The Unhealthy Side of Happiness
Happiness is one of the most adaptive emotions we can seek out in life… to an extent. It’s important to consider the flip side of happiness when we begin a journey to achieve more of it, because there is such a thing as “too much happiness.” (Womp, womp.) Consider happiness as a spectrum—we certainly want more than 2 or 3 on a scale of 0-10, but if we’re sitting pretty at a 10 day in and day out, that may be an indication that we’ve found our way into maladaptive happiness or other worrisome experiences.
It’s worth noting first and foremost that an overabundance of happiness may be indicative of mental illness. It’s just not realistic to think that we’ll be at a 10/10 on the happiness scale for an extended period of time, and if we are, it’s possible that symptoms like mania or cognitive distortions are present in our well-being. Mental illnesses like Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia may exhibit symptoms of being overly happy, and it’s worth consulting a doctor if you feel like you’re on Cloud 9 every day.
But we also don’t necessarily want to seek out a 10/10 happiness experience, because we run the risk of bypassing all the rest of life. True wellness is experiencing a vibrant multitude of emotions, physical states, and life experiences with an overarching sense of contentment and physical well being. This includes periods of sadness, boredom, contentment, and other such emotions that are antithetical or at least not aligned with “happiness.” It’s beautifully, imperfectly human to have these kinds of experiences.
This concept of bypassing less desirable emotions is part of the concept of “toxic positivity”—when we skip over a feeling in favor of a “better” one, we deny ourselves the reality of that undesired emotion. The more we do this, the more impossible it becomes to sit with the undesired emotion, which may lead us into all sorts of unhealthy thoughts and behaviors like numbing out with alcohol. The pursuit of happiness is not the only pursuit in life, and especially not at the detriment of our well being.