This article might surprise you with its grumpiness. Forgive me, but even positive psychologists are only human, so we are not immune to feelings of serious pissed-offness. If you are feeling mischievous and want to annoy a positive psychologist ask these 5 questions:
- 1. Isn’t happiness shallow?
- 2. Isn’t it bad to be happy all the time?
- 3. Is there a negative psychology?
- 4. Smile or Die?
- 5. Isn’t happiness selfish?
1. Isn’t happiness shallow?
People who accuse positive psychology as being shallow are under the impression that all we do is to investigate pleasure. First of all, if there are scientists who investigate how to make your laundry smell nice, why not have scientists who investigate how to get the most pleasure out of music, food or sex?
Anyhow – that is slightly beside the point because positive psychology is full of people who investigate anything but pleasure. At last year’s Masters of Applied Positive Psychology cohort people researched things like coping mechanisms in Syrian refugees, risk taking in adventure skiers or the relationship between perfectionism and self-compassion.
Just because book covers and magazine articles with yellow smiley faces sell well does not mean that that covers the extent of what is being researched. Maybe we have not done a good enough job to communicate to the public that we are just as interested in how people find a purpose in life as we are in what creates joy.
2. Isn’t it bad to be happy all the time?
Everything is bad if you do it ‘all the time’. Every single thing on the entire planet and beyond. If you never stop eating salad all day, even while you are trying to run on the treadmill, it’s bad. If you can’t stop having sex there’s a problem too. So yeah, happiness is not the one and only exception, where you can be happy all the time, without any consequences.
But seriously, how many people have you met like that? Is there some huge epidemic that I have missed of all these people skipping through life wide-eyed holding on to balloons and sunflowers moaning ‘I can’t, I just can’t take more of this happiness any moooore‘?
Much more likely is that this question is used as a defence to not even give it a try. If you don’t want to give positive psychology a try, that’s perfectly fine. I don’t think I will ever be into Candycrush and I don’t want to be pestered about that either. But don’t discount it before you have given it a try.
3. Is there negative psychology as well?
This question is followed by a self-satisfied grin every time. On my best days I want to respond with an eye-roll. On the not so good days I wish I could put a YouTube video in their face showing all the people who have asked me that question before (with Eminem in the background rapping).
People do not feel compelled to question why their dentists specialized in teeth rather than feet. They don’t assume that the fireman has some kind of problem with paramedics.
However if you are associated with positive psychology you must have a problem with the entire field of regular psychology. To be fair, by pointing out where we differ from mainstream psychology it’s only natural to assume that there is animosity. Like in any other field, there are rivalries.
However, quite a few positive psychologists have studied psychology and appreciate how understanding perception or memory can help us develop better interventions. We do not wish to eliminate regular psychology. We just want to balance it out.
4. Smile or Die?
“Smiling employees should be a result of a fulfilling workplace, not company policy.”
We do not breeze into companies and tell burger chefs to smile despite them hating their jobs. We don’t tell people close to burnout to relax and look at the bright side of things. We do not provide the justification for companies to do that to their employees.
While positive psychologists do research on the benefits a positive work environment has on people that does not mean that cajoling and obligating them through corporate policies is the way to go.
That companies do this is wrong.To claim that positive psychology justifies that behaviour is sickening. While it is true that a positive workplace has lots of benefits you cannot and should not confuse results with actions. Smiling employees should be a result of a fulfilling workplace, not company policy.
5. Isn’t happiness selfish?
Are happiness exercises navel gazing: my strengths, my hopes, my dreams, my values?
Lots of ‘my’ and ‘I’ in there so it automatically must be wrong. The thing is this: if you don’t figure these questions out they will still shape you. But just in ways that you have no control over and that are not pretty for the people around you.
Take your values: if someone tramples them and you get riled up every time that happens how focused on your work will you be? How easy to talk to? Clarifying what is important to us let’s us understand what we need to do to get there. It helps us act in a way that people can depend on us.
Turns out that the things that make us happy are not selfish at all: expressing our gratitude, deepening and valuing our relationships, ensuring that the way we explain the world does not assume the most negative possible reality. Actually not doing these things is often more selfish.
Also, in lots of situations (there are exceptions which need to be researched) happier people are good for those around them: their happiness is often contagious and lifts others up. They find less fault in others and are more willing to accept other people’s flaws as the way things are.
Actually maintaining the habits that positive psychology uncovers as being productive is way harder than never bothering with it at all: because it means re-evaluating your habits, how you think and how you speak and then changing these things. Doing so is not easy and it’s not selfish. It’s one of the most loving acts we can do for the people around us.
If you are guilty of asking one or more of these questions we have no beef. It’s not the individuals that are annoying but how often these misunderstandings get carelessly tossed into the world. I hope now you are equipped to rebuke some of this nonsense whenever you encounter it.
Don’t be a stranger!
I’d love to hear from you which of these (or other) misunderstandings about positive psychology make you want to scream 🙂
Positive psychology isn’t about ignoring problems or trying to be constantly happy. It’s about helping people thrive http://t.co/DMx0nGsA45
— Action for Happiness (@actionhappiness) 8 februari 2015