Relationships For Dummies
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Humans appeared on this earth without an owner's manual. Luckily, one of our advances has been in figuring out what causes happiness — and what doesn't. For example, everyone wants to be happy. But have you ever noticed how some people have few material possessions, yet seem very happy, while others have an abundance of material wealth, yet seem very unhappy? How can some people remain strong through many crises, while others fall apart over nothing? If money and possessions don't determine happiness, what does? Moreover, if the amount of stress you feel isn't determined by the intensity of an event, then what does control it?

Myth #1: Optimism isn't realistic

Negative, pessimistic people think that optimists are delusional; they pity them for their inability to see life as it really is. In contrast, they see themselves as understanding the "truth" about the world, and not being afraid to face it. They tend to be critical and cynical, even putting a negative spin on their humor. They look around them and find proof for their pessimistic ideas, interpreting ambiguous situations as negative.

Their negative observations seem correct, but it's really a vicious self-fulfilling cycle. Doom-and-gloomers think negatively, so they feel critical and pessimistic, which then makes it easy for them to act in negative, distrustful, critical ways. Then other people either shy away or react negatively to them — which then confirms their belief that the world really is a lousy place. Therefore, the cycle continues downward. In essence, pessimists trap themselves in a self-perpetuating cycle of gloom and doom.

In reality, escaping this cycle is easy. If you think that the glass is half empty, it is. On the other hand, if you think the glass is half full, it is. In fact, the glass is both. How you think about the situation determines how you feel, and how you feel makes acting in an optimistic, uplifting way more or less difficult. In addition, how you act greatly influences how others respond to you.

Myth #2: Other people are happier than me

If you believe in this myth, you probably notice other people a lot — too much — and you idealize the relationships of others. You believe that other people have better lives and perfect relationships. You see a loving couple cuddling on the street and assume that those people have no real problems. Then you look at your own life and your own relationship, and feel very unhappy because you're not as happy as others seem to be. Moreover, nothing will make you more miserable than thinking that everyone else is having more fun than you are.

No one has a perfect life or a perfect relationship. People who enjoy great blessings often find themselves dealing with great tragedies as well. For example, if you have money, you have to take precautions so others don't steal it. If you don't have money, you don't have to worry about anyone loving you for your money; you just need a way to pay the bills. Money never makes anyone happy, and not having it doesn't have to keep you from being happy either. Likewise, no other material possession ever equals happiness either.

Myth #3: Other people and things make me happy

The person who believes this myth uses expressions like, "You made me mad!" and, "You make me so happy!" Although these figures of speech are very colorful, they also imply that the responsibility for your happiness lies outside you. If someone makes you feel happy/sad/mad/whatever, then that person can also make you feel unhappy/less sad/not mad/whatever. If your mental state is controlled by what another person does, then you can never be truly stable. After all, you can't control what anyone does, so how can you ever be truly happy for extended periods?

Well, the good news is: No one and no thing can cause you to be happy. In fact, people and things don't cause happiness at all. It's what you think about those other people and things that determines whether you feel happy or sad. Your thoughts — not outside events, the presence or absence of material objects, or other people — cause your feelings.

Just as money can't make you happy, other people can't make you happy either. No one can make anyone think or feel or do anything. The only person who has that distinction is the person who owns the thoughts, feelings, and behavior. When you accept this truth, then and only then can you be truly happy. If you stop waiting for circumstances to change in your life, you can make yourself happy — every day — no matter what life brings.

Myth #4: I can't be happy single and alone

Many people believe that they can only be happy when they're with a partner. If you believe this myth, you may also believe that your partner makes you happy. Not only does such a belief place responsibility for your happiness outside you, it puts that responsibility smack dab on your partner. Wowwweeee! That really leaves you dangling in a precarious position, doesn't it? Even if you have a partner for a while, eventually that person will leave or die. So believing in this myth guarantees that you'll be unhappy for a substantial period of time.

In addition, when you believe that your mate makes you happy, you tend to blame him or her when you don't feel happy. Doing that will virtually ensure that your relationship will either become very unhappy or nonexistent before long. Of course, if you believe in this myth, losing that mate will cause you to feel even more unhappy.

Because happiness is a state of mind, not a reaction to a particular person, thing, or event, you can be happy no matter what happens to you. You can be happy married, widowed, divorced, or single — or in whatever marital state you find yourself. You can be happy at any age. As long as you're alive, you can make yourself happy, no matter what. Accepting that truth and acting accordingly makes you an extremely powerful person.

About This Article

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Dr. Kate Wachs is America's only Psychologist-Matchmaker. She runs The Relationship Center™ in Chicago, the only full-service introduction and counseling center of its kind. She has helped millions of people through matchmaking, counseling, and her media appearances.

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