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Wellness

Six Myths About Happiness Explained


Exploring how life’s magic leads to happiness has lead me down some peculiar paths and has lead me to some even more peculiar ideas about happiness. I would like to clarify some of these ideas and explain what the field of positive psychology has discovered about happiness.

1. Money doesn’t buy happiness. 

Money does buy happiness… a little bit. We need enough money to cover our basic needs and to have some sense of stability. We are happier when we are warm and dry, have food in our bellies, and have a degree of choice/mobility financially. I have heard a few different numbers given for how much is ideal, but it seems that happiness increases as household income increases until it plateaus somewhere in the mid to late tens of thousands. (Seventy thousand in household income was one number given; I imagine this number would fluctuate depending on cost of living, inflation, etc.*)

2. Winning the lottery will make you happy. 

Neither is it true, though, that the more money we have, the happier we will be. This is because of something called the Hedonic Treadmill, also known as Hedonic Adaptation.* We become accustomed to a new income and lifestyle and continue to want more and more. Thus, something like getting a huge windfall will make us very happy… for a very short period of time, until we adjust to that change. The idea that more money will give us more happiness (beyond approximately seventy thousand in annual household income) is a myth. We will be just as happy making seventy thousand a year as making two million a year, or two hundred million. For those on the Hedonic Treadmill chasing that six figure salary, it is better to focus on daily intentional changes like practicing gratitude and to recognize that much of happiness comes not from a change in income, but a change in mindset.

3. Running/eating well/thinking happy thoughts is all anyone ever needs to be happy. 

I once had a coworker at a mental health nonprofit who believed this and was very dismissive of mental illness, which infuriated me. Mental illnesses can be life-threatening and can require professional treatment, often including medication or even hospitalization. Would we tell someone with stage four cancer to take a walk and eat some vegetables? No, we would trust that that individual was following a healthcare plan set up by medical professionals to best suit their needs. The same goes for mental illness.

4. Positive psychology is invalid because it ignores mental illness and is just about “happy thoughts.” 

I actually heard a Professor of Psychology make this argument against studying positive psychology and I wondered how familiar he was with positive psychology research. Positive psychology is a more holistic approach to mental health, rather than focusing exclusively on illness. Just as a doctor might suggest preventative lifestyle changes such as eating well and exercising, so too can a positive psychologist suggest ways to increase our mental wellness. Additionally, “positive emotion” is a very small piece of the mental wellness pie, and having healthy emotional responses, including “negative” emotions, is also vital to overall happiness, according to positive psychology research.*

5. Everyone has an equal opportunity for happiness. 

Fifty percent of happiness is genetically variable, and another ten percent is circumstantial.* If someone else just doesn’t seem as happy as you no matter what they do, consider that they might be genetically predisposed to be a little less happy. Circumstantial factors like culture, socioeconomic status, and gender also play into how happy we are.

6. You can’t change how happy you are. 

Despite happiness having a genetic set-point and being influenced by circumstance, forty percent of our happiness IS variable.* That means there are things we can do, like practicing gratitude, learning something new, and performing random acts of kindness, that can increase our happiness quite a bit. Our happiness is absolutely something that we DO have some control over if we are intentional about making changes to support positive mental health.

I hope this has clarified some nuances about happiness. There are a lot of memes and platitudes on the internet that don’t address some of the complexities found in happiness research. I am far from being an expert, but I have done quite a bit of research, so if you have a question about happiness you would like me to address, please let me know.

*Source for this post: Positive Psychology: Theory, Research, and Applications by Kate Hefferon and Ilona Boniwell

Black Cat Blue Sea Award

 

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Well, I was trudging through a pretty dreadful Monday this week when my phone buzzed and I received a notification that Marigold Blooms of By the Wayside had nominated me for The Black Cat Blue Sea Award. What a lovely surprise!

The Black Cat Blue Sea Award is given to bloggers who have written something that appeals to a wide audience and has had the power to move a reader, inspire or just make them smile.

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The Rules Are: 

  1. Anybody nominated can nominate up to eight other bloggers.
  2. The nominee answers three questions posed by the nominator.
  3. The questions you ask while nominating can be any three questions.
  4. If any of the questions asked are offensive or the nominee simply does not want to answer, the nominee does not have to answer them to earn the award.

 

My Answers:

1. What in the last month has touched or inspired you the most?

Michelle Obama’s speech on women. I almost didn’t watch it because I knew it was part of a campaign speech, but I decided to give it a listen after a good friend promoted it and I was deeply moved. Sometimes great wisdom can be found in unexpected places.

2. Is there a book you read recently that you especially enjoyed?  Share!  Or what is your favorite book or author?

“Enjoyed” is an interesting word. I’ve recently pulled on some galoshes and sludged my way through Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. And boy am I glad I did! It’s one of those books that I knew “in theory” but had never sat down and given a close read. It’s a dense but incredibly insightful look at the power of storytelling and the psychological impact it has had for thousands of years.

3. What advice would you give your younger self?

It is never wrong to stand up for you. You own your own boundaries. You are the author and main character of your own life story.

My Questions:

  1. What book in your life has influenced or shaped you the most?
  2. What is one silly thing that has the power to make you truly happy?
  3. If you could be doing anything anywhere in the world (or elsewhere!) right at this very moment, what would it be?

My Nominees:

No pressure on responding to the questions; just know that I have really enjoyed your content and wanted to share your work:

Anonymously Autistic

The Wishing Well

Little Big Things

Belle Pappillon 24/7 

Be sure to check out what these folks are up to and thanks again to Marigold Blooms; be sure to check out her blog as well. She writes about life’s journey, changes, and how important it is to get off the beaten path.

 

Let Your Bodies Work their Magic

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(No, it’s not what you’re thinking.) I am currently recovering from a sinus infection- and taking the first antibiotics I’ve had to take in over four years.

I used to be the queen of sinus infections, colds, bronchitis, I even got pneumonia twice in elementary school. Sure, I had a bad immune system as a kid, but even as an adult, I couldn’t get through the winter without going to the doctor several times. What changed?

Four years ago, I got the worst sinus infection I had ever had. I had been diagnosed with chronic Eustachian tube dysfunction about a year prior to this infection, and without going into too much detail, the stuff in my head just… wasn’t going anywhere. Anyway, after a month of trying different antibiotics and having that ugly word, “surgery” looming over my head, a combination of an obscure antibiotic and several other medications eventually worked.

There were many lessons that I could have garnered from this experience. What it led me to, personally, was the resolve to rest at the first sign of illness. As I told myself, had a medical excuse. My boss, who had witnessed the whole sinus infection saga, understood. But more importantly, I started to wonder, why aren’t we ALL encouraged to stay home every time we’re sick? Why don’t we ALL have a medical excuse for taking care of our bodies? Why did it take a more serious diagnosis before I felt comfortable staying home?

Each and every one of us ALWAYS deserves to treat our bodies well. First off, our bodies are often the best medicine. I realized firsthand that this was true when I started listening to mine, feeding it the right stuff, and resting to let it do what it was supposed to do: heal me. And wouldn’t you know, that almost always works really well? Not to mention it can save a lot of money in doctor’s bills.

Then there’s the fact that we can be more productive if we let ourselves rest. Rather than missing a full week of work because our slight head cold turned into something more serious, we can just miss a day or two, then come back revitalized.

And finally, we won’t infect others if we stay at home. That means more productivity in the long-term, instead of having an illness spread from one person to the other. Not to mention, less people getting serious infections means less people taking antibiotics, which means less antibiotic resistance.

I’m not blaming the work force, or those who are ill, and I’m certainly not blaming doctors (bless them, they tried to tell me this for years.) I think we simply have a culture nowadays that doesn’t know how to slow down and let our bodies work their own magic. All too often, sick days are discouraged, if not openly in the workplace, then within our culture as a whole. There’s a certain “brave aura” to working steadfastly through an illness, but when that illness is a minor infection, it just strikes me as a little silly.

Moms have it especially hard. Working mothers have to split their sick days between themselves and their children. Stay-at-home moms don’t get sick days, period.

We also live in a culture that focuses on sickness, not wellness. Insurance won’t even cover most appointments and procedures without a diagnosis, which means that we have by necessity stopped looking at our bodies as a whole, beautiful, interconnected system, a system that was made to heal itself in many ways, if treated correctly. Instead we look at parts and pieces and point fingers at causes which are so often secondary and temporary. I had a doctor just last year stretch the truth a bit on a test that I needed for very valid reasons, just to ensure that it was covered.

What all of this boils down to is that we as a culture have very little incentive to respect the natural healing functions our bodies provide. But we need to. Being kind to our bodies and letting them do their thing isn’t just necessary; it is rewarding and amazing to experience and oh so beautiful. Now I’ll admit, it’s not a cure-all (that darn tube in my ear still isn’t working right- more on that later), but if you are the “just work through it” type, or if you are working in a culture that is, I challenge you to be brave the next time you come down with an illness and stand up for your own health. Give your body the rest, fluids, and nutrients it needs to function optimally. And on that note, I’m going to get some rest.

(Not So) Guilty Pleasures

I am dreaming of indulgence today. Here is what I am dreaming of:

  • Fresh vegetables with flavors that tingle on the tongue.
  • A long, invigorating walk full of the damp smell of early morning.
  • The zinging joy of a smart choice, a good investment, a brave resolution.
  • The peace of five minutes alone with your own breath.
  • The thrill of a good bargain thoughtfully purchased.
  • A steaming hot bubble bath that soaks into your bones.
  • The laughter of a child as you play with them.
  • An act of kindness with no reward but your feeling of wholeness.
  • Rich hot tea with just a touch of cream.
  • The serenity of a room arranged in a whole new way.
  • The pride of a small accomplishment.

Being good to yourself isn’t a sacrifice. It’s an indulgence. And it’s one you can give yourself every single day

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