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The downside of happiness

Reem Antoon

Don’t worry, be happy!’ Well, it seems actually you should worry if you are happy!

Studies now show that there is a darker side to feeling good and that the pursuit of happiness can sometimes make you ... well, less happy.

Too much cheerfulness apparently can make you gullible, selfish, less successful, and that is only the beginning!

Experts say although happiness has its benefits like protecting us from strokes and the common cold, as well as making us more resistant to pain, it does have its downside!

Yale University professor of psychology June Gruber says it is important to experience positive moods in moderation.

She compares happiness to food: ‘although necessary and beneficial, too much food can cause problems; likewise, happiness can lead to bad outcomes.’

“Research indicates that very high levels of positive feelings predict risk-taking behaviours, excess alcohol and drug consumption, binge eating, and may lead us to neglect threats,” she says.

Psychologists point out that emotions are adaptive: They make us change behaviour to help us survive.

Anger for instance prepares us to fight; fear helps us flee and sadness makes us think in a more systematic manner.

Sad people are attentive to details and externally oriented, while happy people tend to make snap judgements that may reflect racial or sex stereotyping.

The feeling of happiness is a combination of hormones in the brain specifically endorphins, dopamine and serotonin. Being happy obviously feels good. And, as human beings want to feel happy and good most of the time.

The problem is, with the vast range of emotions that make up the human experience, a constantly happy state is not sustainable.

The consequences of this pleasure seeking mentality are that when we find ourselves feeling any other negative or neutral human emotion – such as sadness, anger, or discomfort, we try to get out of it immediately.

Happiness, being subjective, constant and relative, is hard to define, says research.

Chris Peterson, a pioneer in the ‘science of happiness’ or positive psychology, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan and one of the founders and leading figures in positive psychology, defines happiness as ‘things that make life worth living’.

“In a funny way, any kind of addiction that we have is an addiction to happiness. Specifically the pleasure that we get from not feeling negative emotions,” he says.

There is of course no such thing as a constant state of happiness, right?

I mean if we are happy all the time, we won’t realise its value.

Also we cannot chase it as it is ultimately found inside us.

Once we know and accept who we are that is true happiness and if that makes me more selfish and gullible then so be it!

Reem Antoon is a former GDN news editor. She can be reached on:

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