Why You Should Stop Being So Happy All The Time
I’m working on creating a workshop for the new year about achieving goals, so I’ve been doing some research. I was listening to one of the gurus in the goal-achieving industry (is it weird that this is a thing?) explain that you can literally get rid of your negative emotions. He said, and I quote:
The greatest enemies of success and happiness are negative emotions, of all kinds. It is negative emotions that hold you down, tire you out and take away all your joy in life. It is negative emotions, from the beginning of time, that have done more harm to individuals and societies than all the plagues of history. One of your most important goals, if you want to be truly happy and successful, is to free yourself from negative emotions, and fortunately, this can be done, if you learn how. —Brian Tracy
You guys, I know this sounds good. We all think we want to feel good and be happy all the time. Negative emotions are uncomfortable. They’re not easy to sit with, but just like anything else that sounds too good to be true, this concept is, in fact, false.
If humans could get rid of negative emotions, we would have evolved away from them a long time ago, but we haven’t. And there’s a very good reason for this. Have you ever met someone who is happy all the time? I mean really happy and positive all the time? You know what I’m talking about, right? The Pollyanna type. People like this are pleasant and easy to be around, but they’re also extremely difficult to connect with because they seem to be missing half of the human experience. They disguise the depth and sincerity that would make them feel real. I could go on and on about how Americans are scared to feel anything but happiness, empowerment, and occasionally rage; and it’s causing a crisis of connection in our country, but I will save that rant for another day.
Although I do want to mention that there’s a spectrum of natural genetic optimism. Some people are born with more and some people born with less. It’s also possible to teach yourself how to be more optimistic, but this is not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the people who believe they can avoid difficult emotions and the coaches who teach them to try.
The background of this concept is a theory called Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), which has been around since the 1960s. The CBT approach has sort of worked itself into pop culture, and a lot of coaches seem to be jumping onto this bandwagon — with only minimal training — because the concept is very simple. The idea is that your thoughts cause your feelings and your feelings cause your behavior.
So, the theory goes, if you want to change your feelings or your behaviors, change your thoughts. If you want to feel better, change your thoughts.
This isn’t wrong. There’s a lot of research demonstrating the effectiveness of this approach. It can help a lot with the kinds of self-defeating thoughts that cause depression, and it’s also an empowering concept because it makes you feel in control. However, CBT is not nearly as popular around the globe as it is in America for a few reasons:
- It’s too simplistic
- It has a subtext of blame (it’s your fault that you’re feeling this way)
- It doesn’t help at all when your thoughts and feelings are valid
In addition, more recent research is starting to show that people feel a flash emotion before their thoughts catch up, and there’s no evidence that this instinctive flash of emotion can be controlled.
So what I’ve noticed in my work is that people who embrace the idea that you can control how you feel sometimes take it too far and create an inner beast that looks like an overly-optimistic, in-control-all-the-time, over-achiever. This protective internal animal prevents them from experiencing hurt, disappointment, and rejection; and it causes them to feel guilty and weak if they do. Some people get so adept at this, in fact, they don’t even register their emotional pain when it happens.
At first glance, this might seem appealing. However, there is a steep price these people pay. The more often you do this, the bigger your inner beast becomes, and the more separated you get from your authentic self. And the farther away you travel from your authentic self, the more shallow your relationships become.
In case it’s not obvious, that matters.
Relationship depth is so vital that it’s actually a measure therapists use to evaluate a person’s overall wellness. In other words, a lack of relational depth = a lack of mental wellness. One way to evaluate if this could be a problem for you is to observe how you respond to difficult circumstances. Do you find yourself using a lot of phrases like:
. . . but it’s okay because . . .
. . . but at least I . . .
Phrases like this are helpful in some situations, but if you’re using them all the time, it may be an indication that you are uncomfortable with your own vulnerability. Being vulnerable can set us up to feel a lot of difficult emotions because when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we let go of control. However, being vulnerable can also add richness and dimension to our lives. It can be both humbling and endearing. It’s how we open ourselves up to love and appreciation. It amplifies all of our good experiences and helps us form the connections that ease our bad ones. It makes us human and relatable.
Another clue that your inner beast is interfering with the depth of your relationships is if you never fight with the people close to you. This may sound counterintuitive because most of us don’t associate connection with conflict, but feeling emotionally safe in a relationship allows our differences to surface, which will naturally invite some conflict. When someone feels unsafe in a relationship, one way of coping is to disconnect to avoid conflict, so if your relationships don’t involve any conflict, there’s a good chance you have withdrawn emotionally.
Here’s a quote I like a lot more than the one at the beginning:
The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers. —M. Scott Peck
Truer answers. I love that. Don’t be afraid of yourself. Sit with your uncomfortable emotions. Experience them. Explore them. Be curious about them, and look for the truth. This is where you will find your most authentic self and set the foundation for living your most fulfilling life.
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