Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Reasons to be cheerless... one... two.. three

What makes you happy is, apparently... what makes you unhappy. This very Zen thought comes, not inappropriately, from Japanese psychologist Shigehiro Oishi, who in the new issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggests that people who have good things happen to them are, in the end, more miserable.

Say that again? The reason, apparently, is that if we have a good life, we end up taking 'good' for granted and are poleaxed if something bad happens. If we are used to - and even expect - the worst, then a cheerful event cheers us up enormously.

My gut reaction (and the fact that I once authored a book on Postive Thinking) is to balk at this. Surely pessimism is by definition a bad idea, meaning that we think depressed and depressing thoughts more and more often?

But logically, I have to admit that there is a grain of truth here. Letter after letter I receive from my readers show that we now expect so much out of life that - as my mother used to say when I had thrown a particular annoying temper tantrum "there's no pleasing you!". We expect the earth - from our jobs, our families, our relationships - and if we don't get it we not only feel bad about all those things but also about ourselves and our own validity.

No, we shouldn't settle for the worst and we shouldn't accept it as our lot. We particularly shouldn't accept it as someone else's lot, shouldn't simply put up with oppression, cruelty, poverty and war. But the relentless pursuit of happiness doesn't work either; philosophers have been telling us that for thousands of years and they are right.

Let's just hope that, now a psychologist is telling us, we will finally listen.

No comments: