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Happiness irritates me


Yes, you read the title right. Happiness irritates me.

The other day I was in a large bookstore in the Self-Improvement section. I was doing some research for a book I’m writing about resiliency and my task was to scan all of the books in this particular section.

I could feel my happiness-irritation button being pushed as I walked along the shelves with my head tilted sideways to read the titles. It seemed that every other book was related to happiness.

How to be happier, how to be spontaneously happy, the secrets to happiness, why you aren’t happy, why you should be happy, how to make others happy . . .

Happy, happy, happy.

I enter “happiness” into the book search function on Amazon and it spits out 22,524 books that talk about being happy.

Happiness vs. Well-being

Now, I know that a recent post of mine had to do with happiness and included research about the happiness set-point. However, the difference is that Sonija Lyubomirsky set her definition of happiness as equivalent to that of well-being.

And this difference between happiness and well-being is huge and important.

My beef with happiness and the self-help books that promote it is that the marketing slant leads us to believe that we must experience the emotion of happiness at all times. Otherwise, there’s something wrong with us.

Luckily, there are researchers out there who are correcting this misperception. Martin Seligman, one of the founders of positive psychology, says that happiness isn’t about just feeling positive emotions constantly. Instead, it involves what he terms PERMA: Positive emotions, Engagement (the feeling of being lost in a task, aka “flow”), Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment.

Seligman also talks about this concept as well-being, or the ability to flourish, rather than happiness.

The downside to short-term happiness

A Wall Street Journal article interviewed researchers who refined the term well-being even further. Hedonic well-being is the short-term good feelings we get when we have a good meal or watch a good movie. These emotions are what we usually think of as happiness.

Eudaimonic (from the Greek ‘eudaimonia’) well-being results from engaging in meaningful activity and having a purpose in life.

A San Diego State University study noted that symptoms of depression, paranoia, and psychopathology have steadily increased among students in an analysis of the student population from 1938-2007.

A possible culprit?

Researchers at San Diego State University who conducted the analysis pointed to increasing cultural emphasis in the U.S. on materialism and status, which emphasize hedonic happiness, and decreasing attention to community and meaning in life [eudaimonic well-being], as possible explanations.

Happiness and resiliency

From a resilience perspective, we know that it is important to feel confident in yourself as well as capable and effective in life. The market-brand definition of happiness provides the opposite, leaving you feeling as though there is something wrong with you because you can’t get a firm grasp on this slippery fish called “being happy.”

Resilience is much more about eudaimonic well-being, the idea that we need to plug away at the things that are meaningful and purposeful in life, even if we don’t get that immediate hit of happiness we’re “supposed to” experience.

It’s about taking the long-term approach and actively practicing the components of Seligman’s PERMA idea. This kind of well-being roots us and provides a strong anchor for when the storms of life surge into our personal horizons.

Happiness irritates me.

But I wish well-being for all of us.

Takeaway points: There’s nothing wrong with being happy. But it’s important to realize the we don’t have to feel happy constantly. And that pursuing meaning and purpose in our lives is what gives us the strong anchor of well-being and resiliency.

Am I the only one irritated by happiness?



  1. […] In the interest of full disclosure: I am a bit of a happiness grump. I once wrote an article for my blog, “Bounce,” entitled “Happiness Irritates Me.” […]

  2. […] In the interest of full disclosure: I am a bit of a happiness grump. I once wrote an article for my blog, “Bounce,” entitled “Happiness Irritates Me.” […]

  3. […] In the interest of full disclosure: I am a bit of a happiness grump. I once wrote an article for my blog, “Bounce,” entitled “Happiness Irritates Me.” […]

  4. […] I am a bit of a happiness grump. I once wrote an article for my blog, ‘Bounce,’ entitled ‘Happiness Irritates Me.’ ;-)” – Bobbi Emel, […]

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Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.