Positive Psychology and unhappiness

Positive Psychology and unhappiness

Unhappiness is Part of Life

By Angus Skinner

Positive Psychology News Daily

July 22, 2008, 9:58 pm

Angus Skinner, MAPP, works in his beloved and beautiful Scotland principally as Associate Consultant with the Centre for Confidence and Well-Being. Angus is also a visiting Professor at the University of Strathclyde.

You can be unhappy any time, any place. Moreover, life without unhappiness would probably be unbearable for it would have no light and so shadow, no day and so night, no loss and so no real gain, no sorrow and so no real joy. It would be devoid of meaning. Discontent is the source of creativity, perhaps of creation. From where do our goals come if not from discontent? (Of course I hope for a positive answer; but I don”t pray for one.)

Part of Martin Seligman’s argument (and others) about the damage done by much of the self-esteem movement over recent decades pivots on the fact that it undermines children’s (and adults”) tolerance of being unhappy.

There is nothing wrong with being unhappy. Seligman, a self-confessed grouch, made clear that philosophically unhappiness is a normal state while at the same time stating that in his case, good fortune probably did not stem from those times of unhappiness. In Authentic Happiness, Seligman writes:

Seligman famously wrote…In terms of my own life, Nikki hit the nail right on the head. I was a grouch. I had spent fifty years enduring the mostly wet weather in my soul, and the last ten years as a walking nimbus cloud in a household radiant with sunshine. Any good fortune I had was probably not due to feeling grumpy, but in spite of it. In that moment, I resolved to change.

Happiness is life; life is other people. Let’s wallow awhile in this discontent. Depression is a feeling that “All is impossible, simple things can not be accomplished; problems overwhelm.” Few if any of us have never felt such feelings even if often our response has been to deny them. Whatever we do, to a degree we accept that we will die; more somberly, we accept that whatever we do, others will die. We cry for our children, for others. Our efforts fail, we fall to melancholia. We conquer countries, we comfort, we lead, we fail, we fall to melancholia.

Surprisingly our brains, no doubt the most fantastic organ in the known universe, are deeply flawed. As our best friend, the brain is also our irresponsible enemy – garnering information from our senses and body that it thinks it can use to understand the world, and then trying to control it.

Positive psychology is also about understanding being unhappy. Being unhappy is OK.

How best shall I be unhappy today? Of course I need to manage my unhappiness so as not to damage others. I need exercise, sun, and engagement. I also sometimes need to be unhappy alone. So do those I love.

I will laugh. And when we laugh together, then love abounds. Unhappy is fine for the moment.

It seems to have been on probation or parole for a while but perhaps it is time we accept unhappy back into the community of positive human emotions. No need to take it on hesitatingly. It’s here for keeps, even if sometimes it needs shaking out.