Happy, Happy — Just Shut The F**k Up

March 17, 2011

In a modern world gone dangerously bat-shit crazy, maybe happiness is indeed a warm gun.
As we ponder Japan getting radiated — workers were still trying this early morning to water down the exposed spent fuel rods in the Fukushima plants, but horrific shit is still moving closer and closer to an out-of-control mode — and all the other nasty earthly consequences facing us, the task of projecting a lighthearted and merry tone is zero fun.

A couple of recent studies on the imprint of being happy reveals the basic premise is being active, and, in the long run, not being so freakin’ happy all the time.

(Illustration found here).

In 1921, Stanford psychologist Lewis Terman began a study originally called “Genetic Studies of Genius,” which was to take people in childhood and follow them through life to see what makes humans happy and successful.
And now psychology professors Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin, have brought together the end-of-life findings of Terman’s work in the book, The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study.
From Slate:

One of the most striking findings of The Longevity Project is that conscientiousness is a predictor of long life. People who blow their deadlines and forget their appointments tend to find themselves making an early appointment with the grim reaper.
Sorting through eight decades of data shows that the reliable, more-mature-than-their years little boys and girls identified in the 1920s became the dependable adults who were most likely to have made it into a new century.
“[T]he best childhood personality predictor of longevity was conscientiousness—the qualities of a prudent, persistent, well-organized person …—somewhat obsessive and not at all carefree.”
The benefits of a conscientious personality are obvious: These people are less likely to smoke and drink, or drive dangerously.
Throughout life, conscientious people are less impulsive, and less depressed.
The researchers found that the prudent died less from all causes, not just those related to dangerous habits.

Among the most counterintuitive of the findings is that cheerfulness can kill.
The authors write: “[C]heerful and optimistic children were less likely to live to an old age than their more staid and sober counterparts!”
They found that cheerfulness was as big a risk factor for premature death as elevated blood pressure and high cholesterol.
There seemed to be several reasons. The highly social went to more parties where they smoked and drank, craving the buzz. They died from accidents.

Despite the belief that optimists enjoy better health than pessimists, this research found a dark underside to optimism.
When everything is going great, the optimist soars.
But when facing life’s difficulties, the optimist can feel defeated by the magnitude of the struggle that’s required.

Hence, the unhappy state we so now live in can even smash-down the optimist (whoever that is!).

Happy is not my particular cup of tea.
From the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday about a recent University of Wisconsin study on happy:

Happiness research, a field known as “positive psychology,” is exploding.
Some of the newest evidence suggests that people who focus on living with a sense of purpose as they age are more likely to remain cognitively intact, have better mental health and even live longer than people who focus on achieving feelings of happiness.
In fact, in some cases, too much focus on feeling happy can actually lead to feeling less happy, researchers say.

For instance, symptoms of depression, paranoia and psychopathology have increased among generations of American college students from 1938 to 2007, according to a statistical review published in 2010 in Clinical Psychology Review.
Researchers at San Diego State University who conducted the analysis pointed to increasing cultural emphasis in the U.S. on materialism and status, which emphasize hedonic happiness, and decreasing attention to community and meaning in life, as possible explanations.

Surveys have shown the typical person usually feels more positive than neutral, yet it isn’t clear he or she needs to be any happier, Dr. Diener says.
But there is such a thing as too much focus on happiness.
Ruminating too much about oneself can become a vicious cycle. Fixating on being happy “in itself can become a psychological burden,” Dr. Ryff says.

I’m just so, so happy there’s no smiling…


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