Stop looking for ‘the one’: how to escape the myth of a perfect life

In Happy Ever After, Paul Dolan dispels some of the most common myths about what makes us happy.  Here are five things you should stop doing in order to escape the myth of perfection, and truly find lasting fulfilment.

Paul Dolan, author of Happy Ever After
Paul Dolan, author of Happy Ever After

1. Stop looking for the one

Think back on your bedtime stories as a child and I bet these words are lodged somewhere in your brain: ‘…and they fell in love, got married, and lived happily ever after.’ These imagined happy endings stick with us as adults. An overwhelming majority of us report considering marriage as part of our ideal lifestyle and we often project this preference on to others too. An unmarried forty-year-old is ‘unlucky’ or has yet to meet ‘the one’: as if being married is something for all of us, and that there is some one – one person – out there for every one of us. Yeah, right.

2. Stop worrying about money

It has been credited with making the world go round on the one hand, and being the root of all evil on the other. The truth is that money can be whatever we want it to be, depending on how we use and abuse it. Money allows us to organize and collaborate on the trade of goods and services on a global scale. If it disappeared tomorrow, the majority of societies around the world would crumble. Without money in our pockets and bank accounts, each of us would be in real danger of going without food and shelter. And yet money does not have inherent value in itself: it is only ever an instrument for satisfying our wants and desires, and for pursuing happiness.

Paul Dolan Quote

There is no time for enjoyment when you are using all of your time reaching to be rich.

3. Stop working yourself to death

As incomes rise, it seems that we pay more attention to the income foregone from not working; and so we work more to capitalize on the increased value of our time. Time is money. Moreover, paying attention to time as money has been shown to diminish the pleasure experienced from leisure activities. Little wonder, then, that daily happiness is actually lower for those on high incomes compared to those on middling ones. There is no time for enjoyment when you are using all of your time reaching to be rich.

4. Stop focussing on education

In general, happiness decreases as education increases. Those in the lowest two educational groups – a high school diploma or some further education but not yet a Bachelor’s degree – are about as happy as each other, and happier than other groups. Holders of Bachelor’s degrees are happier than those with Professional or Doctoral degrees. The holders of Professional or Doctoral degrees are the least happy.

5. Stop obsessing over health

Technological developments such as wearable electronics, sensory detectors and advances in mobile phone data collection are shifting the ability to track the details of our own health from the hands of healthcare providers to our own pockets. As a result, good physical health has been catapulted to the forefront of our social narratives as the onus of healthism at the individual level is made even more salient. We have become ever more judgemental of those who do not fit the healthy ideal, either because they are unable to or because they do not value diet and fitness as highly as we feel they should… the real danger here is that we risk further glamourizing the idea that we should all be made responsible for maintaining our physical health. 


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