We often push ourselves to focus on happiness. We're taught that we should strive to make our lives joyful and to see the good in each day. It has become a mainstay in pop culture, through inspiring documentaries, well-crafted self-help books, and the positivity on social media. Yet, this endless quest for joy isn't always successful. In recent years, studies have revealed the paradox of happiness: when we focus too much on it, we can end up making ourselves even unhappier.
Our society's preoccupation with achieving joy couches itself in aspirational terms. We're told to "be positive", to "seize the day", or to "smile more". This can be effective in minor matters, like finding a solution when facing small challenges. But when difficult situations arise or we're in a prolonged bad mood, these slogans have little effect on us.
When a complex issue arises, messages like these are glib, platitudinous and ineffective. They do not provide useful solutions. Moreover, they infer that our feelings just need a slight shift in attitude. It can be reinforcing of invalidated emotions and can make the person feel worse for having such thoughts in the first place. Trying to cheer yourself up by pushing away negative emotions only masks them, blocking the valuable information that lies beneath. Thus, any attempt to subdue underlying concerns will eventually fail.
Being able to recognize and accept uncomfortable emotions without judging ourselves is important. This type of emotional regulation is a primary tool for dealing with mood swings. Otherwise, bottling up negative emotions can lead to chronic unhappiness. This can result from suppressing one's natural inclination for sadness and anger, which can stem from feeling powerless and alone. The ensuing feelings of despondency can become habitual and will accumulate until an outlet is provided. The escape route thus provided by focusing on joy offers only partial relief. Yet, since this quick fix would ultimately be unhealthy, it has to be weighed against the alternatives.
This paradox requires individuals to be mindful of the setting, magnitude, and frequency of their emotions. Acknowledge your feelings, including the discomfort of frustration, disappointment, and sadness. Mindfully analyzing these feelings allows us to understand why they occur and whether they have persisted (or have intensified). In such cases, labels no longer hide what needs to be conveyed; comprehending and acknowledging our emotions allows us to differentiate between real distress and irrational responses to minor inconveniences.
By discerning deeper emotions, I can easily understand the importance of developing an escape plan that does not call for positive thinking and dismissing conditions outright. Instead, counterbalance the obvious impulse to seek joy with activities designed to provide a different perspective. Taking a break from self-imposed positive thinking can help lift the veil of unbeknownst expectations and make us more aware of our emotional experience. By engaging in activities that are calming, enjoyable and meaningful, we can gain insight into our personal beliefs and values.
Although seeking joy may appear to be a great way to fill in moments, it could actually have a detrimental impact if it's done too often. We must learn to appreciate moments when things are all right, but also recognize distress when it occurs. Without confronting the shadow sides of life, we cannot work towards true growth and freedom. If joy is just a momentary respite we give ourselves, then it is merely postponing suffering instead of leading to deeper contentment. The immense pressure we feel every day to be happy can actually end up causing us to feel worse.
To achieve a sense of lasting contentment, our relationship to happiness needs to be more realistic. Accepting imperfections, staying curious and not beating yourself up for feeling low sometimes can help create the foundation for a meaningful life and stable mental health. Happiness is best viewed as a process more than a state—we don't want to be constantly striving for moments of joy, instead learning to stay open, aware and observant of our experiences throughout the day. there is nothing wrong with aiming for contentment, but we must guard ourselves from its unhealthy lure as well.