Happiness (Quincy)

A passage that speaks to me. To all those happy people (including myself): keep doin’ what you’re doin’!

Some people associate happiness with a lack of intellectual rigor, like the man who said to Samuel Johnson, ‘You are a philosopher, Dr. Johnson.  I have tried too in my time to be a philosopher; but, I don’t know how, cheerfulness was always breaking in.’  Creativity, authenticity, or discernment, some folks argue, is incompatible with the bourgeois complacency of happiness.  But although somber, pessimistic people might seem smarter, research shows that happiness and intelligence are essentially unrelated.

Of course, it’s cooler not to be too happy.  There’s a goofiness to happiness, a readiness to be pleased.  Zest and enthusiasm take energy, humility, and engagement; taking refuge in irony, exercising destructive criticism, or assuming an air of philosophical ennui is less taxing. Also, irony and world-weariness allow people a level of detachment from their choices: fast food, a country club membership, a gas-guzzling SUV, reality TV. I met someone who couldn’t stop talking about the stupidity of celebrities and people who read celebrity gossip, but her disdainful remarks revealed that she herself followed it very closely…

Other people cultivate unhappiness as a way to control others. they cling to unhappiness because without it they’d forgo the special consideration that unhappiness secures: the claim to pity and attention. I know I’ve pled unhappiness to get points for something. For example, if Jamie asks me to go to a business dinner with him and I honestly tell him, “I don’t want to go, I really don’t want to go, but I will if you want me to,” I feel as if I get more gold stars from him for going than if I fibbed, “I’m happy to go, I’m really looking forward to it.” If I didn’t complain, if I didn’t express my unhappiness, Jamie might take my complaisance for granted. 

The belief that unhappiness is selfless and happiness is selfish is misguided. It’s more selfless to act happy. It takes energy, generosity, and discipline to be unfailingly lighthearted, yet everyone takes the happy person for granted. No one is careful of his feelings or tries to keep his spirits high. He seems self-sufficient; he becomes a cushion for others. And because happiness seems unforced that person usually gets no credit.

There’s yet another group of people who have a superstitious dread of admitting to happiness, for fear of tempting fate. Apparently, this is practically a universal human instinct and seen in nearly all cultures – the dread of invoking cosmic anger by calling attention to good fortune.

Last, some people are unhappy because they won’t take the trouble to be happy. Happiness takes energy and discipline. It is easy to be heavy, etc. People who are stuck in an unhappy state are pitiable; surely they feel trapped, with no sense of having a choice in how they feel. Although their unhappiness is a drag on those around them – emotional contagion  unfortunately, operates more powerfully for negative emotions that positive emotions – they suffer too. 

Excerpt from The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin


~ by stormcellar on November 20, 2012.

One Response to “Happiness (Quincy)”

  1. Thanks!

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