Maybe we should stop trying so hard to be happy.


We live in a society that demands we always be happy and smiling.    “Negative” emotions are generally unacceptable, and we are told over and over again via pop psychologists and the mass media that constant happiness is not only our birthright, but our responsibility!    People are encouraged to stuff their feelings and wear a smile, no matter how they are really feeling.

Some people are more naturally given to cheerfulness than others, regardless of their circumstances.  We are all different; and those of us who aren’t naturally inclined to be upbeat and perky all the time are made to feel like we are somehow defective and our darker emotions aren’t okay.

So we seek out therapists, read self-help books, recite affirmations, pin up positive-thinking posters, and beat ourselves up if we don’t or can’t conform to the pervasive “don’t worry, be happy” ethos.

But what if not always being happy is actually saner than always being cheerful?  After all, there are a lot of things in the world to get depressed, upset, or angry about.    Acknowledging that bad things happen isn’t being negative; it’s being realistic.   For example, being afraid can sometimes save your life!


As long as you aren’t so depressed you feel like killing yourself or drowning yourself in alcohol or other substances, or can never see the bright side of anything, maybe embracing and accepting dark moods is a more authentic way to live.

Maybe if modern society acknowledged that dark emotions are a normal, non-pathological reaction to many things in life and accepted these emotions as easily as they  accept a perky smile and an “everything’s great!,” those of us who worry that we aren’t “happy enough” would actually begin to feel happier.    Maybe we need to stop trying to force ourselves into a box that doesn’t fit, and learn to embrace our painful feelings instead, and stop comparing ourselves to some ideal that we think we should be.

The world is not perfect and it never will be.  Why should we go through life, then, pretending everything’s perfect or beating ourselves up (and making ourselves more miserable) when we don’t measure up to some “happiness standard”?   It’s fake and it’s only going to make us feel like we’re defective.    Maybe we should just accept ALL our emotions as authentic and stop trying to always hide them away like something shameful.   If you’re happy, by all means, show it, but the emotional spectrum is like the color spectrum–there are many shades and hues, and a world with only one color is the most depressing kind of world I can think of, even if that one color is “happiness.”

Being truly happy isn’t a performance to impress everyone with how “positive” we are; it’s a feeling of genuine well-being brought about by accepting ourselves–ALL of ourselves–as we really are.     If you’re feeling sad or angry or upset, instead of berating yourself for it, accept your feelings as an authentic part of life.

9 thoughts on “Maybe we should stop trying so hard to be happy.

  1. I love this post and observation. I’m weary with the thought police that monitor what we say with the judgmental statement “ohh that is so negative”. It is a trigger for me of the mental abuse and forced denial I lived in as a scapegoat. Those abusers that lived in firm denial about their impact on the person they abused imparted that I was to accept the abuse with a grateful smile. There is a difference between ingratitude, entitlement and telling the truth about disrespect and abuse. Those that didn’t live in that narc hell may not comprehend the NEED to say out loud when something hurts.

    Yet they feel entitled to tell you how you should respond to something they themselves did not live through–that is arrogance and narcissism on their part

    The need to tell the truth about how much pain and suffering you’ve endured is met with an insistence that you sanitize your history to their liking. Some Christianize this forced denial and detachment from your pain into this sickening false piety that good Christians don’t weep, particularly not for themselves. The most judgmental people I know are those that say its judgmental to call the persons that abused you narcissists or to still be reeling from the pain

    Pain relief is saying the truth of what happened to you out loud in all its ugliness, being heard, affirmed and grieved with. Its not pretty nor is it happy. I’m a lot more careful about whom I share my soul with these days avoiding thought police sort of people that want to give me some bandaid that only condemns. Truth telling is what allows us to move on to embrace our own beautiful lives. It redeems our pain in so many ways.

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  2. I think of cheerfulness and happiness as two different things. Happiness (or lack of it) is a matter of how I’m feeling at a given moment. Cheerfulness — at least for me, a chronically depressed person who is very often not happy — is an act of the will, a matter of courtesy to other people who have to live with me or interact with me. It would be a lot easier if I were a naturally happy person, but since that’s probably never going to happen, it just means I have to work harder at it. 🙂

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