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Critical thinking must be rigorous. Otherwise it is just negative
I set up a comprehensive Google alert for happiness and I saw two reports today saying that thinking about happiness makes us miserable.
I don’t think these reports meant to be ironical. I think they meant to be critical, in a rigorous way. But frankly unless you are rigorous, then being critical is just proving the point – being negative for the sake of being negative.
5 points about happiness
I think it is helpful to repeat five points about happiness.
Emotion is highly contagious
Yes, emotion is highly contagious. It spreads from one person to another like wildfire. We carry it with us from one situation to another.
Negative emotions are more virulent than positive emotions. When something goes wrong, as it will from moment to moment, we do have to make a special effort not to project our dismay to the next situation, which, after all, might not have bothered us had the last five minutes been fun!
Some people are highly emotional intelligent
Some people are more ’emotionally intelligent’ than others. Of course they are. Why wouldn’t we vary in our capacity to read emotions? Why wouldn’t we vary in our ability to distinguish between what we were feeling about the problem five minutes ago, from what we are feeling about the situation we are confronted with now? Why wouldn’t we vary in our confidence and experience of emotional situations?
Emotional literacy is learned
Emotional literacy can be learned. Of course it can. We have trained our children from time immemorial to understand and display emotion. It is called good manners, character, backbone and all sorts of other things as well.
I was taught emotional literacy in school as well as at home. After all from 5 to 17. we spend a good part of our time in school. In sixth form, the time previously allowed for denominational instruction was given over exclusively to psychology classes.
Psychology is no longer about sick people only
What is new is that psychologists (a relatively new profession after all) no longer study negative events exclusively.
Positive psychology regards happiness and virtues, such as gratitude and hope, as normal, and we study them as positive emotional and mental experiences in their own right.
This is the exact opposite of the therapeutic culture which assumes we are finding living a little overwhelming. It is also the exact opposite of a view that we should be “hard”, “uncouth”, “non PC” or any of these varieties! As these two views think they are opposites, let’s move on!
The models we use to study these phenomenon allow us to think differently
Psychologists are using new models to explore phenomena such as happiness, zest, justice, etc. Psychologists are using ratios and recursive models. For people who still remember their “Methods & Stats” classes, I bet you hardly every used a ratio and I bet you never ever used a recursive model. That’s if you studied psychology. It you studied economics or geography this doesn’t apply to you. I also exclude from this bet people trained at graduate school in the States in the last five years.
We are happy when life is more positive than negative. Ideally, we want to hit a ratio around 5:1. At 11:1, or around there, we are delirious or “over the moon”. At 3:1, we are beginning to struggle. We are going to start to find life threatening. Life gets tough and hard and we develop tunnel vision. We focus on our problems and loose the capacity for joy, warmth, celebration, etc.
We are happy when our behavior shows requisite diversity – when we smile at what is charming, when we laugh at what is funny, when we grieve for what is lost, when we celebrate what is won.
Good manners isn’t suppressing these emotions. Good manners is expressing these emotions in a way that includes people around us. I don’t cry at a funeral to make others sad. I cry with others to share our grief.
Happiness isn’t silly optimism in the face of difficulties. Nor is it collapsing in a quivering heap. Happiness is responding to challenge and threat meaningfully. It is living – joyously when joy is warranted – courageously when courage is called for.
Hope this is of some use to somebody!
PS Happy people live longer – a lot longer. And they are nice to be around!