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Happiness: 6 Myths and Truths

Don't Fall for These Happiness Myths; Learn How to Overcome Them
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Myth 2: Happiness is a destination. continued...

Robert Biswas-Diener, co-author of Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, agrees.

"Happiness isn't the emotional finish line in the race of life," he says. It's a process and a resource. Biswas-Diener says there's a mountain of data showing that when people are happier, they become healthier and more curious, sociable, helpful, creative, and willing to try new things.

"Happiness is not just an emotional flight of fancy," he says. "It's beneficial for the long run, serving a real function in our lives."

In psychological lingo, this is called the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions, says Michael A. Cohn, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher with the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Cohn recently conducted a study with 86 college students who submitted daily emotion reports. The researchers measured the students' ability to flexibly respond to challenging and shifting circumstances and used a scale to assess life satisfaction. The study showed that positive emotions increased resilience -- skills for identifying opportunities and bouncing back from adversity -- as well as life satisfaction.

Myth 3: You always adapt to your happiness set point.

It's true that people tend to adapt fairly quickly to positive changes in their lives, Lyubomirsky says. In fact, adaptation is one of the big obstacles to becoming happier. The long-awaited house, the new car, the prestigious job -- all can bring a temporary boost but then recede into the background over time.

Why does this happen? One reason, Lyubomirsky says, is that we evolved to pay more attention to novelty. For our ancestors, novelty signaled either danger or opportunity – a chance for a new mate or food, for example. We're attuned to contrasts, not sameness. But that also means we readily adapt to positive experiences that happen to us, Lyubomirsky says.

"I argue that you can thwart adaptation, slow it down, or prevent it with active ways of thinking or behaving," says Lyubomirsky, who, after moving to Santa Monica, Calif., found herself adapting to her beautiful surroundings. To counteract this trend, she put effort into appreciating the view she saw when running on a path overlooking the ocean. She says she now savors that view every day, trying to see it "through the eyes of a tourist."

To help thwart adaptation, you can also use novelty to your advantage. For instance, if your home has become a little ho-hum, you might try rearranging furniture or hosting parties for a variety of friends. Voluntary activities like these are most effective because they require you to pay attention, Lyubomirsky notes.

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