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The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does

By Sonja Lyubomirsky


As the title so aptly implies we search for happiness in all the wrong ways and places, believing it is a fixed state, just ahead, if we can only get there.

From the first page Dr. Lyubomirsky invites us to examine our beliefs about what will make us happy, such as marriage, family, wealth or an ideal job and the circumstances we think will make us unhappy, such as health problems, financial strain or being single.

The notion of “I’ll be happy when…” is the first happiness myth. Often what we believe will make us happy actually will, though not as happy as we imagine or for as long a period of time. We may not feel the joy we anticipated or the luster doesn’t last, which gives way to feeling there must be something wrong with us or that happiness is elusive.

Conversely, the belief that “I can’t be happy when….” is equally pervasive and is just as powerful a myth. When faced with adversity we can’t imagine we will ever feel happy again, that life will never be the same or as good.

The book goes on to support the idea that although we may believe events will change our lives for better or worse, it is really our response to them that determines their impact.

The book covers ten crisis points we may (probably will) face as adults involving relationships, career, finances, health and aging.   Though often frightening, painful or depressing these times may be opportunities for self-reflection and personal growth. Dr. Lyubomirsky writes, “Recent research reveals that people who have suffered some (for example, several negative events or life-changing moments) are ultimately happier (and less distressed, traumatized, stressed or impaired) than those who have experienced no adversity at all.” She goes on to say “How we respond to crisis moments—whether we keep our heads down when we should lift them up, or stay put when we should act—may have cascading effects across our lives. In these moments, we choose the future.”

As in her first book The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, there is a theme of hope. We learn there are ways to reframe our pursuit of happiness, to celebrate steps along the way as we work towards our identified goals. And, we learn that happiness is not just about feeling good it’s also about not feeling bad.

In my opinion, The Myths of Happiness is well worth the read. It is a practical book, based on empirical research, about how we can bring daily happiness into our lives by making choices proven to increase levels of well-being.