I listened to a sermon last week that began with a discussion on happiness. The preacher talked about “the myths of happiness,” based on the popular book by Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., a social psychologist at the University of California.
We all believe in one or more happiness myths, like these:
- If only I had more money, I’d be happier
- If only I had a significant other, I’d be happier
- If only I had a bigger house, I’d be happier
- If only I could get that job or promotion, I’d be happier
- If only I had more clients, more followers, more “likes,” more page views…
If only [x], I’d be happier.
What is your [x]?
“Nearly all of us buy into what I call the myths of happiness — beliefs that certain adult achievements (marriage, kids, jobs, wealth) will make us forever happy and that certain adult failures or adversities (health problems, divorce, financial struggles) will make us forever unhappy,” writes Lyubomirsky in Psychology Today. “Overwhelming research, however, reveals that there is no magic formula for happiness and no sure course toward misery.”
We know from The Beatles that money can’t buy us love; it can’t buy us lasting happiness either. Lasting is the key word here because if you do get that bigger house or better job or whatever your [x] is today, you will likely latch on to a new happiness myth tomorrow. Matt Johnson, singer-songwriter of the band The The, conveys this tendency in the song True Happiness This Way Lies:
And have you ever wanted something so badly
That it possessed your body & your soul
Through the night & through the day
Until you finally get it!
And then you realize that it wasn’t what you wanted after all.
And then those selfsame sickly little thoughts
Now go & attach themselves to something….
And the whole goddamn thing starts all over again.
While there is no magic formula for happiness, happy people share some common traits — like this one shared by the preacher, which Jeff Haden wrote about in Inc. earlier this year:
“Happy people focus on what they have, not on what they don’t have. It’s motivating to want more in your career, relationships, bank account, etc., but thinking about what you already have, and expressing gratitude for it, will make you a lot happier.”
Isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about? Thinking about what we have and expressing gratitude for it, both in words and deeds?
Our Declaration of Independence famously states that we are endowed by our Creator “with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
To pursue is to seek, and we often seek happiness on the other side of “If only.”
But happiness is not limited to tomorrow; it is here and now too
we spent more time, every day,
being grateful for what we have.
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