We all have different goals, but almost everyone wants to be happy. It's tempting to turn to quick-fixes and tricks, but unfortunately, they often don't do what they're supposed to. There are plenty of common happiness hacks that don't actually work, but that doesn't mean you should give up trying — you just have to opt for some other ones instead. There are plenty of misconceptions when it comes to happiness, and you don't want to fall victim to any baseless advice.
"Our brains are hardwired for negativity due to our survival instincts in that we are supposed to be able to sense threats," says therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW over email. "There are many tips out there to 'ensure' positivity and happiness, but not all of them truly work."
Trying to feel happy only to fail can be really frustrating, and it can feel like a waste of time. Not all happiness tricks are fruitless, but it's best to know which are the real deal and which will leave you just as bummed out as before. To make sure you're feeling your best and doing the right things for your mental health, avoid these seven happiness hacks that don't actually work, and opt for their alternatives instead.
1Pushing Your Negative Emotions Away
Some people think that to be "happy" means we have to feel joy or pleasure all of the time and pretend our negative emotion do not exist. However ignoring your emotions and pushing them away can cause them to just come back at a later time. Plus, experiencing mixed emotions can actually benefit your health in the long run, according to research published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. "Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson suggests incorporating a 3-to-1 ratio of positive to negative emotions," says life coach Nancie Vito, MPH, CHES over email. "Although we aim for more positive emotions, we still feel and acknowledge other emotions and not aim for perfection, which can cause frustration."
2Reading Books On Happiness
It would seem helpful to read the right books, download the right happiness apps, and follow all the million happiness tips out there, but doing so can actually hinder your chances of finding happiness. "Research from UC Berkeley shows that paradoxically, the more relentlessly people value and pursue happiness, the more likely they are to suffer symptoms of loneliness, anxiety, and even depression," says Ruth Whippman, author of America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks, over email. "Rather than chasing happiness, we should just attempt to live full, connected and meaningful lives and hope that happiness follows as a byproduct."
3Having A Drink
"One of the most obvious is the use of alcohol and drugs to feel more happiness, and we know where that leads: short-term relief and long-term, enormous loss," says psychologist James I. Millhouse, Ph.D. over email. Drinking might feel good in the moment, but overtime, it can actually induce mood changes, including depression, according to research published in Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. Instead, opt for a meal filled with foods that can help fight depression.
"People think that they will be happier if they lay on the couch and watch television, losing themselves in someone else's problems," says well-life coach and clinical psychologist Jacqueline Julien over email. "However, in reality they end up feeling bad about the time they wasted and how they could have done something else." Instead, Julein suggests being physically active to create feel-good hormones or being social with other people to create bonds and memories.
Indulging yourself in buying things will give you a temporary boost, but it can make you feel worse later on. "After you bounce back, you feel guilty about what you have done, and it creates a big negativity cycle," says Julien. "People should stick what they know is good for them so they don't end up feeling worse."
Self-affirmations can be helpful, but they are no guarantee to happiness. "Finding happiness takes concrete actions and sometimes involve seeing a professional for therapy or medication," says Hershenson. "Affirmations are often just putting a bandaid on your problem. In fact, saying positive statements when you're feeling low may just lead to you finding contradictory statements to disprove anything positive you are saying to yourself."
"Mindfulness is the self-help technique of the moment, having grown into a multi-billion dollar industry," says Whippman. "While many people swear by it, the evidence for its effectiveness is surprisingly limited. A meta-analysis of meditation and mindfulness techniques that took into account nearly 18,000 studies found that only 46 of those studies were of high enough quality to merit consideration." If mindfulness works for you, great. But if not, then no need to feel guilty. Instead, you can opt for yoga, which still incorporates the concept of mindfulness, but also gives you a little bit of exercise, which can help improve your mood even more, according to research from the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.