Help! I am confused about happiness!

Question: Help! People sometimes get more annoyed because I try to cheer them up! Isn’t being happy and making others happy the right way to go?

Answer: Although being happy, in general, makes people kinder, and wanting to help others. But when we try to be happy all the time and try the same for others, we miss out moments when we need to be more understanding. When we are in an extremely happy mood, we may at times have difficulty in empathize with other’s sufferings, leading to others feeling dismissed and invalidated. When such interactions become more frequent, some people may start avoiding us during times of their distress.

Question: So should I not try to be happy?

Answer: As an old saying goes, “happiness is a journey and not the destination”, striving to be happy all the time may backfire. We need a healthy balance of a variety of emotions as per the context. Further, not all kinds of happiness are beneficial all the time. The one which is merely through an increase of pleasurable activities would feel like an empty life. For having a full life, we need to find activities which use our strengths, where we are challenged to grow, which we find meaningful and which build deeper connections with others.

Question: When is ‘being happy’ helpful and when it is not helpful?

Answer: Happiness helps us to pursue important aims in our lives, as well as build connections. However, a happy feeling may also indicate that we are satisfied and may allow ourselves to slow down in our pursuits. It may help us to think creatively and out of the box, but when it gets extreme, then we may not be able to tap into our creative resources, as we might be too distracted. When people need to think critically and logically, they may benefit more from a serious thoughtful focus, rather than a very happy mood. Similarly being in a very positive mood makes us more vulnerable to deception, because then we do not process the information deeply. Being very cheerful may also make people engage in risky behaviors. Newer researches are throwing more light on what kind of happiness is helpful and in what situations.

However we can use a basic rule of thumb, happy feelings are good for us when they are in moderation and when we remain sensitive to others and to the context.

Expert: Dr Jyotsna Agrawal

Dr Jyotsna is assistant professor of Positive Psychology at the Dept. of Clinical

Psychology, NIMHANS, Bangalore