Today marks International Day of Happiness, a date set up by the United Nations to inspire the world to be positive. But is happiness really the ultimate goal?
Dr Helen Driscoll, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Sunderland, explains 11 reasons why we should maybe all chill out a little and spare ourselves the agony of the fruitless pursuit:
1. Happiness is sometimes seen as the only thing that matters and the only emotional state that has value. This belief in itself may lead to unhappiness.
2. Does enjoying a sad film or book mean we are unhappy people? I don’t think so. Sadness and happiness are not always opposites. Sometimes I am happy feeling cheerful, but sometimes I am happy feeling sad.
3. Some research indicates that listening to sad music can provide a positive emotional experience and can be pleasurable
4. Research suggests we have a genetically influenced happiness ‘set-point’ and our happiness varies only to a limited extent around this. So, regardless of what happens to us - a lottery win or a broken leg – our happiness will at some point return close to this point.
5. When people earn more money, their desired living standards rise, they desire ever more expensive things but in the long term they may be no happier because they still want more than they can afford.
6. Imagine a world in which we were blissfully happy all the time. Would we be driven to develop, to achieve, to seek partners, have children? If we were completely happy, why would we do those things?
7. While many changes in the world have led to increased happiness – for example availability of food, medical care, shelter etc – we struggle with other changes such as long working hours, stress, competition for mates etc.
8. During human evolutionary history, being happy signalled that we were behaving in adaptive ways – for example acquiring an attractive partner would likely make us happy and this had fitness benefits. But will this happiness last? Acquiring an attractive partner brings its own challenges – there is always the risk of losing them.
9. If something happens to us that results in sadness, the reflection that brings has some meaning – and can lead to a positive change
10. Life is a rich and complex emotional quilt, full of different colours and textures of different depths. It is not supposed to be flat, uniform and joyous pink and yellow.
11. Would we be happier if we concerned ourselves less with happiness? If we didn’t expect it to always be with us, but knew it was always likely to return? And if we embraced the range of human emotions a little bit more?