Happiness…You want it. I want it. We all want it. But how many of us truly know how to attain it? The search for happiness motivates people from all walks of life to do all kinds of things - quit a job, change spouses, move, have a family, buy a new car, or start a new hobby. In contrast, the belief that happiness cannot be attained motivates people to take measures as extreme as committing suicide. Some of us are fortunate enough to discover truths about what brings happiness, but many of us are living out our lives with false ideas about happiness stuck in our brains and we never stop to examine whether or not these are true.
The First Lie: Wanting happiness is selfish
The first misconception that gets in the way of being happy is the belief that wanting happiness is selfish. Some of us think we don’t deserve to be happy. We think that putting others above ourselves at the cost of our own needs will make us happy and better people. But this is backward! If we are not fulfilling our own happiness, how can we have the energy to share happiness with others?
The Dalai Lama, arguably one of the top experts on happiness in the world, agrees in his book The Art of Happiness: “…survey after survey has shown that it is unhappy people who tend to be most self-focused and are often socially withdrawn, brooding, and even antagonistic. Happy people, in contrast, are generally found to be more sociable, flexible, and creative and are able to tolerate life’s daily frustrations more easily than unhappy people. And, most important, they are found to be more loving and forgiving than unhappy people.” So the more we allow ourselves to be happy, the more happiness we can share with others. That’s a win-win I’d say!
The Second Lie: Happiness comes from things outside of us
If you believe that events, situations, other people, and objects cause your happiness (or lack of it) then your life will be stressful! You will try to control things and people in your life so that you will be happy.
The problem with this approach may be obvious: you can’t control things and people in your life, at least not one-hundred percent of the time. And because you can’t succeed, you’ll live in fear of what bad thing is going to happen next, of how others are going to treat you, and of your own emotions.
What does cause happiness then? The root cause of emotion is arguably our thoughts. Try thinking about something that makes you happy, and not feeling happy. Can you do it? Neither can I. It is equally impossible to think about something that you dread and not feel miserable. The Dalai Lama put it this way, “happiness is determined more by one’s state of mind than by external events.”
Abraham Lincoln may have been wiser than even he gave himself credit for. He understood this idea as well, as this famous quote illustrates: “We can complain that rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” Congruently, he stated that “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” Who knew that the Dalai Lama and Abraham Lincoln shared the same philosophy?
So, you get to choose how you see the world. That doesn’t just go for rose bushes; it goes for events, situations, people, or anything you encounter in life.
The Third Lie: Our happiness is not our responsibility
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
- Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Because you now know that the way you think about things creates your happiness, taking responsibility for your happiness is essential. If you don’t, you’re right back where you started -- waiting for, hoping for, and attempting to control everything outside yourself to make you happy. It’s like flushing your winning lottery ticket down the toilet. No longer is it totally accurate for you to say, “You made me mad” to your loved one. They may have made it easy for you to be mad, but it was your perception that ultimately caused your emotion. That is taking responsibility for your happiness.
The Fourth Lie: We are our minds
Another misconception that blocks our happiness is thinking that our thoughts, beliefs, and ideas along with our bodies are all that we are. We are more than our minds and bodies. We have a soul, a spirit, a higher-self, a consciousness, whatever you like to call it. You can confirm its existence by asking yourself one question:
If I am but a body and mind, and yet I can observe my mind…who then is doing the observing?
Without the awareness of this separation we can allow ourselves to become victims of our minds. Our minds play games with us and sabotage us: I’m incompetent…I’m so ugly…I’m an idiot…I’m never good enough! Sound familiar? In contrast, the part of us that is separate from our minds is loving, trusting, inspiring, wise, and confident. If we have no awareness that the lies our mind tells us are separate from our true selves, we can get sucked into believing the lies.
The Fifth Lie: It doesn’t hurt us to live incongruently
Many people don’t realize that 1) They are living incongruently, and 2) That living congruently matters. What I mean by living “congruently” is living where what you value, what you say, and how you act match up. When these things don’t match up, you can struggle with self-worth issues. It’s hard to be happy when you don’t feel good about yourself. Deep down, a part of us seems to know when we’re not being true to ourselves. But if you change your words and actions to match your values, you give your old beliefs no ground to stand on.
If you want happiness, start by ditching these false beliefs. Remind yourself that 1) wanting happiness isn't selfish because you can spread more good in the world when you're happy. 2) Don't be a victim by believing that the world outside you dictates your inner state; take back your power by knowing that your perception dictates your inner state. 3) Treat your power with responsibility. That may mean you try to stop blaming other people and events for your unhappiness. 4) When you hear that voice in your head putting you down and doubting you, remember that you are not your mind. You have a higher spiritual self, that is the real you, and is separate from your fearful mind. And 5) Work on aligning your values, your words, and your actions, and you'll be well on your way to being the happiest person you know.