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Let's talk about the 'tyranny of happiness'
#1
Let's talk about the 'tyranny of happiness'
This is something I feel strongly about. I've been guilty of it at multiple points in my life and I see a lot of people affected by it or buying into it everywhere.

Basically, the tyranny of happiness is the phenomenon of 'just be positive', 'think positively' etc. It's the extensively misguided mentality of 'if you stay positive, everything will turn out ok'.

I'm not against being happy or genuinely a positive person. There are of course people who could benefit from learning to pay more attention to the positives rather than the negatives. However,  the tyranny of happiness is the belief that all your problems and misfortunes are just the result of your negative thoughts and they can be fixed with positive ones. And as outlandish as it may sound put that way, it's everywhere. Movies, books, just generally rooted in people's minds.

The danger of this way of thinking is that it disallows a person to feel negative emotions, making them something wrong, a symptom of some core issue. You're not happy, then what's wrong? With you, your life, your brain? It makes people feel responsible for their own unhappiness and doesn't let them authentically experience it, making them feel worse.

Negative emotions are human. Pushing them away and forcing oneself not to feel them will only make them come bubbling up stronger. A person can't feel happy all the time, or even realistically most of the time. As one of my favorite people JP Sears put it, happiness is our favorite emotion, but it's not our only emotion. When you're subscribed to the mentality of 'I must feel happy or there is something wrong', you don't allow yourself to feel truly sad, angry or afraid... or happy.

It's something personal to me, so I just wanted to get it out there. I think it's tremendously important to understand that you are human and as such will inevitably feel all of the emotions that come with it. And just because you aren't positive and cheerful every single day doesn't mean there's something wrong with you.

This is also why I hate the question 'how are you?'. Because if I say anything other than happy when I'm not happy, I'll be met with concerned questions about what happened and then told to not worry about it or just look at the positives.

Here are some videos talking about the subject or related to it that gave me the idea of posting this thread.

Psychologist Susan David:


JP Sears' video:


Very interesting vlog from zefrank, which made me think a while back:

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#2
RE: Let's talk about the 'tyranny of happiness'
(January 27, 2017 at 8:58 am)Vic Wrote: Basically, the tyranny of happiness is the phenomenon of 'just be positive', 'think positively' etc. It's the extensively misguided mentality of 'if you stay positive, everything will turn out ok'.

The problem is that it is being stated as an absolute: "if you do A, you always get B." In other words, the premise is making a promise it can't keep.

My view of mental attitudes is that we lie to ourselves all the time. Most people do so in a negative fashion ("I just can't seem to..." "I'll never figure this out..." "Why are things always going wrong...") and few do so in a positive fashion. Either method means we are portraying ourselves in a way that is not accurate, but the person with the positive outlook is likely to be happier more often. This doesn't mean that thinking "I can do this" or "I know I'll accomplish this" will work every time. It just means you're more likely to attack things with a greater motivation to succeed AND you're less likely to quit when things don't pan out at first (or at second, third, etc).

I used to be a fairly negative person in the sense that I lacked confidence, and my statements to myself and others reflected that. Today I'm a more confident person and have high self-esteem, but things still go badly from time-to-time. The biggest difference is that in the past, whenever things went wrong I'd fall apart and spend far too much time wringing my hands before finally dragging my feet towards a solution. These days, I immediately start thinking of how to resolve bad situations and move quickly to take action with energy... even when I'd rather just fall apart and drag my feet. I'm definitely happier and things have gone very well over the past few years, but it would be folly to think that everything has turned out ok, or that it all will. I just know that I'm ready for those times when it doesn't, and that provides a sense of confidence and peace of mind.

(Note that most --or all-- of this goes out the window when we are talking about someone with a mental disease or disorder. Brain chemistry and psychological problems cannot be waved away with ignorant comments and a lack of sympathy and they cannot be fixed with a Tony Robbins video.)
"Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts don't go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's in this century, but apples didn't suspend themselves in midair, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from ape- like ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other yet to be discovered."

-Stephen Jay Gould
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#3
RE: Let's talk about the 'tyranny of happiness'
(January 27, 2017 at 9:11 am)Tonus Wrote:
(January 27, 2017 at 8:58 am)Vic Wrote: Basically, the tyranny of happiness is the phenomenon of 'just be positive', 'think positively' etc. It's the extensively misguided mentality of 'if you stay positive, everything will turn out ok'.

The problem is that it is being stated as an absolute: "if you do A, you always get B."  In other words, the premise is making a promise it can't keep.

That is one part of the problem. The other part is that it implies that if you don't get B, you're doing something wrong in life or something is wrong with you. It puts the person at fault for their own misery, which is not always the case, and it demonizes negative feelings, which are necessary in a healthy emotional life.

As I said, this isn't to say that looking for positives in life or striving to be happier or to make one's life better is wrong. Just that this type of thinking is sure to do the opposite.
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#4
RE: Let's talk about the 'tyranny of happiness'
I believe it stems from the so-called New Thought movement.
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#5
RE: Let's talk about the 'tyranny of happiness'
There are times when my unhappiness is indeed my own fault. It behooves me to recognize my responsibility in those cases so that I can repair the issue. I find that changing my outlook makes it easier for me to be happy, and I'd rather be happy than unhappy. It's not a cure-all, and I don't have a phobia of negative emotions.

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#6
RE: Let's talk about the 'tyranny of happiness'
(January 27, 2017 at 11:08 am)Thumpalumpacus Wrote: There are times when my unhappiness is indeed my own fault. It behooves me to recognize my responsibility in those cases so that I can repair the issue. I find that changing my outlook makes it easier for me to be happy, and I'd rather be happy than unhappy. It's not a cure-all, and I don't have a phobia of negative emotions.

Of course this could be the case as well. But it's a problem in specific cases.

In the video I linked, Susan David talks about her friend, diagnosed with cancer and her experiences with people telling her to be positive. She says it made her angry and unable to authentically deal with her emotions regarding her illness. David also speaks of her experience with her father, who was also diagnosed with cancer when she was a teenager and the constant advice of 'just think positively and everything will turn out to be ok' made it hard for them as a family to adequately process the situation.

This type of thinking could also become problematic for example with people suffering from depression, making them feel responsible for their own illness and 'wrong' for not feeling happy, because they - it implies - don't try hard enough to think positively.



I'm finding it hard to articulate what I mean so I'm not sure if I'm getting across what I want to. I strongly suggest seeing the first video I linked at least, it explains the idea more clearly than I can word it.
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#7
RE: Let's talk about the 'tyranny of happiness'
I agree, it's stupid. I'm also horrible at it because I'm too realistic. If I know something will likely turn out badly, I'm not going to "think positively" and pretend that it won't, just for the sake of feeling happy at the time. I'm going to think realistically, and if that makes me upset, then I'll allow myself to be upset and to prepare for the worst. Better that than pretending everything will be fine when I know better.
"Of course, everyone will claim they respect someone who tries to speak the truth, but in reality, this is a rare quality. Most respect those who speak truths they agree with, and their respect for the speaking only extends as far as their realm of personal agreement. It is less common, almost to the point of becoming a saintly virtue, that someone truly respects and loves the truth seeker, even when their conclusions differ wildly." 

-walsh
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#8
RE: Let's talk about the 'tyranny of happiness'
I think the efficacy of "Think Positive" has always been over-reported or over-hyped. It works sometimes, but only in very specific situations which most often lack gravity.

I do understand what you are saying Vic, you are making sense.

Genuinely, what do you see as a solution? I always struggle with trying to boost people when they are down, and I've always had the internal struggle of knowing that the best way to deal with emotions is to sit with them and feeling shitty is perfectly normal and part of human experience. I also have the cognitive portion of it, which is that being happy is preferable to being sad, and if I (personally) can do anything to change things once I have processed the emotion, I should.

I don't know.
"There remain four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking." ~Christopher Hitchens, god is not Great

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#9
RE: Let's talk about the 'tyranny of happiness'
(January 27, 2017 at 12:56 pm)Catholic_Lady Wrote: I agree, it's stupid. I'm also horrible at it because I'm too realistic. If I know something will likely turn out badly, I'm not going to "think positively" and pretend that it won't, just for the sake of feeling happy at the time. I'm going to think realistically, and if that makes me upset, then I'll allow myself to be upset and to prepare for the worst. Better that than pretending everything will be fine when I know better.

Which I think is the better approach honestly, because it allows you to actually deal with the situation instead of running away from it and denying that it's not like you want it to be. And if you force yourself to be happy, you can't really feel it, because those emotions you had to push out of the way frist will come back.

(January 27, 2017 at 12:56 pm)SteelCurtain Wrote: I think the efficacy of "Think Positive" has always been over-reported or over-hyped. It works sometimes, but only in very specific situations which most often lack gravity.

I do understand what you are saying Vic, you are making sense.

Genuinely, what do you see as a solution? I always struggle with trying to boost people when they are down, and I've always had the internal struggle of knowing that the best way to deal with emotions is to sit with them and feeling shitty is perfectly normal and part of human experience. I also have the cognitive portion of it, which is that being happy is preferable to being sad, and I (personally) can do anything to change things once I have processed the emotion, I should.

I don't know.

Thanks. I'm having a hard time with words on this one.

I have no idea. I think working towards a solution of the person's problem is a good step, unless the person in question specifically doesn't want you to. But saying 'don't worry about it' isn't really trying to find a way to resolve their problem. I think it depends on the situation, but it's probably best to express empathy and understanding to help them deal with the feeling and try to cheer them up after they'd gotten over it mostly.
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#10
RE: Let's talk about the 'tyranny of happiness'
As someone who struggles with depression every day, hearing this kind of "feel-good" nonsense all the time only makes me feel more frustrated. Not everyone is even capable of that. It's like telling a blind person to just open their eyes and everything will work out!
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