While some struggled with mental health concerns like depression, many others just weren't finding their pursuits of happiness to be fruitful. Much to their frustration, their efforts to become happier people did not yield the desired results. Many had read countless articles and books on how to be happier, yet they weren't becoming the extraordinarily happy people they hoped to be. Who could blame them, then, for their frustration? The benefits of happiness are undeniable. It can help you live a longer, healthier life. But the truth is, many people have no idea how to become happier. In fact, some people's pursuits of happiness backfire, causing them to end up more miserable than ever.
The Biggest Happiness Misconception
Eating an extra helping of food to avoid feeling hungry, treating yourself to concert tickets so you don't miss out on time with friends, or skipping your workout because you just don't feel like exercising may seem like opportunities to temporarily boost your mood. But this way of thinking could actually be getting in the way of living a happier life—because the biggest misconception about happiness is that the path to achieving involves avoiding pain.
But pain is actually a necessary part of happiness, and research shows that it can lead to pleasure in several ways:
1. Pain helps you recognize pleasure.
If you felt happy all the time, you wouldn't recognize it as happiness. You need to experience the opposite end of the spectrum sometimes to be able to truly recognize and appreciate happiness.
2. Relief from pain boosts pleasure.
Pain isn't pleasurable, but relief from pain is. Studies show that when pain goes away, you experience increased happiness, above and beyond the level of happiness you'd experience if you'd never had any pain at all.
3. Pain forms social bonds.
It's likely that you relate to other people more easily when you've both endured similar painful events in your life because pain promotes empathy, which is essential to social connection. The bonding caused by pain even increases cooperation among people. Volunteers often come together to clean up after a natural disaster because they experienced pain and witnessed suffering together. Remember the ice bucket challenge?
4. Pain gives you permission to reward yourself.
There's a reason a cold beer tastes better after you've mow the lawn or a hot chocolate tastes better after you shovel the driveway: Enduring pain actually makes you enjoy your rewards more. When you have worked out, or completed some other difficult task, you are more likely to give yourself permission to enjoy a reward. Not only will you then feel less guilt over splurging, but your senses will be heightened and you'll actually appreciate the reward more.
5. Pain captures your attention.
Pain makes you aware of what is going on right now. Whether you're dealing with a bad headache or experiencing emotional pain, you'll be focused on what is going on in the moment. And while that may not seem like a good thing on the surface, being in the moment is a skill people try hard to gain through meditation, mindfulness, and yoga. Being in the moment means you'll be less likely to ruminate about what happened yesterday or worry about what could happen tomorrow. Learning how to stay in the moment—even when you're not in pain—can help you live a happier life.
Don't Fear Pain
There's a lot of truth to the saying, "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional." Happiness isn't the absence of pain. Instead, the secret to living a happier life involves believing you have enough mental strength to embrace your pain and learn from it.
Want to learn how to give up the bad habits that rob you of mental strength? Pick up a copy of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do.
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This article first appeared on Inc.com.