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Escaping the Myth of I’ll-Be-Happy-When to Find Happiness Now

Learn how to banish the idea that the more you have, the better you’ll feel, or that you’ll be happy when [fill in the blank]. From Marci Shimoff, author of Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out.

Most of us fall prey to what I call the Myth of More: the more you have, the better you’ll feel. Our society’s collective trance of wanting more and more stuff, or “bright, shiny objects,” as my friend Stewart calls them, is based on a shared, insidious, and often unconscious belief: more toys, success, and money mean more happiness. But as these statistics show, it just isn’t true:

  • Americans’ personal income has increased more than two and a half times over the past fifty years, but their happiness level has remained the same.
  • Nearly 40 percent of the people on the Forbes list of wealthiest Americans are less happy than the average American.
  • Once personal wealth exceeds $12,000 a year, more money produces virtually no increase in happiness.

It’s obvious that the happiest people aren’t the ones with all the goodies. (If they were, there’d be a lot more happy people in Hollywood!) Yet we are seduced by the deep-seated belief that money will buy happiness — at least we think it will for us. A recent survey showed that at all income levels people think more money would definitely increase their level of happiness.

I heard that a reporter once asked Andrew Carnegie, the famous industrialist who’d amassed a fortune in steel, “You’re the richest man in the world. How much is enough?” He thought for a moment and replied, “Just a little more.”

This shows that our “desire to acquire” won’t bring us true joy. So why is it so hard to escape wanting more?

Because Madison Avenue doesn’t want us to. Advertising exists to perpetuate the Myth of More; it’s the engine that drives our economy. Billions of dollars are spent every year to convince you that you’re not okay the way you are and that you need things — lots and lots of them — to make you happy. One night I did an experiment. I counted how many times and ways I was told this over the course of that night’s television watching.

It was shocking. In just three hours, I was bombarded by sixty-eight messages telling me that I was doomed to misery if I didn’t have what that company was selling. In the most entertaining, compelling, and creative ways possible, advertisers tried to convince me that I needed to have the right car (five different companies claimed theirs was the right one), the sexiest bra (like the one decorated with diamonds that cost $2 million — that’s one million per boob!), the magic pills (we’ll talk about those later), and the best skin care product (God forbid I should look my age).

I know what you’re thinking: But I don’t pay attention to those commercials. They don’t affect me. Sorry to burst your bubble, but they do. You can’t help it: the messages we see and hear repeatedly go into our brain on a subconscious level and become beliefs. If they didn’t, advertisers wouldn’t be spending oodles of money to make sure you view their ads over and over again.

With children watching an average of five hours of television a day, is it any surprise that we have a bunch of unhappy kids who are in a frenzy to get the next toy, video game, or designer-label jeans? If you’ve been around children at Christmas, you’ll know why I was so touched by the following story told to me by a young father I interviewed:

When my oldest daughter, Victoria, was almost three, we read Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas every night to her before the holiday.

She’d curl up beside me as I’d read: Every Who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot…

Victoria followed along as the Grinch unveils his plans to ruin the Christmas of the Whos. Disguising himself as Santa and his dog as a reindeer, the Grinch steals into the Whos’ homes and takes everything, leaving only the hooks and wires on the bare walls. But to his surprise, the Whos remain happy despite the loss of the presents and trees and trimmings and trappings. He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming; “it came just the same.”

On that Christmas morning, we woke just ahead of Victoria so that we could watch her three-year-old enthusiasm as she saw the presents under the tree. She first ran to the kitchen table where she had left a snack for Santa and his reindeer. She looked at the evidence of Santa’s visit: the cookie crumbs on the plate and the empty milk glass and the missing carrots. My wife, pregnant with our second child, and I beamed seeing our daughter so wide-eyed and excited at the thought that Santa himself had been in our home. Next, she ran into the living room and saw the presents under the tree.

We expected her to dive into them — but she didn’t. She held up her little hand and she said, “Stop. Let’s pretend. Let’s pretend the Grinch has been here and took everything and left just hooks and wires and we’d still be happy.”

So we stopped, and were happy. And like the Grinch, my heart grew three sizes that day.

What would our lives be like if we could all be happy no matter what?

When you experience your inner, innate happiness and are Happy for No Reason, you still enjoy the things in your life, but you don’t look to them to make you happy. You’re able to banish the Myth of More.

The Myth of I’ll-Be-Happy-When
A close cousin to the Myth of More is the Myth of I’ll-Be-Happy-When. How many of the following statements sound familiar to you?

  • I’ll be happy when I have the perfect mate.
  • I’ll be happy when I have a better job.
  • I’ll be happy when I have a baby (or another baby).
  • I’ll be happy when the kids are in school.
  • I’ll be happy when I get more recognition or appreciation.
  • I’ll be happy when I can retire.

And the ever so popular:

  • I’ll be happy when I lose 5 (10, 15, 20) pounds.

No matter how many I’ll-be-happy-whens you reach, it’s never quite enough. With each one, you experience either fleeting satisfaction or outright disappointment. Think about the last five goals you achieved. How much happiness did they bring? And how long did that happiness last?

Yet you ignore the feeling that something is missing, and you keep trying: you work harder and harder, telling yourself, Just a little more and I’ll be there. If I could just get this handled, then I’d have it. You’re like a hamster on a wheel. Round and round you go, madly trying to control and manipulate your external circumstances — and always feeling scared of losing whatever it is that you already have. When you’re caught up in I’ll-be-happy-when, happiness is always off in the future, while in truth, the only time you can actually experience happiness is right here in this moment.

Recent studies by Daniel Gilbert, a well-respected Harvard psychology professor, have proven the utter futility of I’ll-be-happy-when thinking. Gilbert, the author of Stumbling on Happiness, has done some fascinating research that shows we humans aren’t very good at predicting what will make us happy in the future. He’s concluded that time and time again, we overestimate the happiness we’ll receive from getting the stuff we want. We imagine how great we’ll feel when we go on a certain vacation or get a promotion or have a particular relationship, but when we actually get them, we are usually far less happy than we thought we’d be. Moreover, we habituate to whatever we thought would make us happy, so the thrill diminishes every time we experience the magical it that was supposed to make us happy forever.

To become happier we have to snap out of the trance that our happiness rests in “more and better” which we’ll get “someday.” No matter what we have, Happy for No Reason exists only now, not later.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marci Shimoff, author of Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out (Copyright © 2008 by Marci Shimoff), is a celebrated transformational leader, an international speaker, and a #1 New York Times bestselling author. She is the coauthor of six of the top-selling titles in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series and is a featured teacher in the international movie and book sensation The Secret.

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