While I fancy myself relatively optimistic, I can't argue there are times when the jaded, cynical New Yorker in me rears its sarcastic head. Perhaps "realist" and "pragmatic" are words with a kinder connotation, but nonetheless, my emotions are not always rooted in sunshine and rainbows. That, and the cultural and political climate has me feeling helpless and angry every single day.
However, those feelings apparently don't define me (or you) as an unhappy person. According to research published by the American Psychological Association, the secret to happiness isn't actually about being happy all the time. Researchers claim you will feel happier not from positive emotions but rather from feeling whatever emotions you desire. To me, it sounds akin to the "It's my birthday and I'll cry if I want to" cliché. Or, perhaps more relatable, the notion that in order to grieve, be it a death or difficult breakup, you have to let yourself feel the pain and sadness we so often dismiss as counterproductive.
"The study may shed some light on the unrealistic expectations that many people have about their own feelings,” says lead researcher Maya Tamir, PhD, a psychology professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "People want to feel very good all the time in Western cultures, especially in the United States. Even if they feel good most of the time, they may still think that they should feel even better, which might make them less happy overall."
"[Survey participants] rated their life satisfaction and depressive symptoms," reports Travel + Leisure. "Across cultures in the study, participants who experienced more of the emotions that they desired reported greater life satisfaction and fewer depressive symptoms, regardless of whether those desired emotions were pleasant or unpleasant."
It makes sense—this morning, for example, I was reading through some of the news coverage of the violent events in Charlottesville. Infuriated, I watched a video that follows Vice News Tonight correspondent Elle Reeve behind the scenes with white nationalist leaders. I searched for video after video, interview after interview, fielding for more information. I felt better when I read increasingly horrified comments from other viewers and related to their words. I wanted to feel angry and I wanted to feel justified in that anger.
“Happiness is more than simply feeling pleasure and avoiding pain," notes Tamir. "Happiness is about having experiences that are meaningful and valuable, including emotions that you think are the right ones to have. All emotions can be positive in some contexts and negative in others, regardless of whether they are pleasant or unpleasant."
Do you agree? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.