Sunday, February 10, 2008

Can You be too Happy?

Can being too happy be bad for you? Turns out the answer may be "yes" according to a study discussed at Yahoo Finance (Hat tip: Instapundit):

But while relationships are better for the joyous, it turns out that there's a big deficit to perpetual euphoria: Super-happy people don't live as long as the moderately happy, according to a long-term study of gifted children. "We were shocked that the happiest people didn't live longer," says Diener.
And it's possible that buying into the whole self-help culture may be self-defeating if you are already mildly happy:

If you feel generally satisfied with your life, your work, and your relationships most of the time, think twice before buying into the self-help movement and its search for a continuous streak of "peak moments."

"Happiness, like spirituality, is partially a private pursuit, defined by individuals based on their personal values," says Diener. "Be wary when people tell you to live for the moment, to strive for an exciting life, or that you ought to be happier. Chasing super-happiness is a mistake that can lead you astray and be self-defeating."

Chasing supper happiness (whatever that means) always struck me as being a bit cult-like; perhaps moderation in all things is not a bad strategy.


Blogger Unknown said...

I find that being content is perfectly satisfactory. It also feels good to be useful. Chasing 'peak moments' is much more work, and tends to increase the blood-pressure.

7:05 AM, February 10, 2008  
Blogger Jack D. Lail said...

I agree. Striving to be super happy all the time sounds like another fad diet not designed for the long haul of life.

8:41 AM, February 10, 2008  
Blogger Helen said...

Hi Jack,

I agree--super happiness is often a fad-- I was dragged once in the 80's to an EST meeting by a friend in NYC (against my will, I might add) where they talked about how one could be happy all the time. Once I heard that nonsense, I quickly hit the door.

8:50 AM, February 10, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's just unrealistic. And setting one's self up for attaining the impossible makes people naturally UNhappy!

9:11 AM, February 10, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

I fail to see how one can be super happy while watching one's brother die of cancer or of being miserable as your first grandchild is placed in your arms.

Life is not conducive to perpetual states.

9:52 AM, February 10, 2008  
Blogger Jeff Y said...

I reject the whole modern notion of happiness as unsound. On the modern view, happiness is an emotion. But this is easily shown to be false.

Rugby players endure physical pain and mental agony as they stive to win. Yet they will tell you playing rugby is among the happiest of times for them. Climbers of Mt. Everest actually start to slowly die after passing 19,000 feet. They only hope to make it back down before they expire. They trudge on in unbelievable agony. Yet they too say it was among the happiest times of their lives.

If happiness is an emotion, then how can one be happy in the midst of toil and strife? Answer: you can't. Therefore, happiness is not an emotion. Then the ultimate striving for happiness is not a reach for a constant stream of positive emotions.

Joy and happiness are not the same. So what is happiness? Whenever people talk of happiness they always speak of an activity. It is not some thing that produces happiness but rather some action. Actions that accord with virtue produce happiness. Happiness is the pursuit of worthy goals by worthy means.

In that pursuit one may experience all manner of emotions. Some pursuits, like my mathematical pursuits, produce more frustration and mental anguish than others. Yet, there is always something beautiful that leads us on.

Making joyous emotion an end in itself is perverse, and it is bound to produce unhappiness --- the pursuit of unworthy goals by unworthy means.

9:59 AM, February 10, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Feeling great for me has become simple. I take a long shower. Get the water temp just perfect, wash my hair twice with my favorite shampoo, lather and scrub up twice with my favorite soap. And sing my ass off the whole time. Then towel off with a linen scented "bounce" dried fluffy cotton towel. A million bucks couldn't feel better.

10:03 AM, February 10, 2008  
Blogger TMink said...

Can't agree with you about happiness not being an emotion Jeff.

All emotions come from our experience as it is filtered through our beliefs and knowledge. People who play rugby value being tough and enjoy rough contact. A person who does not hold the values would be miserable playing rugby, those who hold them enjoy it immensley.

It is our values and beliefs that steer which way our emotional experience travels from our experience.


10:18 AM, February 10, 2008  
Blogger Jeff Y said...

Trey wrote, It is our values and beliefs that steer which way our emotional experience travels from our experience.

I agree with what you've written about values. But it doesn't support your point. The very reason one person is happy to endure pain on the rugby field while another isn't, is the value they place on the goal of atheltic achievement.

One can be happy, in pursuit of a valued/worthy goal, while experienceing negative emotions. Then happiness isn't an emotion.

And it isn't just my view, it was the view of most Western thinkers until the sordid Romantic movement arrived. Men like Aristotle considered it of the highest ethical importance to refute the notion that happiness is an emotion. So do I.

10:31 AM, February 10, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You guys are getting too complicated. Go take a shower, and sing!

12:00 PM, February 10, 2008  
Blogger Cham said...

I have a lot of "peak moments", but then again I visit a lot of peaks.

12:03 PM, February 10, 2008  
Blogger Misanthrope said...

As Aristotle put it in The Nicomachean Ethics, a man cannot be said to have live a happy life until he has died.

1:12 PM, February 10, 2008  
Blogger Ken Baker said...

Some level of dissatisfaction drives improvement. This applies to business, personal relations, whatever. The perfectly happy person has no reason to continue to improve.

The balance is also true. Too much dissatisfaction or negativity can either drive you into despair (personally) or drive others away (as in a business setting).

I have always felt that a person should be in the 80% happy range (no science used in this number at all).

2:09 PM, February 10, 2008  
Blogger Jeff Y said...

br549 wrote, You guys are getting too complicated. Go take a shower, and sing!

Romantic! lol

2:09 PM, February 10, 2008  
Blogger Mercurior said...

it depends on the personality, the culture a person has lived, so many other reasons.

i am pessimistic, but then i am a brit, we are only ever happy moaning about something, too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet, the weather, theres a satire about this very topic.

George Farthing, an expatriate British man living in America, was recently diagnosed as clinically depressed, tanked up on anti-depressants and scheduled for controversial Shock Therapy when doctors realised he wasn't depressed at all - only British. 'Not depressed, just British' Mr Farthing, a British man whose characteristic pessimism and gloomy perspective were interpreted as serious clinical depression, was led on a nightmare journey through the American psychiatric system.

Doctors described Farthing as suffering with Pervasive Negative Anticipation - a belief that everything will turn out for the worst, whether it's trains arriving late, England's chances at winning any international sports event or even his own prospects to get ahead in life and achieve his dreams.

"The satisfaction Mr Farthing seemed to get from his pessimism seemed particularly pathological," reported the doctors. "They put me on everything - Lithium, Prozac, St John's Wort," said Mr. Farthing. "They even told me to sit in front of a big light for an hour a day or I'd become suicidal. I kept telling them this was all pointless and they said that it was exactly that sort of attitude that got me here in the first place."

Running out of ideas, his doctors finally resorted to a course of "weapons grade MDMA", the only noticeable effect of which was six hours of speedy repetitions of the phrases "mustn't grumble" and "not too bad, really".

It was then that Mr Farthing was referred to a psychotherapist. "Suicidal?" Dr Isaac Horney explored Mr Farthing's family history and couldn't believe his ears.

"His story of a childhood growing up in a grey little town where it rained every day, treeless streets of identical houses and passionately backing a football team who never won, seemed to be typical depressive ideation or false memory. Mr Farthing had six months of therapy but seemed to mainly want to talk about the weather - how miserable and cold it was in winter and later how difficult and hot it was in summer. I felt he wasn't responding to therapy at all and so I recommended drastic action - namely ECT or shock treatment".

I was all strapped down on the table and they were about to put the rubber bit in my mouth when the psychiatric nurse picked up on my accent," said Mr Farthing. "I remember her saying 'Oh my God, I think we're making a terrible mistake'."
Nurse Alice Sheen was a big fan of British comedy giving her an understanding of the British psyche. "Classic comedy characters like Tony Hancock, Albert Steptoe and Frank Spencer are all hopeless cases with no chance of ever doing well or escaping their circumstances," she explained to the baffled US medics. "That's funny in Britain and is not seen as pathological at all."

3:04 PM, February 10, 2008  
Blogger Francis W. Porretto said...

"Super-happy people don't live as long as the moderately happy, according to a long-term study of gifted children."

And this is a bad thing because...?

How could anyone, non-facetiously, claim to be able to measure longevity against happiness in a conclusive fashion? What sort of weighting scheme could be objectively defended? Who is keeping score and what are the rules?

Arrogance: It's everywhere among "social scientists." Be on the lookout, and beware.

3:05 PM, February 10, 2008  
Blogger Mercurior said...

it rains over 154 days of the year in the UK, sometimes upto 200 a year. it is a satire but it is interesting, how a normal, in the UK, thing can be termed abnormal miles away.

3:06 PM, February 10, 2008  
Blogger dienw said...

One of the synomyms for happyness is blessedness: to be happy is to be blessed. This is the meaning of the "pursuit of happiness" phrase in the U.S. Constitution: we possess the right to pursue blessedness, a spiritual relationship with God.

I am not happy until I am blessed; and I do not know I am happy until I acknowledge I am blessed via my personal relationship with God.

3:46 PM, February 10, 2008  
Blogger DADvocate said...

This is all I need!! I worry about growing old. I worry that whatever ache or pain I have at the moment is more than an ache or pain. I worry about my kids growing up healthy and being at least reasonably successful. I worry I can keep my house and car in good repair with minimal costs. Ad infinitum.

And, now I have to worry about being too happy!! This is killing me! :-)

4:29 PM, February 10, 2008  
Blogger TMink said...

Jeff wrote: "One can be happy, in pursuit of a valued/worthy goal, while experienceing negative emotions."

I think I see our sticking point! I was referring to feelings as affect, you were also including physical sensations. I think it proper to separate the two as they are different systems.

Our physical sensations (pain, itching, burning, stuff like that) is part of our physical homeostasis system. It keeps us from unintentional damage. It is what hurts (feels physical pain) when you get tackled in rugby.

Our affective system is part of our belief system and lets us know when our existential needs are met (we feel happy) or violated (anger, resentment, etc.) Fear is a bridge between the two as it often triggers when we are concerned about possible physical pain or injury.

So, given your excellent rugby example, we experience physical discomfort (hurt) when we are damaged and existential feedback (hurt and disappointment) when we loose.

There is certainly come needed crosstalk between the systems. I is difficult to endure something that we believe very strongly about if it causes too much physical damage. Tough people are better able to ignore their physical discomfort in order to achieve an existential goal that is sufficiently important to them.

I think much of our disagreement stems from the similar language used to refer to physical sensation and affect. We call both of them feelings. If I say I am feeling lousy there is no way to know if I am depressed or 1 day post op!

Well, that is what I think. Did I get any of it right Jeff?


4:52 PM, February 10, 2008  
Blogger contrarymary said...

Well, I am rarely ever happy, so I should make it to a long crotchety, cranky-pants, ripe old age!

5:54 PM, February 10, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Er, Uhh.....jeff and tmink.

Please don't think I meant to take a shower together (((shudder))) if that's what it came across as.

This is a hetero blog if ever I've seen one. Heck, the Doc's pic on the front page is what made me slam on the brakes and back up first time I came here. Although who she is and how she is, the subject matter, and the people who come in here are why I've become such a bad penny. But don't tell her I said that, I'll just deny it. The last thing we need to do is swell her head.

6:24 PM, February 11, 2008  
Blogger TMink said...

br5, the thought never entered my mind!

Not that there is anything wrong with it for other people.


8:58 PM, February 11, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder how many people old Abe Maslow helped to make miserable with all his "self-actualization" crap. I read the book and all I got out of it is that some people are lucky and others are screwed. Hell, I'm a grownup and most of my basic needs are met - but there's a problem with my brain and it's only pure laziness that keeps me from scampering up the nearest tall building and shooting everything I see. Of course, for some people maybe mass destruction is self-actualization. I don't think Maslow ever thought of that.

Slartibartfast: I'd far rather be happy be right
Arther Dent: And are you?
Slartibartfast: No, that's where it all goes wrong of course.

11:37 AM, February 12, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Disclaimer: I wouldn't really shoot anything. Should stress drive me to the top of a high structure, autokabalesis would be the most likely outcome.

4:53 PM, February 12, 2008  
Blogger Helen said...


"....autokabalesis would be the most likely outcome."

I assume you're kidding?

10:50 PM, February 12, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pretty much. Except for the climbing up tall buildings part. It's just that people making me climb down again. It tell them it's better up there and they should come up, but they don't believe me.

5:05 PM, February 13, 2008  

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