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The Two Big Lies We Tell Ourselves About Happiness

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

There are plenty of lies out there about happiness. They can hold you back, drag you down, and stop you from living the life you were meant to live. Some of these lies come from outside sources, and they are undoubtedly dangerous; not as dangerous, however, as the lies we tell ourselves about happiness.

The lies we tell ourselves about happiness may, in some ways, seem to serve us, but no matter how hard we try to justify these lies, they will always do us more harm than good and keep us from reaching who we really can become.

Why do we lie to ourselves

As humans, we accept honesty as common decency. We expect it of those around us, especially those who we have relationships with. 

Why, then, do we justify lying to ourselves? Is it because we’re okay with hurting ourselves, but not others? Or because we view these lies as harmless? (They are actually the most dangerous.)

In answering those questions, let’s think first about why we lie to other people. Some of the most common reasons are: to preserve an image, to gain admiration, or to avoid punishment.

The reason we lie to ourselves, however, carries a slightly different motivation. More often than not, we lie to ourselves because we want to believe that what we’re telling ourselves is true, because, if it’s not, it means something “terrible” about us or move us out of a place of “comfort”.

This is how people justify big things like addictions (“I could quit any time I want”) or affairs (“I fell in love with someone else”), and small things like breaking the rules of their diet (“I deserve a treat”) or overspending (“I’ll make it up next month”). We would rather tell ourselves these lies versus moving to a higher state of being, admitting to making a mistake or being seen as a “bad” person. 

The same goes for happiness. We lie to ourselves about happiness because, if we don’t, we have to claim responsibility for our unhappiness, and that’s hard.

Why lying to yourself is harmful

When honesty is disregarded in a relationship with another person, trust is broken and the relationship can’t progress in a healthy way.

In some ways, we could say the same things about lying to ourselves.

When we lie to ourselves, it’s harder to trust ourselves and we break trust in ourselves.

How can you trust your gut or your judgment if you know that deep down, you aren’t always honest with yourself?

By lying to yourself, you hold yourself back. No matter what sort of lies you tell yourself, you are living with the truth. An addict might tell himself that he’s able to quit at any time, but the truth of his addiction is still guiding his life and his actions. Someone on a certain diet might tell herself that ordering dessert won’t hurt, but she will have to live with the regret and shame of breaking her promise to herself.

The truth is the truth—no matter how much you try to convince yourself that it isn’t. Living the truth while telling yourself a lie is going to cause inner turmoil that will keep you from progressing like you could.

Lying to yourself can also cause anxiety, low self-esteem, poor decision making, and settling for less than you deserve. When you are truthful with yourself, you lead your self to happiness.

Two big lies about happiness

Lying to ourselves about anything can be harmful, but we see particular harm in the lies we tell ourselves about happiness. 

After all, happiness is what everyone wants, right? We should be moving towards happiness as much as we can, even if it means accepting some hard truths. The lies we tell ourselves about happiness are, in fact, keeping us from being happy.

We’ve identified the two biggest lies people tell themselves about happiness.

“I’ll be happy when (fill in the blank).”

We hear this all too often. People think they can’t possibly be happy until a particular goal or status is reached: graduating, getting married, buying a home, having a child, getting a promotion. Happiness is contingent upon success, gain, accomplishment, or even the ability to “keep up with the Joneses.”

The problem is, people that tell themselves this lie rarely find the happiness they thought they would on the other side of the achievement. On the contrary, achieving something often results in us kicking the can (of happiness) down the road. We change the goal. Suddenly, we are just looking forward to the next thing. We want more. (Learn more about this in this Ted Talk on happiness, or on our page about the science behind happiness.)

Now, we’re not saying it’s a bad thing to be ambitious and to change your goals accordingly. All we’re saying is that it’s harmful to tie your happiness to those goals. If you do, you’re never going to find that happiness and satisfaction because it’s always going to be down the road, just out of reach.

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“I can’t be happy because (fill in the blank).”

There’s a subtle difference between this lie and the first lie. The first lie looks forward; this one looks backward or at the present. The first one seems justified because it feels like we are setting goals for ourselves and setting ourselves up to achieve. We justify this one because we feel sorry for ourselves and find solace in playing the role of the victim.

We tell ourselves we can’t be happy because we don’t have supportive parents, because we aren’t intelligent/good-looking/funny/creative enough, or because someone has wronged us and that’s holding us back. This lie is enticing because it gives us a safety net: something that we can blame when we end up unhappy. (“Of course I’m unhappy; my parents never supported me! I always knew I would end up like this.”)

The catch-22 is that this lie that you won’t ever be happy is going to effectively keep you from ever being happy. How could you be happy, if you don’t believe that it’s possible? If you believe that you must be “creative” in order to be happy, and you also believe that you will “never be creative”, then you are operating under the assumption that you will never find happiness.

(As a side note, we want to acknowledge that there are plenty of people that are victims. Terrible things happen to good people, and that’s not fair. That said, victims are not doomed to a life of unhappiness, and shouldn’t condemn themselves to one due to past circumstances.)

These two lies hold us back from happiness in effective and powerful ways. They both rob us of happiness, whether by empty promises or blatant discouragement. 

Whichever poison we pick, it’s going to keep us from finding the happiness we seek. Ask yourself: Do you want to leave your happiness in the hands of someone else and their actions or opinions?

That means that if we want to be truly happy, we have to stop believing these lies. We have to fight back. We have to think new thoughts. We have to know new truths. Now.

The best weapon to use against lies is the truth. The truth about who you are is what you say it is. It’s who you are and what you intend to be. And in “the moments of truth” everyday, choose not to lie to yourself or let others lie to you, choose the real joy and happiness that is within you and who you really are. The only way out is in. And what ever you say is in, is in.

We’ll talk more about the truth in an upcoming post. Meanwhile, this is a great place to start.

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