On the Joy of Not Always Needing to be Joyful
A plea for hanging your head in the time of the “happiness-hype”
Happiness has had an unparalleled career in the past few years. It has transformed from a fleeting trend to the star of the show. You will notice this especially if you take a stroll through the Amazon online store. Or on Instagram, where you can find nine million posts with the hashtag #happylife. In addition, the list of academic disciplines is ever-growing—psychology, neurology, genetics, sociology, economics—that are attempting to answer the age-old question:
what makes people happy? Or: how can people become happier? And in the best-case scenario, how can they stay that way?
These many roadmaps, advice columns and studies that seem to provide how-to manuals for leading a happy life are seductive. However, they can also lead to even more dissatisfaction. In total, there are 7,63 billion individual ideas of happiness on the earth. For some, material prosperity brings happiness, whereas in Europe the post-modern idea that money can’t buy happiness is widely accepted. In modern affluent societies, the pressure to eradicate depression, gloom, melancholy and doubt—in other words, everything human—from our lives and our social interactions is especially high.
Against the enchantment of happiness
Maybe it is exactly these misjudged emotions that we need in order to be mentally balanced. Positive and negative emotions – as long as they allow us to continue living our daily lives—need each other. Because we can only perceive happiness if we know what unhappiness feels like. The U.S. American happiness scholar Ed Diener is of the opinion, that the path to happiness can never circumvent suffering, but rather must travel directly through it. Those who can welcome “negative” emotions such as anger, sadness and melancholy and live them intentionally, can also conquer them and become stronger through the experience. The German philosopher Wilhelm Schmid, who landed on the bestseller list with his book “Gelassenheit” (“Calm”) in 2015, talks about the “happiness of fullness.” Schmid is convinced that one can be satisfied with their life if they see it in its full picture, highs and lows included. For Schmid, happiness is accepting life in its fullness, not always trying to string together the happy moments.
In times when films, television and social media tell us daily that there is nothing more to life than striving for perfect relationships, bodies, friends and jobs, it is challenging to accept that happy and worthwhile lives need the pain and sadness as much as they need the happiness. But especially when dealing with social media, it can be helpful to intentionally filter and understand that all pictures of happy, contented people only represent fleeting moments. And we all have the power to decide for ourselves if we want to strive for this form of happiness ourselves or find our own way.