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Don’t Worry, Be Happy: Demystifying Happiness Myths

By: Katelyn Six, Section Editor for Block Beat (six1@uic.edu)

A shiny car, a new haircut or a million dollars are sure to make even the most down-in-the-dumps people sing with joy. Many buy into the myths that happiness is derived from more money, greater career success, or finding Mr. or Mrs. Right.  Students often believe they will be happy when they land that perfect job position after graduation, buy the latest iPod or high-tech gadget, or score the coolest pair of designer jeans.  While these things may elicit a boost in happiness, it is often short-lived.  Since happiness is such an important part of our lives, here are three debunked myths that can help you on your track to long-term bliss.        

Myth #1: Happiness is based on outside factors.

This myth is centered on the idea that if things going on in our lives are not top-notch, we cannot be happy.  However, according to Shawn Achor, author of the book Before Happiness: The 5 Hidden Keys to Achieving Success, Spreading Happiness, and Sustaining Positive Change, externalities are not the source of happiness despite popular belief.  He says, “only 10 percent of your long-term happiness is based on the external world, while 90 percent is based on how your brain processes the world.”  So what does that mean for students?  Even though negative outside circumstances may be out of our control, happiness can still be controlled through our perceptions of these external influences.  As Women’s Health writer Casey Gueren posits in an ABC News article, “Most people think it’s impossible for them to be content while their career/relationship/social life is at a low point.” Luckily, happiness is all about how you perceive and interpret external factors, so forcing yourself to maintain a positive mindset in times of strife not only makes a person more resilient, it can be a source of long-term bliss.

Myth #2: Money can buy happiness.

One of the most commonly held myths about achieving contentment is that more money equals greater happiness.  While money cannot truly buy happiness, it can enhance quality of life.  This is where the confusion stems, as people begin to associate being happy with being rich.  In Psychology Today, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D. and author of The How of Happiness, puts this myth into perspective:  “The key to buying happiness is not in how successful we are, but perhaps what we do with our success; it’s not how high our income is, but how we allocate it.”  Research dialogue published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, titled If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right, shows that greater happiness is derived from experiential purchases (like spending money on a vacation with friends) as opposed to material purchases (like spending your paycheck on an extravagant pair of shoes).  Ultimately, long-standing joy comes from the way you spend your money, not how much of it you possess.

 Myth #3: Happiness comes after achieving your goals.

The pervasive myth that we cannot be happy until our dreams are achieved has been debunked, according to Lauren Gelmen, writer of Reader’s Digest article, 7 Myths of Happiness You’ve Convinced Yourself Are True.  She explains, “Many studies show that people who are striving toward a goal are actually happier than when they accomplish it.” Hence, happiness lies in the process of striving toward our goals, rather than something unattainable until you have reached those goals.

Students often think happiness is something that can be obtained through material possessions.  However, after demystifying a few myths, it is evident that happiness is about maintaining a positive attitude and enjoying the journeys you take in pursuit of your goals.

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