Sounds like a plan, right? I mean, who doesn’t want to be happy? Isn’t that what we all strive for? I even wrote an earlier piece on how to manifest positive change, that is how much faith I have in positive energy. And therein lies part of the problem, we are all (myself included) so vested in becoming happy that we are losing sight of everything else. Today, much is made of Happynomics, and the need for positivity in all aspects of life, said to be achieved through life-changing affirmations, gratitude lists, vision boards, mindfulness etc., all of which I firmly believe in myself, to a point. You will find happiness front and centre of nearly every agenda these days, in India they even teach Happiness Classes, to primary school-age children, educating them on how to be simply, well… happy. Annually, we receive a list of the Happiest Countries in the World from the World Happiness Report survey - an arm of the United Nations - which looks at the state of global happiness in 156 countries, incorporating 6 measurement factors (yes, the report is real, and very serious. Remember depression and mental health cost governments billions on a global scale). For those of you wondering, in 2020 the happiest country in the world is Finland, for the third year in a row, followed by Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland and Norway. Anyone else see the correlation? March 20 has been assigned International Day of Happiness; newspapers have (s)ad blockers… the lists go on. Today, it seems we want to - or is that need to? - surround ourselves with happiness, be uplifted, feel good, be kind….
Nothing wrong with that, right?
Unfortunately, there is a dark side to chasing happiness.
As a recent report so articulately put it: It’s difficult to see red flags through rose-coloured glasses. (WGSN, Future Consumer 2022).
Maintaining happiness all the time, oftentimes leads to failure, and the danger of toxic positivity, as also termed in the aforementioned report. No-one can be consistently “up” all the time. Not without some form of substance abuse, or endless chanting reverberations to keep the brain in a heightened state of happiness - which allows for no other thought, by the way - just the steady murmuring hum of a repetitive chant overtaking the brain. Granted, this also has its time and place but, forgive me, although I love a meditation class or two, I however draw a line at a consistent hum used to drown out the “noise of the world” in order to make me happy. To me, it is akin to a bottle of trapped bees buzzing in my brain. Nope, definitely not seeing the benefits there.
Being force-fed happiness is not cool. That does not mean that optimism is uncool as WGSN so aptly states, it just means that a balance is needed. Mindful of being balanced, the World Happiness Report also looks at the unhappiest places in the world. For 2020, Afghanistan was named the unhappiest place in the world, followed by South Sudan and Zimbabwe, although the pandemic may upend those stats.
The trouble with being happy all the time is that it relies on maintaining an incredibly high level of positivity which, I hesitate to guess, is pretty much unachievable for most. Particularly during a pandemic. The hunt for happiness has many real downsides, in particular, the fact that we are not feeling happy all the time. Irony at its best!
The focus on positivity being the only way to live life creates more issues than it rectifies. I have said it once, and I will state it again - a balance is needed in all things. Embracing negative emotions keeps us anchored, in actual fact, it does much more than that. According to recent reports, embracing and accepting the down-side of things leads to better decision-making skills (that stands to reason, as it means we examine things from all sides), increased wealth, (which is probably a result of those great decisions), better marriages (kind of interesting) and lower risk of heart attack (Say what? How?).
But there you have it. Negativity can beget success, and even moreso, negative emotions assist our survival. That is the very reason they exist.
So, instead of the happiness train, how about we take the time to just be a little kinder to ourselves? Accept the good and the bad as part and parcel of the human condition. Embrace the fact that life is not a bed of roses, the grass is not always greener, and sometimes feeling down can give us the impetus to get back up again. Confronting challenges builds resilience, which is a positive (strange much?). Actually, if you think about it a double negative makes a positive.
So, it would do us good to remember: only with shadow do we know light exists.
Or more succinctly and poetically, as a better writer than I, Mark Frost espoused: “…, there is no light without darkness - and this troubles many of us - but without it, how else would we tell one from the other? We spend half of every day in darkness; surely we should make our peace with this.”
Well said, Sir.