Happiness. We all want it, and people are constantly chasing and seeking it. But you may be surprised to discover that happiness isn’t as easy to figure out as you might think… and that true and lasting fulfilment can be found hiding in one of the most unexpected places.
In this post I share the three happiness myths that we commonly believe in – ones that cause us to struggle, stress and strive.
Breaking Free from the Happiness Trap
Some of the world’s most common and widely held ideas about happiness create what Russ Harris eloquently calls a ‘happiness trap’. But these ideas – or ‘myths’ – about happiness are misleading. When you believe these myths or let them dictate how you live your life, they make you feel shame or even downright miserable.
In this short animated video, Russ Harris explains three of the most challenging myths about happiness and how easily they can instead lead us towards pain and suffering.
Myth 1. Happiness is the natural state for human beings
The first myth is the idea that perpetual happiness is the natural state for human beings. The myth goes that if you give a person enough food, shelter and connection, they’ll feel happy all the time. The reality of being human, though, is that we experience an ever-changing flow of emotions – which is totally normal and natural! For example, it’s normal to feel sad after a loss, or to feel fear or stress when we’re in danger or there’s a threat nearby. It’s also normal to feel joy in celebration, or overwhelmed when life gets busy. In fact, this is the natural state for human beings – to have a range of different experiences and emotions, from joy to despair and all the other emotions in between.
Myth 2. Happiness means feeling ‘good’ (pleasant) emotions
The second big happiness myth is the idea that happiness means feeling pleasant or ‘good’ emotions or states of being. Most people think of happiness as a state of pleasure or contentment, but if this is your definition of happiness then there is no hope for lasting happiness, because all emotions are fleeting. They do change (no matter how hard we try to chase or hold on to them). Think about the last time you were in a state of contentment or pleasure: how long did it last before this feeling changed and something else arose, like restlessness, boredom, irritation or another less pleasant human emotion?
Russ Harris defines happiness as living a “rich, full and meaningful life” and I like that definition. My shorthand for this is living a life of fulfilment. Russ also wisely points out that if we are to live this kind of full life, it will include feeling the full range of our natural human emotions – the pleasant and the unpleasant ones.
Myth 3. If you’re not happy, you’re defective
The third myth – which is closely related to the first two – is the idea that if you’re not happy, there must be something wrong with you. The reality is that if you’re not always happy, you’re completely normal! Human life is difficult a lot of the time and our minds are tricky too – they often get us caught up. Sometimes life is very pleasant, but it’s also quite hard. There is nothing defective, broken or wrong with you if you’re not always happy.
It’s so easy to become absorbed by the demoralising myths that surround us about happiness and to fall into the ‘happiness trap’. But if you can see beyond these myths about happiness – the ones that can so easily hold you back from living a rich, full and meaningful life – you then have the wonderful opportunity to connect deeply to all the dimensions and facets of your life, including the highs and lows and ups and downs, and find true fulfilment from within.
If you want to find out more about how the idea of ‘happiness’ can be misleading, I highly recommend Russ Harris’ brilliant book The Happiness Trap, which you can find here.