Is Trying To Be Happy Making Us Miserable?

How we're trying too hard to be happy, and setting ourselves up for failure.

All anyone wants is to be happy, right?

Well, yes of course.

But these days the search for happiness could see your feeling completely the opposite -- miserable.

It just doesn't seem fair, does it? Or indeed make sense at first glance. But then... well, it does.

Author Lisa Portolan who has written a book on just this very subject -- Happy As: Why the quest for happiness is making us miserable (Echo) -- says that today, the idea of happiness has morphed and changed.  According to her, these days "happiness is a fleeting, ephemeral emotion, a state of being which lifts the spirit and rains down endorphins in a cacophony of joy. It's all-singing and all-dancing, an ecstatic state which transforms and transcends the monotony of our day-to-day lives."

Back in the (ancient) day, happiness was different. It was a bit less dancing and a bit more living well. It was  a broader notion, according to Lisa, "linked to participating in political life, taking part in civic duties and overall spending a life well lived for the common good."

Ah well,  you won't find that on Instagram...

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Clinical psychologist Amanda Gordon from armchairpsychology.com.au, told 10 daily, "It's very hard when you're inundated with things like whether you have the hot new handbag or shoes -- implications about what will make us happiest. Research has shown in the last couple of decades that the things that provide the greatest happiness are when you're doing something of meaning, or reaching out to someone else or engaging with someone or something in a meaningful way."

I would argue that if you're doing the things that are engaging with others and creating meaning and community you can't help but be happy. That pure joy and engagement with what you're doing, that I would label 'happiness', and I think we've lost  that while we're busy comparing ourselves with others.

Think about it -- these days it's true, we're all so busy thinking about what we think could make us happy, we don't actually see that those things aren't all they're cracked up to be at all. And in a world of carefully curated images and messages on social media, they pretty much don't even exist.

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A recent article in Time Magazine also suggests that if we are constantly worrying about being happy, we then see any negative emotions as signs of failure.

“Happiness is a good thing, but setting it up as something to be achieved tends to fail,” explains co-author Brock Bastian, a social psychologist at the University of Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences in Australia.

“When people place a great deal of pressure on themselves to feel happy, or think that others around them do, they are more likely to see their negative emotions and experiences as signals of failure,”  Brock added.  “This will only drive more unhappiness.”

What he and his team found was simple --  we need to accept that feeling unhappy sometimes is normal and healthy. Lisa agrees.

Not all of us are supposed to be married, or have children, or be a managing director, or thin, or remarkably intelligent, or emotionally stable."

Or indeed go on holiday and look amazing doing it, have perfect children or a perfectly curated Insta-worthy life.

Lisa told 10 daily,  "We want all-singing, all-dancing happiness all the time. Realistically, we’re human beings and we’re going to experience a number of emotions on a daily basis. Anger, irritation, sadness .... and of course happiness. But to expect only happiness is setting yourself up for disaster.

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And there's more to this too. Recent research published by the American Psychological Association has suggested that experiencing negative emotions can ultimately boost happiness.  “Happiness is more than simply feeling pleasure and avoiding pain. Happiness is about having experiences that are meaningful and valuable, including emotions that you think are the right ones to have,” said lead researcher Maya Tamir, PhD, a psychology professor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. '

Bastian adds that failure can be invaluable for learning and growth.

“The danger of feeling that we should avoid our negative experiences is that we respond to them badly when they do arise,” he says. “We have evolved to experience a complex array of emotional states, and about half of these are unpleasant. This is not to say they are less valuable, or that having them detracts from our quality of life.”

The advice is pretty clear --  happiness isn't actually something you can manufacture, and constantly looking for it ain't going to do you any favours at all.

Amanda Gordon told 10 daily, "Searching for happiness is a futile search because happiness is the bit you get on the way when you're searching for something else. If you're in the pursuit of happiness you're missing everything that is going by as you're looking for this elusive thing. Happiness really isn't something you find."

Added Lisa, "People say all they want is happiness. But we should want so much more. Growth, knowledge and the full spectrum of emotions. Demand more than just happiness. Demand a life well lived."

Amen to that!

Feature Image: Getty