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5 myths of happiness

Everyone wants to be happy. The Declaration of Independence even lists the pursuit of happiness as a basic human right. But not everyone understands what it really means to be happy, and the pursuit of happiness itself can even bring misery. The key to achieving lasting happiness is knowing the difference between myth and true contentment. Here, five myths to beware of in your own search.

Myth 1: Happiness can be pursued.

Myth 1: Happiness can be pursued.

“I think that most of us continue to search for happiness in a number of ways (money, possessions, power, etc.) and the problem with this is, it assumes that happiness can be pursued outside of ourselves,” says Norman Thibault, PhD, a licensed marriage and family therapist and an instructor in the University of Phoenix counseling degree program. “I like the quote from Guillaume Apollinaire, who said, ‘now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.’”

Myth 2: You should be happy all the time.

Myth 2: You should be happy all the time.

Many people want to be happy all the time, but Thibault argues this is neither realistic nor healthy. “The first move for someone who wants to be happy is to get rid of the notion we are supposed to be happy all the time,” he says. “Who ever promised that? Happiness is not always good.”

Myth 3: Happiness is a basic human right.

Myth 3: Happiness is a basic human right.

Happiness is wonderful when we do experience it, but it’s not a panacea, according to Thibault. “I believe it’s important to separate happiness from peace,” he says. “Happiness is momentary and fleeting, whereas peace can be long-term. I would much rather value peace in my life. The beautiful thing about living a peaceful life is you can have peace whether you are happy or sad.”

Myth 4: Happiness means avoiding sadness at all costs.

Myth 4: Happiness means avoiding sadness at all costs.

While anger, sadness, fear and frustration are negative emotions that many people wish to avoid, they can be essential teachers and tools for healthy growth, according to Thibault. “Don’t minimize the importance of emotional struggles,” he cautions. “Dealing with difficult challenges is the key to helping us grow, which is what ultimately will help you achieve peace.”

Myth 5: If I can just get a better job (or house, or car, or relationship), then I’ll be happy.

Myth 5: If I can just get a better job (or house, or car, or relationship), then I’ll be happy.

Many people believe that if they can just get what they “want” out of life, then it will lead to happiness. But that’s shortsighted, says Thibault.

“What consistently brings people peace of mind and long-term contentment is being the kind of person they want to be, in terms of having a set of values and integrity, and living your life consistently according to those values,” he says. “The key is really taking the time to get to know exactly what kind of person you want to be, and understanding what really matters most in life. You can find it through religion, spirituality or simply adhering to a certain set of personal ethics.” 

“I believe happiness comes through service to others," he adds. "Demonstrating love and kindness toward others makes them feel loved and brings happiness to ourselves at the same time.”

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