Sunday, 25 March 2012

too much of a good thing?

I've just read an article on Psychology today as part of the Happiness Chronicles entitled "is there a dark side to happiness?"

The article looks at recent psychological enquiry into whether or not happiness is always a good thing or are there times when actually being happy is more of a negative.

Now, firstly I guess we have to remember that psychology is a science and therefore it is only right and proper that they examine every concept from every possible angle and that they also try to disprove their original theories...that being the point of most scientific research and advancement.

Secondly, and following on from the first point, most facts and theories and statistics can be used to make pretty much any point you want depending on how you use (or twist) them.  I read an article in the papers a few weeks back that had managed to find reasons why things we know to be massively unhealthy are actually good for us. They found positives in smoking, drinking, eating lard etc. They weren't advocating we take up all of these things, merely pointing out that those alternative facts and view points also existed.

So I sprinkled a liberal dose of salt over the article before continuing.

Their main points are as follows:

1. Being too cheery can make us take more risks, which is dangerous
2. Being in happy mode can dampen our flight or fight mechanisms, so I guess we end up grinning manically at the bear instead of running away from it, or skipping gaily into oncoming traffic, for example?
3. Constantly being happy has diminishing returns so after a while the high just wears off
4. Constantly striving for happiness can just lead to more disappointment

So there we go.

I don't disagree with any of these points (and who am I to disagree with eminent psychologists anyway!?). But I don't necessarily agree whole heartedly either...surprise!

Here's what I think.

Being 'happy' can never be bad for you.

But being manic, or over-excited, or over stimulated can be. Being manic can lead you to take silly risks, being over excited can be exhausting and being over stimulated can cause you to withdraw, for example. Being any of these things could blind you to any potential imminent danger. Having your head in cloud cuckoo land is not particularly practical.

So yes, having too much positive stimuli can very quickly turn bad...even if it doesn't feel that way at the time. Bit like vodka really.

But none of these states are the same as being 'happy' and that's what annoys me a bit about these things.

There is a scale. If you have depressed at one end, and manic at the other, happy comes in between. Over stimulation causes you to slip out of happy into manic, or the opposite back down towards depression.  Or a balance. Happy is right in the middle...a happy medium, when everything is in balance. Slip either side, the balance is lost, and you've moved out of the happy zone. To use the vodka thing again. No vodka = sober. Shit loads of vodka = blind drunk. a bit of vodka = a bit tiddly (and probably rather happy!). Vodka is the thing we can have too much of, not the states we pass through as we move along the scale.

If what they are saying is what we already know and what applies to just about everything in life, which is that everything is fine in moderation but too much good stuff eventually leads to bad stuff, then fine. That makes sense.

But I repeat, you can't have too much happiness.

And I don't agree with their last two points either.  I think it's semantics again but I love picking on those so here I go again.

Constantly being happy has diminishing returns so the high eventually just wears off. Really? Do they really mean happiness here or are they referring to euphoric highs? I would have thought it was pretty much impossible without the aid of some sort of illegal drug to be in a permanent state of euphoria!? I don't believe that the comfy warm glow of being happy (as in content) wears off. I do believe moods change and you won't always feel that glow, but I don't believe that being happy a lot means you stop actually feeling it.

And the final point, about always chasing happiness just leading to disappointment? Major fail in understanding the true underlying root and meaning of happiness.  You can't pursue it, you can't chase it. It doesn't work like that. There are bits and bobs you can do to improve your overall state of wellbeing so that in the long run you are more open to happiness more often, but going after it for its own sake is just a mega fail waiting to happen. So maybe I do agree with them then...I just don't agree with their wording, as usual. I agree that chasing happiness for its own sake is not likely to actually bring about happiness. What I don't agree with is that this is evidence to support the theory that too much happiness is bad for you since in that instance happiness isn't actually achieved in the first place!

To be fair, I'm commenting on an article written about the original research so who knows what words were used in the first place.

But either way, its all daft. There is no such thing as too much happiness and that's just the end of that!

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