The pursuit of happiness is a cornerstone of the American dream, outlined specifically for us in the Declaration of Independence. Yet some days, we find ourselves chasing the ever-fleeting mistress that is happiness and fail to catch her.
So on days when we cannot craft a genuine smile, why not just abide by the time-honored tradition of “fake it until you make it”? Science says no. By faking happiness, you can actually make your mood worse. In the work field, faking contentment can make you hate your job and can make you sick.
Psychologist Iris Mauss at UC Berkeley found that people who focus on improving their happiness tend to focus on obtaining personal gains, which can lead to a busy life with little beneficial social or intrapersonal interaction.
Dan Gilbert, a pioneer in the study of happiness, says that humans are driven by emotions and that “emotions (are) a compass that tells us what to do. A compass that is perpetually stuck on the north is worthless.” Meaning that if we are ALWAYS happy, (a.k.a. always stuck facing north), we will miss out on other important emotions and may not truly be able to cultivate the power and joy that comes from happiness.
Remember: all emotions are valid; make sure to feel them all!
What happiness is NOT
Happiness is a vague beast to tackle. For every individual person, a sense of joy can come from a multitude of places. There is so much variation in what happiness is to each individual. To get a grasp on how to best define it, we must look at what happiness it is not.
Happiness is not predictable
Contrary to popular belief, things are not as burdensome as you might anticipate them to be. By default, the great things that come to you do not always make you as happy as you’d like. Gilbert gives a great example. “Going blind will not make you as unhappy as you’d expect, and winning the lottery will not make you as happy as you expect.”
As reliable as we’d hope our brains are at predicting our future emotions and responses, it is well backed that they do not have this capability.
Happiness is not material
Even though a new outfit can make you feel better for a moment, this is what science likes to call “false happiness.” While at first, it may help you feel more confident and excited to take on new tasks, eventually that feeling will fade with the fabric you bought. Chasing money and material possessions lead to a temporary sense of happiness.
Happiness is not a destination
Life is about the journey, but the destination is not happiness. Enjoying the process is the important part to remember.
If you find yourself saying things like:
- “Once I finish a project I will be happy”
- “Once I make a million dollars, I will be happy”
- or “Once I am married, I will be happy”, you have the wrong mentality.Happiness is not found outside yourself, it’s cultivated inside. Relying on an outside source to change your emotional status will not help you become happier.
If we can’t concretely define happiness for everyone, maybe we should focus the attention on how to create more of it for ourselves.
How to Increase Happiness
Creating a calm and productive life is the best way to cultivate joy for yourself. These are the top ten recommendations to increase happiness.
- Look for employment at a company that values its employees and their happiness.
- Invest in experiences – instead of investing in material goods, invest in memories.
- Focus on your relationships and making them succeed.
- Practice mindfulness.
- Practice gratitude – keep a running list of what you are thankful for.
- Help others.
- Budget for happiness – use financial tweaks to save for experiences.
- Focus on posture.
- Eat healthily
Though we are always striving for happiness, our tactics for getting there may not be as effective as we’d like. By understanding what happiness is, what it is not, and how to cultivate more of it in your life, you are bound to live a life full of joy, purpose, and laughter!
Avery T. Phillips is a freelance human being with too much to say. She loves nature and examining human interactions with the world. Comment or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or suggestions.
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