Hundreds of millions of “Have a Nice Day” buttons, T-shirts, and coffee mugs later, it’s as iconic as the red, white, and blue. (And why not? After all, the “pursuit of happiness” is front and center in America’s Declaration of Independence.)
In the digital age, the smiley face morphed into the emoticons and emojis that pop up everywhere. And with each advance—or, some might say, regression—in our consumer culture, in which marketers hustle to fulfill desires we didn’t even know we had, the blissed-out state of Mr. Smiley becomes ever more the Holy Grail, the organizing principle of our existence.
Wait a minute. Isn’t happiness why we’re here? Isn’t happiness good for us?
Given a choice, we’d probably prefer to be slaphappy all the time, and there are advantages to that pleasurable state. More “positive” emotion is linked to a lower risk of various psychological illnesses, including depression, anxiety, and borderline personality disorder.
Positive emotions also drive us to success, help us make better decisions, reduce the risk of disease and allow us to live longer. In some cases, they even help broaden how we think and act by directing our attention to new information and opportunities. They help build vital social, physical and cognitive resources that lead to positive outcomes and affiliations.
Considering all of this, you might presume happiness ranks right up there with food and sunshine in its contribution to human well-being. But it is possible to have too much of a good thing—to not only be too happy but also experience the wrong types of happiness, and to go about trying to find happiness in the wrong ways and at the wrong time.
I’m not saying it’s better to go around in a funk all the time. But I hope to get you to keep the pursuit of happiness in perspective, and to see your “negative” emotions in a new and more accepting light. In fact, I strongly submit that describing them as “negative” only perpetuates the myth that these useful feelings are, you know, negative.
The downside of happiness
When we’re overly cheerful, we tend to neglect important threats and dangers. It’s not too big a stretch to suggest that being excessively happy could kill you. You might engage in riskier behaviors like drinking too much (“A fifth round on me!”), binge eating (“Mmm, more cake!”), skipping birth control (“What could possibly go wrong?”), and using drugs (“Let’s party!”). An excess of freewheeling giddiness and a relative absence of more sober emotions can even be a marker for mania, a dangerous symptom of psychological illness.
People with high happiness levels sometimes exhibit behavior that is actually more rigid. That’s because mood affects the way our brains process information. When life is good, and when the environment is safe and familiar, we tend not to think long and hard about anything too challenging—which helps explain why highly positive people can be less creative than those with a more moderate level of positive emotion.
Content Originally Published By:Susan David, PhD / Health.com @ Time