Dealing With Happiness

Dealing With Happiness

We all know misery in some way, we have experienced events that have saddened us, we have met people who taught us something the hardest way or we have been in situations when we had to apply our experience and gathered knowledge to overcome something unpleasant. In a way we have all mastered that. But what about happiness? Have you ever been overwhelmed by something so nice that you try to define or justify it? 

I have never thought about happiness itself but recently I have experienced some events that were totally unpredicted and genuinely happy that they got me thinking about this state, how it occurs and how it influences us in good and maybe bad ways. 

After a year filled with work, training, persistence, schedules and punctuality, I realised that I needed a break from my ‘Maltese’ routine and lifestyle. Since I know myself, the way I had spend my holidays over the last eight years mostly in my county, I was mentally getting ready for 2 weeks of chilling in a small hometown, involving coffee meetings with friends who I grew up with and relatives, some shopping and not that much more. However, everything has been different this holiday since the very first day. It is thanks to my passion for beauty, wellness and writing and my decision to have my own website that got me in touch with interesting people, some of which have already become really special to me. That interaction with new open minds who have much to teach me about various things and life in general, the different places we went to, all the positive emotions did make me get rid of all the tiredness and negativity I had gathered over the last year, but also made me so happy that I somehow started to question to what degree that happiness was real, reasonable and specifically whether it was supposed to end any soon.

What an unusual place… we went there on Edi’s birthday and I did enjoy the atmosphere 🙂

I was in a car, moving towards a location involving laughter with people I enjoy being with. All of a sudden I asked myself what I was going to do when that happy time finished, how I was supposed to respond to that end then in a healthy manner so that I could keep the joyful vibe for longer and extract a positive message from that situation. 

Often, when we are happy, we tend to idealise happiness, we look at it as a state of mind that we believe we can be in every day of our lives. We then expect a happy event or a time to last longer than it does and when it finishes we compare the reality after it with that happy moment, the difference and our resistance to this difference is what makes us unhappy. According to a number of psychologists striving for happiness is not likely to make us happy, since we set ourselves up for disappointment by how highly we value happiness and by how we persistently pursue it. During these instances, we become more prone to experiencing the dark side of happiness. Groundbreaking work by Iris Mauss has recently supported the idea that striving for happiness may actually cause more harm than good. Mauss shows that the more people strive for it, the more likely they will set a high standard for happiness, then be disappointed when that standard is not met.

We have been exposed to the rising number of articles telling us that happiness is good for us, it motivates us to pursue goals, overcome obstacles… generally speaking happiness is trendy. However, there are psychologists who are reviewing the dark sides of this state and how we can recognise the unhealthy patterns and turn them into healthy ones so that we can benefit from it the most. June Gruber, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale University suggest that happiness can be bad fo us in the following ways:

it makes you less creative and willing to take more risks. 

When experienced too intensely happiness has a cost. Moderated levels of this state open up our minds, which work more creatively and deal better with problems. According to psychologist Barbara Fredrickson too much positive emotion makes people inflexible in the face of new challenges, no longer experiencing the same creativity boost. They might tend to overlook or neglect warning signs in their environment, or take bold leaps and risky steps even when outward signs suggest gains are unlikely.
I came across an interesting idea while I was researching this topic:

people in this mode engage in riskier behaviours,

including excessive alcohol consumption, binge eating, even sexual intercourses and so on. I find this particularly true, but I had never thought it was something which was researched and studied and existed as a fact. I just experienced it unconsciously on a personal level, I mean whenever I was really excited about something I would allow myself a candy or something sweet, that was not necessarily binge eating but did I really need to eat then? 

It was such a pleasant event to meet new people, to have a decent conversation, to share smiles with that little princess and merely enjoy exploring life from a different perspective.
That place is the Vila Rosiche sweet shop in Sofia 🙂

If these ideas have been suggested as bad sides of happiness, another aspect related to the topic made me read further about it. I was interested to find out why so many find it confusing to face happiness and how I can experience it in a healthy manner, how I can be at peace with myself when a happy event has come to an end. 
Happiness can be confusing because it is not a clear concept, we don’t know much about it and in my own research I have highlighted some ideas that I have found worth considering when experiencing this state. 

Accept confusion and the lack of clarity. Accept them as new guests and slowly you will get used, but once you start to clarify things, to label and justify them you are more likely to cling to your ego enhancing misery because misery is very clear, like a disease that a doctor diagnoses, whereas happiness is like health, the doctor just acknowledges that you have no problem. 

Misery seeks misery. Competitiveness is part of life, there will be people who will see your happiness as unreasonable and try to tell you how wrong it is but tell yourself: ‘It is right and good to be happy, even when others have a hard time being happy themselves. I will be sensitive to their pain, but it will not stunt my growth.’

Know what happiness means to you and what your type of happiness is. To be able to reach this state make sure you know what your criteria for it is and that you derive great meaning from happiness. It is a single term but it refers to a variety of flavours. Some of us become energetic, others slow down; many show generosity, while other people get more confident. Some forms of happiness, like pride – may be a source of dysfunction and the bottom line is that they may affect our ability to connect with those around us. 

Be patient, happiness is not perpetually feeling good, but it includes hard work, acceptance of failure, and sadness. 

Happiness is not suited to every situation, it has a time and a place that’s why we have a rainbow of feelings to experience in different contexts and that’s okay to be sad, discouraged or depressed, they are part of a fully engaged life, part of us. 

A take home message. Happiness has dark side. Moderate levels of it allow room for us to be able to still experience unpleasant emotions. These unpleasant experiences help us to learn and grow from them and to keep moving forward. We can avoid this dark side, and continue to let happiness work for us, by not trying too hard to be happy. Instead, we can focus on accepting our present state and emotions and engaging in happiness-related activities that can increase our well-being.

These activities may be things that help you change your habits, live a healthier lifestyle, build better social relationships, or even increase your self-awareness. Engaging in such activities can help you discover something new about yourself and learn something specific that can be useful. They can also lead to a more concrete output, one that might help you set yourself up for success.