Myth: You’d be happy if you could just have that one special thing you desire.
Facts: Pinning your hopes for happiness on a single event or thing—that winning lottery ticket, for example—is a big mistake, says psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California, Riverside. In fact, such wishful thinking (“I would be happy if ...” or “I will be happy when ... ”) is based on one of the major fallacies surrounding happiness, according to Lyubomirsky, a practitioner of “positive psychology,” which focuses on human strengths and virtues rather than mental illness.
“Researchers have found that changes in our circumstances, no matter how positive and stunning, actually have little bearing on our well-being,” says Lyubomirsky, who received a five-year, $1 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to research happiness and wrote "The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want."
She and other practitioners of positive psychology say that a key to being happy is actively embracing the here and now—focusing on family and friends, having a sense of purpose, finding fulfillment in day-to-day activities—rather than waiting, as Lyubomirsky puts it, for “this, that, or the other thing to happen.”
Bill Hogan is a writer based in Falls Church, Va.