Are you happy? Ask yourself right here/right now are you truly happy? It seems the world right now is not a very happy place. With a health pandemic raging on, long overdue protests taking place, and a world economy on the verge of collapsing the news headlines don’t share a lot to be happy about. It’s an unrealistic expectation for people to be happy all the time, even without the current happenings. So, it got us thinking here at the Javelin Institute, is happiness a requirement for success? In this post we’ll explore the benefits of happiness and share two reasons why it’s not good to be happy all the time (Trust me… Research shows it’s not all it’s cracked up to be)… Enjoy!
Happiness Meet Ditch
Yesterday I had a Zoom meeting with a colleague (I’m sure you did too!) The meeting started off just like every other meeting I’ve ever participated in, but quickly took a hard left-turn straight into the ditch! After we initially exchanged pleasantries (“Good morning (Name)”… “Good morning Sam”) we breached the “How are things going?” moment. This is where the turn came in! My colleague expressed “I’m bitter, burned out, and besieged!” How do you respond to that? Truth be told, I’ve asked that question a thousand times, pre-pandemic/pre-protest and typically get the standard “I’m good, how are you?” response. But not this time! Was my colleague trying me on? Didn’t they really owe me the standard response so that we could get down to business? Why was I facing this derailing moment?
Positive Psychology and the Study of Happiness
Positive psychology is a field born roughly 25 years ago. Positive psychology is often mistaken of perpetuating a myth regarding happiness, inasmuch a good life is all about being happy. There have been a number of good works on the topic of happiness, including Shawn Achor’s “The Happiness Advantage,” Matthieu Ricard’s “Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill,” and The Dalai Lama’s “The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living” (Even I’ve written on the topic in a post titled “The Leadership Challenge: Pollyannaish!”) But perhaps this happiness-focus is not exactly what it should be?
According to Martin Seligman, perhaps the most-often cited expert in the field of positive psychology, the study is meant to approach optimal human functioning at large, including the topic of happiness. Furthermore, it turns out that happiness might not be the best state to operate in for success (As a matter of fact, it isn’t!)
Success does not Require Happiness
In order to function optimally in our lives, we do not need to operate in a perpetual state of happiness all the time. So why would we not want to operate in such a state of bliss? Here are two (2) reasons:
Why are You Here? – Meaning and Happiness
The question is as old as time: “Why are you here?” or “What is your purpose?” Defining your meaning is difficult, after all it’s at the top of Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ for a reason. With this in mind, answering those questions is going to take some thought… Some real deep thought! The experiences, actions, and relationships that make your life worth living typically fall into the two camps of “hedonic” and “eudaimonic.” Hedonic life moments are all about pleasure (Seeing beauty, eating chocolate, and/or loving another). Eudaimonic life moments, on the other hand, are all about personal meaning and purpose (Upholding your personal values, finding ethical meaning expressed in what you do, and/or standing up for someone that can no longer stand). Most of the time, what is most meaningful isn’t the most pleasurable and vice versa.
Negativity Makes Life Better!
While happiness might be a preferred state, research shows that negative feelings can in fact be good for us! Anxiety and fear can protect us (think “fight or flight”), guilt can motivate us to make amends, and anger can help us increase focus on a problem at hand. While there’s a difference between feeling an emotion and acting out as a result of it, most are able to experience the negative emotion in life’s ups and downs with a goal of creating a healthy and manageable lifestyle.
So, happiness as it turns out is not the sole requirement for success. While living a good life isn’t just about being happy, it also entails incorporating authenticity, pleasure, pain, happiness, sadness, love and conflict. If we were only happy all the time, we’d overlook opportunities to provide improvement to ourselves, those we lead, and the communities in which we serve.