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The Happiness Lie

By Debbie Mandel

The difference between a sad person and a happy person could hinge on the ability to tell a “good” lie. Specifically, this means the ability to lie to the self - like weaving a good story where you are smarter, prettier, braver, younger, basically, the hero of your life story. Fixating on a negative reality and focusing on the mortal story along with the tales of loss you encounter on your life journey can leave you falling into depression. However, happy people have developed a great coping skill: They tell themselves happy stories.

Everyone wants to release their inner child. So, go observe children and you will hear stories galore. I grew up on a diet of stories as a little girl and became a prolific reader of fiction as soon as I learned to read. From a realistic lens, my parents were poor immigrants, working long hours and I an only child, obese, pimply and nearsighted. However, I learned how to expand my imagination from fairy tales and was actually a happy child who developed into a happy, empowered adult. I grew a secret garden of good stories where magical transformations happened.

Recently, I read two books with clever and pragmatic observations about the human condition, one by Leo Bormans, The World Book of Happiness and the other by Jonathan Gottshall, The Story Telling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Although their structure and themes were worlds apart, they both intersected at this pivotal point: Happy people reframe their life narratives, specifically their obstacles and failures. When you reimagine life’s difficulties, you liberate your innate ability to create meaning and find opportunities.

Human beings love to tell stories, view stories, sing songs with a story, dream at night and daydream. When you become a better storyteller, create a fictional account about the dark side of unhappiness, you shine the light in order to move toward a meaningful self-directed life. Well, isn’t this a better story to live with?

How to tell yourself a flattering lie:
  • Reframe your negative perception to create a positivity bias. Everything in life is about perception. Be aware that no one is really objective since we are the sum total of our upbringing, culture and habitat. Habituate your perceptions to happier ones.
  • Understand your pattern. It is a universal principle that human nature seeks a pattern even for random, disconnected facts. The next time “you Identify” a pattern, skew it to happiness.
  • Create a story to let it go. Some researchers see a connection between highly creative people and madness – their flights of fantasy take over. Perhaps, artists and writers try to organize their madness into a story or image to let it go?
  • Rehearse what you wish to accomplish in life by first imagining it. Make it into a story where you are successful to conceive, believe and achieve.

Debbie Mandel, MA is the author of Addicted to Stress: A Woman's 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life, Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout and Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul, a stress-reduction specialist, motivational speaker, a personal trainer and mind/body lecturer. She is the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WGBB AM1240 in New York City , produces a weekly wellness newsletter, and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more visit: