Why happiness is not a project of Pollyanna-ism

lLooking at the world around us, happiness seems like an unattainable goal. As we enter the fourth year of a pandemic that has killed millions and continues to threaten health and well-being around the world, coupled with the devastating consequences of climate change, an increase in crime caused by With hatred and the continuing consequences of systemic oppression and inequality, there seems to be little reason to be happy. Indeed, results from the 2022 Annual Stress in the US survey indicated that a third of respondents reported that their stress in the face of these challenges was “too much to bear”.

Just ignoring or denying stress, or suppressing your negative emotions and pretending that everything is fine, will not lead to lasting happiness. In most cases, negative emotions are surprisingly helpful—they provide important signals about our environment and can guide us to an appropriate response. For example, fear signals that you may be in a potentially dangerous situation and that you should try to run away; Anger can motivate you to confront injustice. The same, similar, Excessive focus on pursuit Positive emotions like happiness can paradoxically lead to less happiness. Really, too much emotion in the wrong context is not good for you. Notice, recognize, and name your emotions—both negative and positive—that are related to better physical health and emotional well-being.

The key to lasting happiness isn’t getting rid of negative emotions in your life; instead, the goal is to also experience positive emotions even when the going gets tough. This balance can be especially difficult when times are dark. In my research, I work with people who are experiencing severe life stress, such as a diagnosis of a critical illness or caring for a loved one with dementia, and teach them skills to increase their emotional well-being. positive emotions of the experience in addition to the negative. These skills include paying attention to and enjoying positive events, mindful awareness, non-judgment, gratitude, and acts of kindness, among others. Our search demonstrated that practicing these skills leads to more happiness, even when life seems particularly difficult.

One of our study participants who was caring for a family member with dementia described to me how she used the positive emotional skills she learned in our program for dealing with the stress of caregiving: “There are days when I just want to jump right into my car. and drive and never come back. So I thought, ‘OK, I’m grateful for this. I have this, I can do this. I am resourceful.’” In the past, she said, “Sometimes I get very angry with my situation. Now I can go, ‘OK, I can be angry for two minutes and then, Done! Not all day long.’”

Practicing these skills worked for me too. During the pandemic, I’ve noticed and appreciated the little things more—for example, this morning, before I sat down to write, I took the time to appreciate that even though it’s cold in Chicago, The sun is still coming out, a welcome change from the previous week or so of clouds. The shining sun isn’t going to change any of the really big issues in the world right now, but by taking a moment to notice, I have more positive emotions and feel better equipped. to deal with any challenges that come your way.

In 1867, human rights, abolitionist, feminist and human rights activist Sojourner Truth captured this philosophy very well: “Life is a tough fight anyway. If we laugh and sing a little bit as we fight for freedom, it will make things easier. I will not let the light of my life be determined by the darkness around me.” Instead of focusing all your energy on achieving happiness in the face of life’s big and small challenges, follow Sojourner Truth’s advice and find the little things you can do to bring more moments to life. happier every day, while still acknowledging that life can be an uphill battle. Donate to an organization that feeds the hungry. Let your coworker know that you’re grateful for their help on a big project. Take a moment to enjoy your delicious morning latte or even just look at pictures of puppies and kittens on the internet. Intentionally seek out moments of laughter and song that will allow the light of your life to shine through, even when the world seems darkest. That is the definition of happiness.

Moskowitz is a professor of health social sciences at Northwestern University and director of research at the Northwestern Osher Center for Integrative Health.

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