A few things—like chocolate, chick flicks, and clean sheets—are almost guaranteed to boost your mood. But when it comes to achieving true happiness, there are a ton of misconceptions.
Shawn Achor, author of the upcoming book Before Happiness: The 5 Hidden Keys to Achieving Success, Spreading Happiness, and Sustaining Positive Change, clears up some of the most common myths about finding bliss.
It's true that some people may be predisposed to being happier, but like most things, your genes tell only half the story.
"You can teach yourself optimism and happiness just like you teach yourself a new language," says Achor. "You'll be just your genes unless you make positive habits in your life."
|Career success makes you happier|
Getting that corner office doesn't guarantee bliss, says Achor.
"You can raise your success your entire life, and your happiness will be the same." His research did find, though, that if you work on improving your happiness in the present, your job success in the future increases. "Happiness actually fuels success—not the other way around," says Achor.
|Happiness is based on external circumstances|
Most people think it's impossible for them to be content while their career/relationship/social life is at a low point.
"We found that only 10 percent of your long-term happiness is based on the external world, while 90 percent is based on how your brain processes the world," says Achor. And that's good news because, while you may not be able to change your circumstances, you can change the way you perceive them.
|You can't buy happiness|
According to research, spending money on experiences (like a trip) rather material things (like new heels) is associated with greater happiness, says Achor. And another study found that spending prosocially (like bringing friends together, donating to a charity, or buying flowers for your mom) significantly boosts happiness, says Achor.
The bottom line: Splurge wisely for the best benefits.
|Happy people are dumb or naïve|
Irrational optimism obviously isn't ideal, but if you're happy and realistic, you'll see a huge benefit. In fact, when your brain is happy it increases your creativity, intelligence scores, and problem-solving abilities, says Achor.
|Once you reach a certain goal, you'll be happy|
Think you'll feel better once you lose 10 pounds, buy a home, or get engaged? Think again. Every time you reach a benchmark, your brain just starts looking toward a new one, says Achor.
"It doesn't make you happy forever because you'll always have another goal." So focus on doing positive things in the present rather than assuming you'll only be happy once you've reached a certain milestone.
|Happiness won't affect your performance|
"A lot of people think happiness has nothing to do with performance," says Achor. "But it's an incredible advantage in school, sports, and the workplace."
Need proof? Research shows that positive doctors have a higher accuracy rate, happier salespeople have higher levels of sales, and positive athletes bounce back from a loss faster, says Achor. 'The human brain just works better when you're positive."
|Your negative friends will just bring you down|
While it's true that you can catch negativity from the downers in your life, your own positivity can also cause them to perk up—so there's no need to ditch them.
According to Achor, positivity and negativity are both equally contagious, but studies show it's the most expressive person—both verbally and nonverbally—who has the most influence. So instead of cutting out your downer friends, make it a point to start conversations with the positive and be upbeat in your responses. Check out another way to use your social network for a mood boost.
|Stress screws with your happiness|
Studies show that stress can actually speed up cognitive processing, improve memory, and deepen social bonds.
"Your mindset about stress predicts how it will affect you," says Achor. His suggestion: Think of moments you've been successful in the face of stress, write them down, and display it prominently so you're reminded of it every day.
"Your brain practices what it visualizes, so the more you see it, the more it quiets the noise," says Achor.
|Exercise only gives you short-term happiness boosts|
You know you can get a quick pick-me-up from a good sweat session, but exercising has amazing long-term benefits, too.
"We found that 30 minutes of cardio done multiple times a week for six months was the equivalent of taking an antidepressant but showed lower relapse rates," says Achor. "Exercise works so well because it's a gateway drug. You start believing that your behavior matters."
|Happiness means never being negative|
You don't need to don rose-colored glasses all the time to be happy. In fact, that can actually backfire.
"If you deny that there are any negatives, that causes more stress," says Achor. But if you can acknowledge why you're feeling bad and how you can work to change it, you'll ultimately be better off than someone who represses those emotions, says Achor.
|Happiness is simply a mindset|
When going through a slump, you've probably been told to cheer up or just make the decision to be happier. But according to Achor, it's not that easy.
"Unless you change your behavior, that mindset change will never last."
For more advice on how to be happier, check out Achor's book, Before Happiness: The 5 Hidden Keys to Achieving Success, Spreading Happiness, and Sustaining Positive Change.