Mostly in life, if we are feeling happy or excited about something, we receive positive reinforcement from those around us, and our emotion is celebrated. Nothing wrong with being happy about a promotion at work, or being excited about taking a trip somewhere, all perfectly normal.
The same cannot be said if we are feeling sad, however: this emotional state is sometimes punished by those around us rather than celebrated. Perhaps friends, family or co-workers begin to avoid you, or even become frustrated by your melancholy state of mind.
But why should this be so? If happiness is so acceptable to everyone, why isn’t sadness? Why do those around us try to change those feelings instead of accepting and supporting us when we’re feeling at our worst?
In pursuit of happiness:
In Western societies, happiness is viewed as a state of mind that most desire to achieve, and perhaps more importantly, it’s seen as being a healthy state of mind and something to be pursued. “Negative” emotions such as sadness, fear or anger on the other hand, are sometimes regarded as being destructive and unwelcome emotional states, that should be eliminated as quickly as possible.
While we all know that a wide range of emotions are likely to be experienced by us all throughout different stages of our life, Western society can place pressure on us to believe that happiness is worth pursuing and maintaining, at the expense of all other emotions.
What happens to our state of mind when we feel pressured to feel happy?
If we are expected or pressured to feel happy, studies have shown that the opposite often takes effect, and we begin to feel far less happy. Those same studies also showed that when we’re under pressure from those around us to feel happy and not show or feel any negative emotions, our self-image becomes negative and we may even begin to experience feelings of loneliness and social exclusion.
Those who often experience social pressures to feel happy and not sad, have been shown to be far more likely to demonstrate depressive symptoms. Now while they may not be categorized as experiencing clinically significant depression, the effect of the pressure and its negative effects can clearly be seen, nonetheless.
What can we take from this evidence?
The findings of such studies serve to highlight the importance of not invalidating your own, or others’ emotions by fervently pursuing happiness and spreading the message that sadness is not a desirable state of mind. While it may be true that most of us would prefer not to feel sad, promoting the fact that it isn’t a natural and perfectly acceptable emotion, serves only to make it worse.
If the pursuit of happiness is making you feel sad and you’re not sure how to cope, reach out to a qualified mental health professional, who can help guide you through your emotions and restore your mental equilibrium.