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Last month we discussed the first question regarding whether there is a dark side to happiness. We specifically spoke about whether there is a wrong quantity of happiness. The secret lies in moderation – everything in a balanced quantity. Excessive extreme happiness swings are unhealthy for us and may even come at a cost.

This week we continue with questions 2 to 4 on the dark side of happiness.

Question 2: Is there an inappropriate time for happiness?

Our emotions are phenomenal as they prepare us to attain goals and expand our thinking and equally guard us from dangerous situations. Emotions are our internal guiding compass and if we tune into them we can obtain important guidance about situations and people. However, we try to regulate our emotions through consciously supressing unwanted feelings. We must understand the pros and cons every emotional state brings. For example, experiencing positive emotions makes us feel safe and we might be less persuasive in negotiations. Likewise, it’s almost impossible to be fair, empathetic and open-minded towards others when in an angry state.

Happiness is like humour, a delicate balance for when it’s appropriate to be happy and when not. Happiness is also in the eye of the beholder.

Question 3: Is there an incorrect way to develop happiness?

This question is quite intriguing. You will have seen many social media posts and articles that urge us to develop our level of happiness because it leads to positivity and fulfilment. We are constantly being encouraged to work on and increase our happiness level. But should we actively be striving for this? I get a sense that we are commoditising happiness as if it is a competency that with practice and continual usage we will improve on. If we do precisely that, then we are indeed going about it the wrong way. The reason is that we are treating happiness as a goal that needs to be attained. We set standards and benchmarks that determine how happy we are. We put more and more in and the opposite happens; we become more and more disappointed and unhappier. Research findings show that an active pursuit to attain happiness has resulted in greater social disconnect and feelings of loneliness. Again, the answer to this conundrum lies in our emotions. When we pursue happiness, we try to supress or avoid negative emotions which fuels more unhappiness. Our aim is to bring in more awareness, mindfulness and acceptance to our emotions. Going inward and being observers of our emotional, physical and cognitive mind. Being fluid and allowing ourselves to be human beings not controlled machines.

Question 4: Are there wrong types of happiness?

Are things black or white; right or wrong. This mindset demonstrates a level of scarcity and fixedness. Happiness is many things, but not that. Happiness has multiple flavours, textures and colours. What determines if something is right or wrong is our value system. The same can be said about happiness from a cultural aspect. What one culture deems virtuous, another does not. As an example, Asian countries value socially engaged emotions such as harmony, friendliness and kindness. In contrast, the European countries value pride and personal achievement. We need to be aware through whose lens we are looking, and also need to be tolerant and respectful that we all wear different lenses. There is no wrong happiness; but what is valued and resonates for you.

So, we need to tread carefully and not make happiness the benchmark for psychological and emotional well-being. We need to become aware that the power lies in balancing the positive with the negative in a harmonious way. Finding what the right dose is for each of us, the dose that makes us flourish and be our best possible self.

Reference:

Gruber, J., Mauss, I., & Tamir, M. (2011). A Dark Side of Happiness? How, When, and Why Happiness Is Not Always Good. Perspectives on Psychological Science Volume: 6 issue: 3, 222-233.