When I meet new people and tell them that I’m the Happyologist, I immediately get bombarded with a series of questions about what that actually means. Once I explain that I’m a happiness life coach and that I help people to make happiness a habit, they often ask, “Does that mean you’re always happy?”. Having practiced my response to this question about a hundred times (at least!), I’ve discovered the perfect response. I giggle and say, “No, I’m human.” I then go on to give a brief explanation on what happiness is actually about – and what it’s not about. It’s definitely not about being happy 24/7 – that would be insanity in itself! This has made me think about the different happiness myths out there that people seem to assume are true.
I believe that creating a happier world has a lot to do with educating people about what happiness actually is and re-educating people about how it can be achieved. Somehow over the past few decades we’ve identified a few phrases or statements as the truths of happiness, when in fact when you look closer at them they’re actually not true at all. That’s why I like to call them the happiness myths.
I wanted to highlight some of the happiness myths I seem to come across the most, especially as these are the ones that have the power to truly help you to become happier when you understand they’re not real.
Myth 1: Happiness is about being happy 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and never experiencing any negative emotions.
Hell no to this one! If I was happy 24/7, or met someone who said they were, I’d get quite concerned! Happiness is about experiencing the full range of emotions, both good and bad. You need to experience unhappiness to fully cherish happiness. You need to feel stress in order to understand when you’ve found peace. Yes for sure there are people in this world who deal with stress better, and there are people in this world who are naturally very positive and upbeat. But I guarantee you that they have their moments of frustration, sadness and stress too, even if they’re not openly sharing them with you or with the world.
Happiness is being able to balance both positive and negative emotions in a way that you feel confident in yourself, fulfilled in your life and motivated to move forward. Positive emotions in itself include anything from joy to surprise to pleasure to pride to empathy and more – so not all of them are about jumping up and down with happiness. A huge part of happiness is also about having purpose and creating meaningful connections to the different things in your life. Sometimes this can bring more frustration to your life, such as parents of a newborn who might experience less pleasure and joy (due to lack of sleep and challenge of learning new routine) but who’ll experience incredible sensations of purpose (because they’re responsible for the life of this new beautiful person on this planet). There’s so much to happiness than simply having a smile on your face – though even forcing one in the face of challenge will help you get through it better.
Myth 2: You can only be happy if you’re extroverted – or as someone would describe as ‘happy clappy’.
Oh boy if this was true I’d be in big trouble. Despite being extremely comfortable on stage as a speaker or workshop trainer, I am a total introvert. I love having my own personal time to reflect and I absolutely thrive on one-to-one interactions – which is why I love coaching so much! I dread big parties with loads of new faces and often tend to stick to meeting a handful of people and having deeper, meaningful conversations with them rather than working the room to try and say hi to everyone.
The idea that we have to be an extrovert, super loud and super social to be happy is total bogus. Yes there is some research that has supported this idea but how that research has been conducted is very questionable. For example, extroverts are labelled as someone assertive, energetic and talkative – whereas introverts are labelled as compliant, lethargic and quiet. This already cages introverts in a very limiting, negative box that is completely misrepresentative of who they are. Equally we could be labelling extroverted as disrespectful (for being so loud) and introverts as good listeners (as they often like to listen and and reflect more to understand the other person better). In that light happiness is more in the introvert box as they are better able to build more meaningful relationships with people.
Happiness is so much more than being out there as an extrovert. Happiness is about being confidently you. It’s about you sharing your voice and building your relationships in the way that works best for you. (If you’re curious about exploring the introvert angle in more depth, I have heard good things about Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – it’s definitely on my reading list!).
Myth 3: You can only be happy when you ____________ (fill in the blank).
Many people think that happiness is a destination and that you only reach it when you get that promotion, find the right person to marry or – this is my favourite – retire (!). I’d say retirement is a long way away to wait for happiness and I for sure am not one to wait 30 or so years to be happy. So let me break this down for you. Yes, it’s great to have goals to strive for because they give you a sense of direction and they motivate you to jump out of bed in the morning excited. BUT you can not tie happiness to reaching these goals. Why? Because when you reach them, you’ll have a momentary happiness boost because you’re so proud and excited to have reached this milestone (rightfully so!). But the key here is the word momentary. This happiness boost is short-lived and soon you’ll be back to your normal level of happiness and you’ll be focused on striving towards that new, even more challenging goal that you’ve set.
Now don’t get me wrong here. I definitely want you to dream big, aim high and set some goals that are right for you. But I want you to enjoy the journey towards them. Because happiness is something that you find in the here and now. And when you do, you’ll feel even more driven, focused and productive in working towards your goal. Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage explains this beautifully – it’s not success that fuels your happiness, it’s happiness that fuels your success.
Myth 4: Not everyone can be happy.
FALSE! Happiness is a way of thinking that you make into a habit. Just like any habit, it takes some practice to get it right. But anyone can do it if they are committed to it. Trust me, I’d know. I’m a total realist pessimist by nature and I have flipped my mind upside down and inside out to train myself to become an optimist. Sure there are still moments when pessimism creeps in and the worries pile up in the back of my head, but my positive thinking muscle is so strong now that it can override those negative thoughts a lot quicker than before.
Training yourself to be happy is just like going to the gym. The more you go, the stronger your muscles get and the easier exercise becomes. Equally, the more you practice positive thinking, the stronger your ‘positivity muscle’ becomes. In essence, you’re rewiring your brain and changing its structure by learning to think differently. And consistency, repetition and belief in change is what will make it possible. Sure, just like some people are naturally fitter and stronger, some people are naturally more positive and optimistic. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t be. And don’t even dare listening to those who blame their lack of happiness on their circumstances because research has shown this has very little (or more specifically around 10%) to do with your happiness. Happiness is all about perspective, not about external circumstances. If you believe you can be happier and you learn to choose it in the everyday right here right now, it’s that belief that will fuel and reinforce the happiness you’re looking for (which will then also fuel your success!).
Myth 5: There is one formula for happiness that works for everyone.
Nope to this one too. Because you are a completely unique, dynamic human being and you’re forever evolving, there’s no way that what makes you happy makes the rest of the seven billion people on this planet happy. There are simply too many variables to play. However, there are certain questions everyone can reflect on to understand what are the drivers of their happiness. I talk a lot about this in my book Screw Finding Your Passion and the exercises in it help you to reflect on these types of questions very deeply. Some examples of the questions are:
This is your opportunity to become a social scientist of your own life and find out what works best for you. For example, I love to coach people, mostly because it is so rewarding to empower people to believe in themselves. Others might hate it because they’d just want to tell their clients what they think they should do rather than giving the client the opportunity to find the answers from their subconscious. Another example is the sport or type of exercise you choose to engage in. I love doing dressage with my horse and especially with my horse because he is a bit of a wild horse and always makes my rides challenging and rewarding. Other dressage riders wouldn’t want to get on my horse even if I paid them to! (If you’re super excited about exploring questions like these, you should buy a ticket to join my Finding Your Purpose workshop at the School of Life in London in June!)
So next time you wonder whether the Happyologist is happy 24/7, you know the answer. Just like you, I’m totally human and far from perfect. I experience the full range of emotions and don’t deny or suppress sadness, frustration or stress when it comes. I do however use all the tools in my toolkit to use negative emotions as fuel to drive me forward.
Now I’d love to hear from you. Which of these myths did you believe in before? Or do you know other happiness myths which you think aren’t true? Please comment below and we can start a discussion going!
If you enjoyed this post, please like it, tweet it, share it – and you’ll help debunk these happiness myths so that the people around you can realise that happiness is within their reach, regardless of who they are or where they are or what they’re doing.
With that I wish you good luck in your adventures & until next time!