Maybe we should stop trying so hard to be happy.

Originally posted on October 2, 2016


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.

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

  1. This is true. We most appreciate happiness in contrast to other feelings. I think that social demand for perpetual appearance of happy is mainly for the comfort of others. And, the stuffed emotions will out, usually in some unhealthy way. Excellent post.

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  2. In my younger years, I got sick and tired of people coming up to me and telling me to “smile”–out of the blue, with no actual reason for me to smile. Nobody told a joke, nobody said anything nice to me, nothing happened to make me smile, just somebody thought I should put a fake smile on my face to please a complete stranger. A stranger who, by the way, had no idea what I might be going through at that time. Or maybe I was concentrating on something or lost in thought. One time, I was sitting in the car, waiting for my hubby, listening to music and lost in thought, when a complete stranger came along and berated me for not smiling. It was bizarre.

    Then there was the time when I was with friends, laughing, having a great time, when somebody told me to “smile.”


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  3. I like being happy because it feels better. If I am feeling badly, the fastest way out is to admit to myself that I’m feeling badly and fully accept it, reminding myself that bad times are usually followed by good times. I agree judging oneself for negative emotions is counterproductive.

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  4. Telling someone – indeed, commanding them – to change their facial expression ***for your pleasure*** is asserting ****dominance**** over them; and in doing so, the ***dominator*** humiliates his ***prey*** while simultaneously using said prey as a stepping-stone to increased social rank in the dominance hierarchy. (Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation, Orwell, 1984)

    Note that doing so ***with conscious intent*** is simply a more potent and capable form of the unconscious version, e.g. most Norms do (unconsciously) vast swaths of Greene’s book, “the 48 laws of power;” but doing so consciously allows Normdom to take its’ ***game*** to the next level – so as to ***climb*** farther and faster the ‘great chain of being’/ dominance hierarchy.

    Much as if they were, in fact, lower-grade s’paths – which Norms are, by definition, capable of becoming, courtesy of having the correct (social) instincts.

    I don’t recall much of Greene’s book – I’ve looked at it, but read little, knowing as I did so that I could get little out of it beyond some further insights into Normdom’s eternal con-games – but I would be quite surprised if he didn’t refer to this accursed practice at least obliquely.

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  5. To me, it is not only the positive experience in life. I consider it quite positive that I truly recognize the negatives within me, and I have the ability to work with those negatives, many times to a positive outcome..

    We are all full of positive, negative feelings, and situations.

    There is a wealth of knowledge all around us, and sometimes when focused on pretending to be happy, we miss everything, and everyone that might be of assistance to change the negative.

    As Dennis mentions:, Ever gone somewhere like work, and someone says to you; “Smile?” I often wonder why those people are so consumed with this that they are really pointing to themselves as a role model for the smile. I feel badly for them because, they eventually have to go home, and become real.

    Those are usually the people struggling, and missing all the possibilities offered by, the universe to challenge, and change..

    To thine own self, be true.. I find that so very positive.

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