When Happiness Can Hurt and Pain
When pain comes, happiness leaves. But when happiness arrives, can it tag along pain? Can happiness hurt?
Pain is a sensation of hurt. You experience it in degrees, and tolerate it in thresholds.
Pain hurts, causes anguish, brings tears. Then there are pains that you grow fond of, and pains that you never recover from. But there is one thing you have always known about pain. Only you can understand your pain to the nth degree.
Pain is an exact individual experience. Nobody else can feel every inch of it the way you do it.
Perhaps, the same goes for happiness as well. Only you can feel your happiness in completeness.
The tag ‘a citizen of the topmost 10 happiest countries in the world’ is a useless label for the person who isn’t happy. To an unhappy Fijian, it doesn’t matter that his country reached No. 1 in the U.N.’s World Happiness Report in 2014. To an saddened Swiss, it doesn’t matter that Switzerland came out on top in the same report in 2015.
And, as with pain, there are many complex roots of your individual happiness. You can be happy in your calmness, loneliness, and singlehood. And you can also be happy in your exhilaration, sociability, and relationships.
There are times when happiness can cause pain. Indeed, sometimes happiness does hurt deep. But how does happiness bring about human pain? And how to know when it does?
1. Overdosed on Happiness: The Mania of Bipolar
How would you feel if you were way too much happy all your waking hours?
In fact, you were so busy being happy and having frantic thrills that you hardly sleep more than 2-3 hours a day? Not right, I’d guess. Now get this.
In reality, there is a dangerous mental illness called Bipolar disorder. In this, the patients suffer from extreme mood swings. They go from one pole to the opposite pole of the happiness meridian, that is, from mania to depression.
When they are going through the episodes of mania, they seem to be ‘overdosed on happiness’. In such times, they show:
- unrealistical high self-esteem,
- unusual levels of optimism, and
- excessive urges to talk non-stop (logorrhea or ‘verbal diarrhea’).
They walk around restless, bursting with high energy. All the while making countless grand plans while staying awake for almost 20 hours a day. Trainloads of thoughts and ideas race around at lightning speeds inside their heads.
Also, sometimes they hallucinate – see and hear things that no one else does.
A person in a manic episode is deep into pleasureful acts. Now, most of their such acts often carry painful after-effects. They are into doing only those things that give them pleasure, whatever the cost or danger.
For example, they often go into uncontrolled donation sprees — giving away everything they own. It’s not only their money or possessions, they might even give away their pets and children. They go on limitless shopping binges (well, as much as their credit cards would allow). They eat like a pig and revel in sexual recklessness.
Sometimes, they even live out their fantasies – as wearing the Superman dress and cape, and jumping off high places.
You have to come across just one such hapless person, and you will redefine your whole idea of happiness. Their happiness will make you sad.
Suicide is a real risk for those with bipolar disorder, and it can happen even when they’re in a manic episode. Studies have shown that 25-50% of people with bipolar try to kill themselves.
There is also a milder form of this illness – hypomania. In this, the patients work out of a ‘hyper-happiness’ mode. They get into high risk behaviors as heavy drinking, binge eating, relentless dancing, sexual leching, and drug abusing.
This happiness hurts the most.
2. Drunk on Happiness: The Hubris Syndrome
Bertrand Russell called it intoxication of power. But you and I may call it being drunk on power. That is hubris.
Hubris originates from the Greek word hybris – so Greeks describe it the best. Aristotle in Rhetoric defined it as, “Hubris consists in doing and saying things that cause shame to the victim…simply for the pleasure of it.”
Likewise, Plato expressed it in Pheadrus as, “When desire irrationally drags us toward pleasures and rules within us, its rule is called excess (hubris).”
You might have come across this famous quote: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That 1887 quote by Sir John Acton provides a fair idea of what hubris is. Hubris is getting pleasure from downplaying others – from a position of high power.
Lord Acton further said, “Great men are almost always bad men.” Don’t we agree? 😉
Hubristic people find pleasure treating others with meanness and mockery. Persons of hubristic attitude usually come from the ruling, governmental, political or high-wealth class. In fact, many of us believe that all politicians and their wealthy cronies are hubristic.
The best known researcher on hubris is David Owen. He was a former Foreign Secretary in UK government, a neurologist, and a psychiatrist. He coined the term Hubris Syndrome.
Owen has found that hubris involves
- an excessive self-belief and confidence in their own judgment,
- near-absolute lack of empathy, along with
- recklessness, restlessness and impulsiveness.
Such a person finds happiness in exercising his power to put down others. According to him, notable hubristic personalities include Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Mussolini, Idi Amin, Richard Nixon. Owen even includes George W Bush, Tony Blair, and Vladimir Putin in his list.
In milder forms, this takes the shape of needless or worthless pride, alongside shortage of empathy, and leads to aggressive and antisocial behavior towards others.
This is the happiness that hurts others.
3. Left Alone in Happiness: The Pursuit of Happiness
Don’t you want to be happy? Don’t you want to go in pursuit of happiness?
Would you believe if I told you that happiness has a link with loneliness? You may not. Because we have always believed that the more happy a person is, the more friends that person has. Even psychologists have been telling us that happiness gets us more friends.
But research has turned that belief upside down. If you go searching for happiness and friends, you might end up lonelier. In the first study, the psychologists Iris Mauss, Craig Anderson, and Maya Tamir found that people who place high value on trying to be happy end up feeling more lonely on a daily basis. It holds true for people 20-60 years of age.
In other words, pushing for happiness makes you feel rather lonely. What was that, now?
You read that right. In their paper, Mauss and her team wrote: “We suggest that wanting to be happy may have some surprising negative consequences. We argue that striving for happiness might make people lonely.”
In the second study, Mauss and her team got together 43 female multi-ethnic undergrads. They showed them a 35-min happy or sad movie. It was to ‘to activate themes of affiliation and intimacy’ in them. Afterwards, they asked them to rate the extent to which they felt lonely on a scale of 1 to 9 (1 = not at all; 9 = extremely).
This second study also lead to a similar conclusion: People who were made to value happiness, felt greater loneliness.
This clears another confusion: Why do we actually feel less happy than our expectations? It happens because our desire for happiness gives rise to a feeling of loneliness within us. So, we end up feeling less happy than we yearned to be.
Then, how to be happy? Don’t make happiness a goal to pursue. Don’t try to be happy. Just be.
This hunt for happiness leaves us lonely.
4. Afraid of Happiness: The Cherophobics
“I’m afraid to be happy.”
This could be the strangest thing for you to read in this whole post. For some people, the idea of feeling good is what puts them in a panic mode. These people are afraid to express happiness. They feel an irrational fear of being happy.
This is cherophobia, although psychologists and psychiatrists avoid that term. They rather prefer to say ‘aversion to positive emotions’.
There has been studies into this phenomenon. In 2012, Dr Paul Gilbert at Kingsway Hospital, England, found that a fear of happiness is often found in those with depression. “Some people… feel uncomfortable if they are not always worrying,” Gilbert says. “It is not uncommon for people to fear that if they are happy about something, it will be taken away.”
Apart from depression, there is another aspect of it. Those who tend towards perfectionism may fear feeling happy. Because they suffer from a misconception that happy people are seen as lazy or shallow people.
Also, another reason could be that their fear of happiness is coming from the memory of a past trauma, causing a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
This fear of happiness could be a cultural reality too. In some cultures, people grow up believing popular adages as “Crying comes after laughing.” The cherophobics filter out the pleasures out of their range of emotions.
“We can’t have the happiness of yesterday without the pain of today. That’s the deal.” – Joy Gresham in the movie Shadowlands.
Mohsen Joshanloo, a psychology student at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, developed a Fear of Happiness Scale that he published in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology in October 2013. Joshanloo’s measure was administered in over 14 countries and found to be particularly reliable and effective. It was found that countries with culture that was more cynical, conformist and hierarchical had higher rates of happiness aversion.
And that ‘Fear of Happiness’ was associated with lower levels of life satisfaction.
This happiness is traumatic.
In conclusion, happiness can hurt. Happiness can pain. While it may be strange, but this is a reality. So, why be happy?
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