Quick Contact
Quick Contact
Is there a dark side to happiness? Part 2

Is there a dark side to happiness? Part 2

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.

Is there a dark side to happiness? Part 1

Is there a dark side to happiness? Part 1

As humans, we are instinctively drawn to the positive. We tend to move towards positive situations, people and life-giving energy. This is referred to as the heliotropic effect. Positive energy allows us to process information more accurately which leads to an improved recall process. We learn and grow faster in positive environments, we perform at our best and we are much kinder to others and ourselves. So, this positive heliotropic effect should naturally be good for us. Likewise, pursuing happiness has scientifically demonstrated that it allows us to flourish, perform at our optimal, increase our well-being, broaden our attention span and become more goal orientated. But can too much of a good thing be bad for us? And what is too much?

Researcher June Gruber (2011) explored the concept of a dysfunctional dark side to happiness. At its minimum level, happiness includes life satisfaction experiencing more positive than negative emotions and moods, combining the emotional with the cognitive well-being. The automatic answer appears to be no. The questions Gruber asked are relevant to understanding the dark side of happiness:

Question 1: Is there a wrong quantity of happiness?

The first question is interesting as it questions whether  too much of a good thing is bad for us. Can too many positive emotions be maladaptive? We know that too much exercising can lead to physical injuries, too much working results in stress and possibly burnout, too much ruminating causes procrastination, decision-paralysis and exercise dieting results in bodily–organ–systems damage.

The same applies to happiness. An excessive level of a psychological state, negative or positive, is believed to be unhealthy and may lead to maladaptive behaviour and thoughts. 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.

  • Decline in creativity;
  • Increase in riskier behaviours such as alcohol or drug consumption, binge eating and drinking, and promiscuous sexual activities;
  • Ignoring warning signs of threats and danger to our well-being;
  • The inability to feel or allow negative emotions.

Even people who have developed and grown their happiness levels experience negative emotions and feelings. They equally have bad days, disappointments and low moods. However, they manage them with a curious, open mind and don’t aim to deny or suppress those emotions; using a balanced approach.

We need to tread carefully and not make happiness the benchmark for people’s psychological and emotional well-being. Learning that the wisdom 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.

Next week, we’ll continue exploring the answers to questions 2 to 4 on this topic.