7 Things You Think Will Make You Happy But Won't

Buy into these myths and you could actually be causing yourself more misery. Banish them pronto, and start focusing on the new secrets to loving your life.

Recently, it seems that happiness has become the new sex. You want it stronger, better, faster, and more often. But paradoxically, the road to nirvana you’ve been pursuing could be the major roadblock to a more satisfied you. Experts have discovered that the things everyone thinks are the keys to bliss don’t really create a life you love. “Most of us are pretty bad at predicting what will make us content,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, author of The How Of Happiness: A Scientific Approach To Getting The Life You Want. Cosmo set out to clarify the seven happy factors that bomb in bringing fulfillment and—most important—uncover new secrets to true pleasure.

1. A Ton Of Cash And Luxe Stuff

Granted, you do need a base amount of bank. Research shows that people are happier when they don’t have to stress about how to afford basics like shelter, food, and medicine. But ­beyond that, cash loses much of its happiness power. People with above-average incomes actually tend to be more tense and don’t spend any more time doing enjoyable activities than those who make less do.The reality is, no matter how much you strive for, you’ll never be satisfied, thanks to a phenomenon called the hedonic treadmill. Humans are wired to accumulate things, then outgrow them…originally so we could evolve into better people.

But today, upgrading takes on a whole new meaning. Obviously, you’d ditch your studio apartment for a three-bedroom with a view. But before long, you’d have to have a new kitchen to match the bathroom renovation. After that, why live in an apartment when a beach house in Batangas like the one your lucky friend has is really where you should be? Either way, your “what’s next?” mindset never changes.

Researchers are discovering that what does make you happy is appreciating the stuff you already have, like noticing how great your place looks on a sunny day with the light streaming in. And, using your cash for experiences—like a weekend trip or a painting class—versus stuff pays off twofold. “Revisiting great events in your head makes you feel those happy sensations again,” says Lyubomirsky. So don’t deprive yourself, but “recognize the limits on the happiness a pricey handbag can bring,” advises psychologist Dale Atkins, PhD, author of Sanity Savers: Tips For Women To Live A Balanced Life. “If you drain your account for it, you won’t feel pleased or secure when you can’t pay your bills.”

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2. Having A Lot Of Free Time

No doubt you have fantasized about stealing off to an island where your top duty is perfecting your tan. But, dragging your ass to work on Monday morning makes you more content than you think it does. “We’re really at our happiest when we have a purpose,” says Holden. “It can be fun to sit around and do nothing, but without a cause, you wouldn’t feel accomplished.” And, that’s what gives you a sense that your life is moving forward and helps you appreciate your downtime.

Even busting your ass to finish a project on time can make you feel better inside and out. “There’s a concept called flow, where you’re so ­absorbed in what you’re doing that you find yourself thinking, ‘I can’t believe three hours just flew by,’” says Atkins. When you do an activity requiring skill, research shows that you actually feel physically stronger and more ­satisfied. Giving your brain a break is essential, but it’s the mix of work and play that makes you love life.

3. Being Upbeat 24/7

There’s a lot of pressure to be perpe­tually perky. “It’s as if letting yourself have a ho-hum day is a selfish act,” says Lyubomirsky. “But, claiming everything’s fine and hiding your feelings when something’s wrong take a toll on your mental and physical health.” It may seem counterintuitive, but letting your real moods serve as your compass helps you discover what you truly want in life. To do this, think back to a crappy relationship in your past. You may not have noticed how bad things got until someone pointed out that you were much more fun when your boyfriend wasn’t around. If you had forced yourself to be Little Miss Sunshine, you’d never have gotten the wake-up call that motivated you to change.

“Fulfilled people notice what their emotions tell them and then figure out how to get through slumps,” says Atkins. “Maybe it’s confiding in friends or getting enough sleep—whatever works ultimately makes you more confident and content, because you know you can weather any challenge.”

4. Blowout Celebrations For Major Milestones

Who doesn’t love celebrations? You may think that looking forward to these landmark bashes buoys you through the daily drudgery of work or school. But, if you mark your life solely by these events, you’re pinning your happiness on moments that are few and far between. “Celebration is important, but most joy in life is unplanned and a lot more ordinary,” says psychologist Robert Holden, PhD, author of Happiness Now! “It might not sound as exciting, but what truly make us happiest are our routines and all the little moments in between the bigger blowouts,” says Lyubomirsky.“And at the same time, almost all the research shows that we seek variety.”

To get that perfect contentment cocktail, savor the rituals that are meaningful on a daily basis, but also find ways to reinvent them slightly so they still comfort you but you see them in a different light, says Atkins. Think little shake-ups like making a date with friends for lunch instead of dinner. Or, if you have a latte every day at 10, try it at three to ­experience it in a whole new way.

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5. Partying Like A Rock Star

Flip through pictures from any celeb bash and it’s easy to wish you could party away and dance with VIPs until seven a.m. While crazy nights out are a blast, if you depend on them to make you happy, you’ll ultimately feel as flat as last night’s updo. “Experiencing sensual pleasures with friends, like a glass of wine, is important, but what makes you happy long-term is the satisfaction of a great conversation together,” says Holden. Plus, alcohol is a depressant—not exactly a recipe for true joy—and you need more and more of it to get that initial boost until you’re a trashed trainwreck.

This is not to say that you need to become a total shut-in. Just think of the occasional party rain check as an opportunity to recharge your bliss batteries. “If you’re out ’til sunrise, your body takes a beating, and another part of your life suffers,” says Atkins. By meeting a buddy one-on-one over brunch, you won’t just skip the hangover, but you may also discover unexpected depth in someone you thought was only good for bonding over tequila shots.

6. Getting Even When You’re Wronged

Before you start scheming curses to befall the people on your shit list, hold up, voodoo lady. “There’s a difference between justice and revenge, and the latter feels a lot emptier,” says Atkins. You’d think that cooking up some  delicious retribution would restore the balance of right and wrong in your favor. But, the time you spend stewing just revives memories of being hurt and makes you feel depressed and anxious. “It’s like drinking poison and hoping the other person is going to die,” says Holden.

Research shows that people who forgive their foes are much happier. Now, it doesn’t involve excusing the jackassery, but think about why the person may have done it—say, out of selfishness or insecurity. Then, imagine the times you did something bad for those same motivations. “It will help release the hold that this person has on you and take back control of the situation,” says Lyubomirsky. On the flip side, take pride in the fact that you’re a damn better human being than your foe is. “Though they made you feel low, at least you won’t stoop to their level to retaliate,” says Holden.

7. The Perfect You

Gunning for a new-and-improved version of you is good...but only up to a point. “One of the biggest misconceptions of happiness is the ‘I will be happy if...’ scenario,” explains Lyubomirsky. “Like, ‘I’ll be happy if I lose five pounds, find a boyfriend, land the ideal job, move to another [country]…’ Experts now know that those things do satisfy us, but not for as long as we think because we tend to adapt to them.” So, each new achievement you swear will be the one thing to finally make you blissful only leaves you craving more.

To break the perfection addiction, start paying attention to what you’ve already achieved. Maybe you didn’t get that dream job, but you made new connections that will pan out later. “The most important thing is just giving yourself credit,” says Holden, “­because when you spend so much time striving for a finish line, you never check in to see if you’ve arrived.” And, guess what? You may already be there.

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