Smack in the midst of elections, Iraq and the economy, the subject of happiness dares to land in the news. It seems that Martin Seligman, the esteemed (and well-credentialed) father of “learned helplessness,” has recently birthed the Positive Psychology movement. He’s on a mission to study the heights of happiness in the same manner that he explored the depths of depression. It’s about time!
The real news here is that Seligman is ‘outing’ the fact that our preoccupation with happiness lags way behind our cultural fascination with the darker sides of ourselves. It’s true. However perverse, the topic of happiness often gets a bum rap, the equivalent of the cultural kibosh: While depression, doubt and demons are ‘in,’ happiness has decidedly been ‘out,’ having been labeled frivolous, self-indulgent, and trivial. Until now. Maybe.
I see it every day in my own practice: My coaching clients, regardless of their position on the socioeconomic food chain, will spend endless hours dissecting the smallest spot of darkness in their lives while urgently rushing past their most major accomplishments. It’s as though an apology is attached to the unexpected goodness of life and those bright spots are merely an interruption of life’s norm.
In reaction to the trend, (and in rabblerouser fashion, I might add), I actually developed a tongue-in-cheek recipe for living small, depressed and dark. It is downloaded more than any other piece I’ve written this year. Hhmmm.
What is it about us, about the human spirit in general, which has over-prepared us for failure, for depression, for demise? What is it about us that has us silencing our happiness? And what should we do about it?