Blame it on advertisements, TV shows or social media, but ultimately the responsibility is yours to detach yourself from the fairest of the myths of happiness.
Perhaps it’s the carefully airbrushed and crafted images of attractive, stylishly dressed celebrities in extravagant settings, giving off an impression of happiness and success, among other desirable aspects. Maybe it’s Instagram, Facebook and other social updates—the manicured snapshots of a second of someone’s life artificially representing a whole.
With these ideals of perfection flashing on multiple screens in your life, it’s reinforced repeatedly, “This is what happiness looks like.”
This leads us to the second of the myths of happiness series. In a capitalistic society where there are incentives to disempower and create insecurity in the masses, it’s hard to resist the tendency to misplace the emphasis on ideal conditions that you don’t have complete control over.
Myth 2: Happiness is picture perfect
The common statement is, “I’ll be happy when…“ this or that happens.
It’s a caveat, a condition that must be fulfilled before some people allow themselves to be happy. The ideal could be when you get a job or promotion, when you find your soul mate or when some perceived important milestone is reached. Only then will you consider yourself to be happy.
Other variations of the ideal are when everything going to plan or when you complete this one thing.
The irony is, when those ideals or milestones are reached, the result is a short-lived feeling that falls short of true happiness. It’s a feeling best described like a fleeting, dopamine-induced thrill, with an underlying insecurity from the fear that whatever the condition was will be taken away or replaced with yet another condition.
Because that’s what happens… once you’ve achieved whatever the condition was, another one will inevitably take its place.
And if you buy into the myth of picture perfect happiness, when life doesn’t go your way—as it sometimes does, or perhaps never does depending on your standards—what you’re left with is discontent and a lack of happiness.
If the picture perfect happiness were true, then how is happiness possible for people who are unable or hard-pressed to change unfavorable aspects of their lives?
There are many people with less than ideal circumstances who are happy—people with challenging situations such as terminal diseases, handicaps or minimal resources.
There’s another way, and it comes down to letting go of the need for perfection and control to feel happy about where you currently are.
Life isn’t picture perfect.
Life is messy and full of mistakes, inefficiencies, anger, sadness, unknowns and failures. Yet life is perfect in its imperfection, filled with learning, love, surprise, joy, laughter and growth.
Life will never be “done” or “complete” until your dying breath—so the choice is yours to feel complete and happy at this very moment amidst your unpolished and in-progress state of affairs.
Regardless of whether a condition in your life is lifelong, unchangeable or temporal, you have a choice of happiness.
Even in the most abysmal of circumstances, there is an opportunity for you to find meaning, suffer bravely and choose mind over matter—most poignantly demonstrated by Victor Frankl himself as a concentration camp prisoner, illustrated well by the movie The Pursuit of Happyness and exemplified by children, who find joy in small things in spite of what else is going on.
Embrace the present moment, as imperfect as it may seem.
There is no perfect, but there is happiness in the imperfection if you choose to embrace it.
Are you prone to picture perfect happiness? More myths of happiness to come in the following weeks. If you missed the first myth, check out Part 1 of the 7 myths of happiness series.