Last May, Psychology Today published an essay by Susanna Newsonen discussing why chasing happiness was a bad idea. Newsonen describes herself as a Happyologist, aka a happiness coach, which would send me running in the opposite direction except that she went on to talk about the three myths of happiness. They are:
- Happiness is the absence of negative emotions.
- Success fuels happiness.
- Happiness fuels success.
Okay, two and three are obvious non-starters, but I found the first one interesting because it seems to just make sense. Negative emotions make us unhappy, therefore getting rid of negative emotions would lead to . . .
Newsonen says the key to happiness is not getting rid of negative emotions (good luck with that) but to manage negative emotions so they don’t overpower the positive. I can see that is important, but even more important to me is that we need the negative emotions because without them we can’t fully appreciate the positive. Negative emotions and the experiences that breed them give us a baseline to bounce from. I suppose there are people who go through life without tragedy and trouble, but I can’t imagine what those lives are like. More than that, I wouldn’t trade my tragedy and trouble for one of those peaceful lives. The Worst Summer of My Life had two upsides: None of the bad stuff happened to my kid AND I never again said, “Well, this is the worst day of my life.” I knew what the worst day of my life was: “You’re the single mother of an eight-year-old and you’re dying of colon cancer at 33; also you’re pregnant.” Every day after that day has been gravy.
So now it’s not hard to see every day as a gift, even when my house is falling down around my ears, the temps are dropping below freezing and my heater is out, and my heart is thinking about retiring. What makes me happy? Breathing. Knowing my kid is safe, and her kids and husband are, too. Seeing the sun come out (it’s gorgeous today). Watching the dogs run to go visit Carl who always has treats, aka great, kind neighbors. Working on a new story. Going to the diner for lunch and gossip. The shutdown ending. Pelosi winning. Getting a great dress that I’m probably going to live in for the rest of the winter from Amazon for $23.99. Frozen mini-Snickers in the freezer. Listening to Mona snore and chase rabbits in her sleep. E-mailing with Krissie. Talking to Argh people on the blog. Crossword puzzles. My new work bag that says, “My dentist said I need a crown. I said,’I know, right?'”
We need the negative emotions and experiences to remind us how great the positive ones are. There is no up without down. The key is to control the negative experiences and wallow in the positive ones. So this is me, wrapped up in an electric blanket with three dogs and my new laptop, snug in my new dress, full of diner Chicken Marsala and thinking about frozen Snickers, wallowing in happiness.
How did you wallow this week?