In recent years, there’s been a switch in what society considers most important in life - no longer is wealth seen as the ultimate marker of success, but rather happiness.
Inspirational Instagrammers tell us to “banish negative thoughts”, self-help books claim to provide the secrets to perpetual positivity, and we think we must never feel anything less than awesome.
But according to a Danish psychology professor, our obsession with happiness could have a serious dark side.
Svend Brinkmann from Aalborg University says forcing ourselves to be happy all the time could leave us emotionally stunted. And what’s more, happiness simply isn’t the appropriate response for all situations in life.
It’s news that may make you breathe a sigh of relief - not only is it OK not to feel constantly happy, but it’s right according to Brinkmann, whose book Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze was a Danish bestseller.
“I believe our thoughts and emotions should mirror the world. When something bad happens, we should be allowed to have negative thoughts and feelings about it because that’s how we understand the world,” he says.
Brinkmann believes that by desperately trying to be happy all the time, when something bad does happen, we won’t be able to cope.
“Life is wonderful from time to time, but it’s also tragic. People die in our lives, we lose them, if we have only been accustomed to being allowed to have positive thoughts, then these realities can strike us even more intensely when they happen - and they will happen.”
Of course, there are people who seem naturally to have more cheery outlooks on life, and Brinkmann acknowledges that.
But he says there’s a danger in happiness becoming a necessity and warns of the perils of companies insisting on employees being perpetually upbeat.
“When you engage with people and you work in teams, then these personality traits become much more important. That’s why we put much more emphasis on them, because we want to exploit humans and their emotional lives,” says Brinkmann.
“I think this is a dark side of positivity. Our feelings tend to become commodities and that means we’re very easily alienated from our feelings.”
He also fears society is getting to a point where people don’t even feel they can discuss their worries and problems with their own friends because they think they need to pretend everything is rosy all the time.
We’re all subjected to a pressure to be happy, according to Brinkmann - he is anti self-help books that tell us we’re all responsible for our happiness and to blame for our sadness.
Because without the bad things in life you’d never appreciate the good, and it’s fine to feel sad, angry, guilty, ashamed and happy too.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies