Happiness Myths: How Many Steps to Happiness??

A Google search for 'steps to happiness' returned 97 million search results, though it seemed redundant to go spelunking beyond the top 50, so I offer my somewhat biased review of those. Yes, I know, not the best way to seek authentic happiness wisdom as it does imply a potentially superficial 'quick fix' approach, but that's precisely why I'm talking about it, since there is a proportionately large number of seekers meeting the demand.

After a while, a couple of interesting patterns began to emerge, beyond the rather simplistic approach just mentioned. I noticed that many (perhaps even most) of the steps aren't steps to happiness at all but rather symptoms of happiness, as though the attention is turned toward what it's like to be happy, and then we're simply told to be that. "Be grateful", "be positive", "do what you love", "laugh a lot", "smile a lot", "accept yourself" and "choose happiness" are really the result of being happy rather than things we can decide to do as a way of bringing about happiness. Maybe my biggest complaint is on behalf of those suffering from depression who cannot presently find much to be grateful for or laugh about or be positive about, which may lead to an even deeper depression.

steps to happiness The last invitation, "choose happiness", deserves special attention. If one is seeking advice on how to be happy, it seems reasonable to assume the idea of choosing it has already occurred, and that it has already been tried and found impossible. In fact, choosing to be in any mind state is impossible, otherwise we would all be choosing the good ones and never choose the bad ones. Our state of mind is the end result of some extremely complex conditioning dynamics that also includes whatever life situation we currently find ourselves in, very little of which seems to actually be under our conscious control.

Another interesting pattern that emerged is contradiction. Certainly, we wouldn't expect any of the steps within a particular multi-step plan of authentic happiness to find themselves at odds with each other, and yet that seemed to occur often enough to make me curious as to why.

For example, in these 5 steps to happiness :
Step 3) Improve yourself
Step 5) Don't become. Just be.

and in these

10 grateful steps to happiness:
Step 1) Keep a gratitude journal (remember the good)
Step 2) Remember the bad
The idea in the second step being that remembering the bad makes you grateful for the good, which in fact it does in a very classic, dualistic manor, rendering both steps irrelevant.

In these Seven Steps to happiness (link removed-Yahoo flagged as potentially dangerous. HA!)
Step 2) Stay present
Step 3) Think about what you want
In case it's not clear, what 'stay present' actually means is to not think about the past or future.

In a similar vein 

4 easy steps to happiness:
Step 3) Be happy today
Step 4) Invest in happiness. "Give thought to a life of fulfillment and happiness"
While the two are not necessarilly mutually exclusive, it's mostly the pondering of what you don't have and what you need in order to be fulfilled that makes being "happy today" impossible. So why the contradictions?

happiness myths

To me, it points to the lack of a clear understanding of how happiness works, and it works in a very relative, subjective way such that one moment it looks like becoming, and the next it looks like being, and the good times bring gratitude in comparison to the bad times, and when we can be present it's good until we can't be present, and so on.

Maybe it's useful to remember that every human that ever lived has sought happiness in some way with every breath he took, and we can intuit that the answer is not going to be simple. In fact, half the job is understanding the problem.

Phil Beaumont

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More Happiness Myths Articles:
Positive Psychology (part 1)
Positive Psychology (part 2)
The Happiness Project Myth 2
The Myth of Positive Thinking

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