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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 4: Negative emotions always outweigh the positive ones.

For quite some time, research has indicated that negative emotions are more powerful than positive ones, Cohn says. For example, studies show that people don't have equal reactions to winning $3 and losing $3, he says. The loss tends to have a stronger effect than the gain.

Negative emotions might edge out positive emotions in the moment, Cohn says, because they're telling you to find a problem and fix it. But positive emotions appear to win out over time because they let you build on what you have, a finding reinforced by Cohn's recent study.

"We found that as positive emotions go up, there comes a point where negative emotions no longer have a significant negative impact on building resources or changing life satisfaction," Cohn says. "Positive emotions won't protect you from feeling bad about things, nor should they. But over time, they can protect you from the consequences of negative emotions."

This may not be true for people with depression or other serious disorders, although they do show benefits when positive emotions are added to conventional psychotherapy, Cohn notes.

Myth 5: Happiness is all about hedonism.

There's more to happiness than racking up pleasurable experiences. In fact, helping others -- the opposite of hedonism -- may be the most direct route to happiness, notes Stephen G. Post, PhD. Post is co-author of Why Good Things Happen to Good People: The Exciting New Research That Proves the Link Between Doing Good and Living a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life.

"When people help others through formal volunteering or generous actions, about half report feeling a 'helper's high,' and 13% even experience alleviation of aches and pains," says Post, professor of preventive medicine and director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, N.Y.

"For most people, a pretty low threshold of activity practiced well makes a difference," Post says. This might involve volunteering just one or two hours each week or doing five generous things weekly -- practices that are above and beyond what you normally do.

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