than before.Unhappiness comes from fear. There are two main fears: the fear of not
having enough, and the fear of not being enough.
Circumstances are not what makes us happy or unhappy. Think about it: if money was enough to make us happy, there should be a lot of people walking around saying, “Wow, thank God I got that last raise! Now I have enough money, and I am happy!” Yet I’ve never heard anyone say that. Most rich people seem to be quite unhappy, in fact. If fortune or fame worked, you would never see movie stars and rock musicians with drug problems—they’d be too happy to be interested in drugs.
Similarly, possessions do not cause happiness. If they did, wouldn’t we be happy by now? for exemple if you bought a lot of awesome things, but the only ones that have made a long-term difference are the ones that are involved in doing something: my spinning wheel, my kayak, my convertible. The things themselves don’t matter much, but doing fun things with them adds joy to my life.
Another thing that won’t make you happy is whitewashing over reality and feeding yourself a lot of bogus affirmations that you know aren’t true. Any philosophy that requires you to deny reality is a false path. In fact, studies have shown that insincerity is every bit as bad for your heart as anger. Your body feels the tension between the truth and the way you’re acting, and finds it very destructive. It’s important to look for the good in a situation, but it’s even more important to be real.
These are all traps, but they’re very easy to fall into, especially with media and advertisers giving us a push every chance they get! In case you don’t already know, the main purpose of television, magazines, newspapers, and all popular media is to sell advertisements. That’s how they make money. They produce content to get your attention so you’ll see as many of their ads as possible.
Meanwhile, the advertisers’ goal is to get you to buy products. This is obvious enough; the insidious part is that if you’re generally content with your life, you won’t feel compelled to buy much. To get you to buy, advertisers intentionally do everything they can to convince you that something is missing in your life, and if you were just prettier, had whiter teeth, used a different laundry detergent, or whatever, then people would like you better. They try to convince you that something is wrong in your life now, but if you buy their product, it will fix it, and then you’ll be happy.
Unhappiness comes from fear. There are two main fears: the fear of not having enough, and the fear of not being enough.If you think about it, it makes sense. All the worries about money, job security, possessions, bigger houses, and power come from the fear of not having enough. The worries about what other people think, not being loved, not being able to do something well, or getting fired come from the fear of not being enough.
The ability to be happy comes from the neocortex, the higher brain that is the site of reason, intellect, long-term memory, and the human spirit. This is the part of the brain that has the power to override the fear centers in the brain stem and amygdala and say, “no, calm down, everything is ok.” It has the keys to becoming happy.
The way we’re wired, it’s impossible to concentrate on fear and love at the same time. They’re incompatible. So by using the neocortex to focus on love, we can override the fear messages of the lower brain. Specifically, by focusing on appreciation, generosity, personal choice, and simply doing things that are meaningful, we can make ourselves happy. Not a bogus facade of pretend happiness where we go around acting happy even though we’re not—real, true happiness.
Now that we understand how happiness works, we can use that knowledge to be happier, by using these tools and techniques that help us to get there.