Home » Self Education » I’m Happy Feeling Miserable

I’m Happy Feeling Miserable

“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan, “Before the year is out.” – John Obrien

We all have those friends who’s glass is always half full. Like Hanrahan they habitually bring out the negative side of everything. People never invite a habitual pessimist to a party if they can help it. Could it be that pessimists are happy being miserable?  Everyone else thinks that because a pessimist is not happy there must be something wrong with them. Feeling that unhappy can’t be normal, they need help.

A growing number of psychologists and social researchers now believe that the ”feel-good, think positive” mindset of the modern self-help industry has backfired, creating a culture where uncomfortable emotions are seen as abnormal. And they warn that the concurrent rise of the self-esteem movement – encouraging parents to shower their children with praise – may be creating a generation of emotionally fragile narcissists.”  – Jill Stark

The power of positive thinking, being peddled by highly paid motivational speakers, this “You can be all you imagine” message and the obsession with the positivity culture we now inhabit, could it be the cause for the rising rates of binge drinking, drug use and obesity in the young? As this manufactured happiness eludes them do they then seek manufactured highs to compensate?

 Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University. ”More and more, parents are unwilling to let their children struggle,” she says. ”They want them to feel good at all times so they’re telling them how smart they are, they’re really showering them with what we call person praise – ‘you’re talented, you’re smart, you’re special.’ My research shows it backfires. It makes kids worried and tells them that the name of the game is to be smart.”

 US psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb reported that many young adults – “largely from happy, loving, advantaged homes – were feeling confused, anxious and empty due to overprotective parenting that focused too much on happiness and shielded them from adversity. Thrust into the real world, even minor setbacks became catastrophic.”

The truth is every child is not ”special”, they are children. If you don’t have any they are those small people running around squealing and laughing in playgrounds. They are told if they want it enough they can have anything. But they clearly can’t can they? I had a young friend a really talented football player. He badly damaged his knee in his first professional game and that was the end of his dream of being a professional player. He went on to a nice ordinary life and job, his likable kids had snotty noses and both he and his wife got fat together. Last time I saw him he was very happy but apparently he shouldn’t be.

I don’t know about you but I know kids who were not nice people at 4 years old. I predicted they would grow up to be No Hoper’s (Australian expression) and they often did. Back then I was able to put true comments on their school reports. I did so with the hope that they would recognise their limitations, live with them and make the best of them. No professional teacher who loves children makes adverse comments to be cruel and truly hopes to be proved wrong one day. In today’s era of tick box teaching, teachers can’t put what they really think on the childs school report.  Only the “person praise” comments available from the drop box provided can be used. The old “must try harder” days are gone.

Instead of saying you failed outright its now: you focused well, you tried hard or you used good strategies. But they didn’t did they, they failed, they showed they were not yet capable of doing that task but we dare not say so. The elephant remains in the room, the child is not capable at that level. Not yet anyway. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s no crime. The child might go on to become very happy without ever buying into the “be all you can be” myth.

 Shit happens, setbacks can be daily and unpleasant emotions are not necessarily bad. It’s like your child’s first encounter with serious pain, caught in hospital with strangers in control. You would take their pain if you could but you can’t. Saying “I know how you feel” or “breathe through it” is useless to them and is likely to be received with resentment. No matter what you say you know yourself that pain is a lonely place and you just have to suck it up and get through it and next time is not going to make it any easier. In fact it will be worse because you now know what’s coming.

 Your first great loss, your first grieving could well have been a pet, but then comes a parent. It puts you in a special club where only those who have been there can belong. When one of them says “You won’t get over it but you will get used to it.” You begin a new rich life with your lost loved one that’s internalised and lives on within you.

”The loss gives you access to a wonderful array of very real human experiences, especially the connection between people,” New Zealand psychologist Chris Skellett quotes on the unexpected loss of his son. ”Sadness is tinged with an incredibly profound depth of appreciation of life. You’re acutely aware of what’s important. A lot of the things that preoccupied me before seem rather trite and superficial now. Now, I’m much more connected to the little things. I’m much more profoundly moved by music. A walk in the evening just seems like a gift.”

In an Asian village many years ago I went to buy some fruit. The guy was sitting in the sun, around him his pigs and chickens were wandering and his coconut palms were swaying in the breeze. I asked him what he did for a living and he looked at me as if I was insane and said “I’m doing it.”

If you are not a raving optimist and extrovert there is not something wrong with you that only a personal life coach can cure. You are normal.

Related Articles:

Are we caught in a happy trap?

The Happiness trap

Happiness and its causes

How to Land Your Kid in Therapy


2 thoughts on “I’m Happy Feeling Miserable

  1. Love it Pete!
    Your “no bullshit” view on life is refreshing to say the least.
    Have to agree with your kiwi mate that you quoted, having lost a child, your perception on how things should be and how things are, become crystal clear.
    Life is just @#$%^ hard, but there are so many amazing things that keep you smiling and believing that it’s all OK.
    Have FUN!
    Go to TAFE and learn something new!
    There is always something great to meet the crap.
    Cheers, lovin” your work,

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