Friday, October 1, 2010

Casual Friday: Can We Be TOO Happy?

Today is kind of a change of pace for this blog. It may seem like a bit of a downer, but bear with me here. Longtime readers probably realize by now that I'm not in favor of acting happy when you're not, but now I'll discuss why, using Ed Diener's book Happiness:  Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth.

Ed Diener has researched happiness for twenty-five years. He and his son Robert--the co-author of this book--travel the world measuring wellbeing. They often risk life and limb to measure fringe populations, like sex workers in India and the homeless in California, which has earned Robert the nickname "Indiana Jones of psychology."

Ed devotes an entire chapter to the subject of over-happiness. He writes of an experiment where a group of New Yorkers said "yes" to every request for a month. This group thought that such a display of positivity would make everyone's lives better, but actually by the end of the month, they had LOWER happiness levels due to exhaustion. They were simply too spent after a month of getting coffee for people, babysitting, and other menial tasks that people asked them to do. Even though I have documented the numerous benefits of a happy lifestyle on this blog, Diener writes that extremely EXTREMELY happy people actually have decreased lifespans, possibly because they're so blissed out they don't notice actual health problems.

So if you are a happy person who worries about becoming even happier, don't! Experiencing complete ecstasy every moment of every day is not necessarily a sustainable goal, and may leave you burnt out in the end. In my opinion, you have to leave room for sadness and other "negative" emotions, because those are the ones that alert you to real problems in your life. Don't just ignore them!

It's like when you burn your hand on the stove. The pain may be, well, painful, but without it, you would never know to get your hand away from the hot surface. You don't want a cooked hand, do you!?

But what do YOU think about this idea of over-happiness?


  1. This is funny, I realize now I have a sligthly different idea of happiness then lol To me, happiness includes sad moments too and all the range of human emotions... Like, if you never feel sad no one will never cheer you up either and havign soemone try to cheer you up can be such a positive experience that is definatey worse having... So, in the same mannerm I'd never even consider saying yes to everything as a way to make me happier. Being able to say no and think of yourself adds to happiness too... So, I'd say to me, "over-happiness" woudl have to be gettign lost on your way to being happy.

  2. Yes, that's probably the best definition actually. I just wanted to make sure no one misunderstands this positive psychology stuff to mean that positive thinking alone can solve all of life's problems!