The four main happiness fallacies – 1: You can't increase it, it's just how you're made 2: More money will make you happier 3: You have to have sadness in order to get happiness as a contrast 4: the arrival fallacy (jam tomorrow) – when I get X I’ll be happy, but X never arrives, or you then need to wait for Y.
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- In this section, I want to have a quick look at four fallacies that people commonly believe when thinking about happiness and what they can do to change their perspective. And the first fallacy is that you can't increase your total happiness. There's a belief that it's just how you are and you can't change yourself. Some people just are happier than others. And this is indeed partly true but not completely. Research conducted at the University of California by Sonja Lyubomirsky which involved comparing twins found that 50% of sustainable happiness is genetically determined and therefore fixed, and another 10% comes from your environment and circumstances which are hard to change, but that leaves 40%, nearly half of your total happiness, which is determined by what she calls intentional activities, what we consciously choose to do and think.
And that's what this series of videos is about. The actions that you take can make a big difference to that available 40% of happiness. Linked to the first fallacy, that there's nothing you can do about it, is the second fallacy which says that you can't be happy unless you also experience unhappiness. You need unhappiness to be able to appreciate the good things because you've then got something to compare them with. I don't agree with this one either. I certainly would agree that if you had a very unhappy life, then you'll appreciate the good things more.
But wherever you are at the moment, you can get some more good things into your life without having to let in some bad things as well. As long as you know what unhappiness is like, and we all know that, then you know enough to build more and more happiness into your life. This 50/50 argument just doesn't stack up at all when you think about it. The third of my four fallacies is that money will make you happy. It's been shown that big lottery wins only have a short-term effect because people can't cope with a sudden change.
They find themselves in a world that they aren't right for. It's a lifestyle that they haven't really earned, and so it often doesn't end well. But what about just a bit more money? We could cope with that. Well, I'm going to deal with this later because I think it deserves its own section. But suffice to say that the research shows that if you're really poor, if you need food, or the place where you live is too cold or you worry about your financial security a lot, then money does indeed help.
But for most of us who are doing okay, the extra money does not in fact add to our happiness. That's what the research says. But why on earth would this be? Well, my personal belief is that the price you have to pay to earn the extra money outweighs the benefit that you get from it. But I'll explain more about this later. All you need to know now is that money isn't the answer. And I think in a strange sort of way, I'm pleased about that. It would be a simple answer, I agree, but not a very nice answer.
My fourth and final commonly held false belief is that if you chase happiness, you can capture it. Of course, in a way, this whole course is about chasing happiness but generally, we'll be looking at setting up the right conditions so that it can happen: seeing your friends more, learning new skills, etc. These will be practical things that you can do which then allow happiness to happen. But if you chase it too hard, you just might frighten it away. So, don't give up on being happier.
You can certainly do it, but also don't think that more money will make it happen, or that you can force it to happen. But there are many ways that you can improve the environment for it to grow, and that's what we will be exploring in this series.
- Misbeliefs about happiness
- Focusing on good
- Building gratitude
- Eliminating sources of unhappiness
- Reducing stress