Happiness is not always a good thing. And when you think about it, this fact should be obvious. All pleasures in life, whether food or games or company, become negative things when taken to extremes. So why should happiness itself be an exception?
Studies have shown the potential downsides of excessive happiness. According to the Association for Psychological Science, researchers have found “that people who are feeling extreme amounts of happiness may not think as creatively and also tend to take more risks.”
So, if you feel sullen from time to time, you should take some pride in it. For here are some ways in which being grouchy can make you a better person overall.
You are more creative
We all know the stereotype of the miserable, starving artist who produces great cultural works. Just think of Vincent van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, or Franz Kafka. Even Aristotle wondered why outstanding artists and philosophers all appeared to be melancholy.
In 2010, researcher Modupe Akinola conducted a study which further correlated negative emotions with high creativity. Akinola induced positive and negative emotions in two different groups by either praising or criticizing their hopes and dreams. She then had the groups get to work building collages, at which point the collages were evaluated by professional artists.
The artists found that the collages created by those with negative emotions were superior.
Why is this the case? Australian psychologist Joe Forgas argues that those with negative emotions can focus better on details and are more attentive, which leads to better artistic work.
Creativity by its very nature requires someone to step away from the mass of humanity and create something which will stand apart. Stepping off that path can lead to loneliness and then misery. But it can also lead to great things being accomplished, which can explain why those poor artists who accomplish so much exist.
You are a better decision maker
Forgas has also found that unhappy people have other advantages beyond a superior focus on details. In 2009, he conducted an experiment to test their overall mental capabilities.
Forgas showed people films and asked them to think about thoughts which would put them in a happy or unhappy mood. Then he had them take part in a series of tasks, including judging the truth of urban myths and providing eyewitness accounts of events.
Forgas found that those in an unhappier mood did a better job at accurately judging what was true and what was not. He noted that negative thinking promoted “careful thinking” and that unhappy people paid better attention to the outside word. They also made better communicators and writers compared to happy people.
As noted above, happy people tend to take more risks because the negative emotions which may make them more adverse to risk are weaker, making them much more expensive insurance prospects. If that is combined with a negative person’s superior focus on details, that can help better understand the choices behind a decision.
You will strive more than happy people
Sullen people, by their very nature, are not happy with the way things are. This means that they are more willing to advance and change themselves to improve their prospects compared to happy people who are content to remain as they are.
In one study, psychologist Edward Diener found that college freshman who identified themselves as very happy earned about $3,500 less in their late 30s compared to their colleagues who were not as happy. Diener suggested that it was this very happiness which contributed to these smaller earnings, as the unhappy people were more inclined to change careers or improve their education in order to progress.
It is those who are not content who change the course of human history. Washington and the Founding Fathers were unhappy with British taxes and regulations on their way of life, and thus they founded a nation. Martin Luther King Jr. was unhappy with the treatment of his fellow African Americans, and thus fought to change it.
Perseverance and striving for a better world often requires someone who is sullen with the things they are. That striving leads to greater happiness both for the individual and the greater community.
You do not always need to be happy
For our entire lives, we have been told that we have a right to be happy. But, as we look at all seven billion people in this planet, can you truly believe that every single one of these seven billion can attain constant happiness?
No. It is impossible. And that is perfectly fine.
Happiness is like a breeze or a puff of smoke. The harder you try to grasp it, the more easily it slips between your fingers. And sometimes, a sullen individual can think better, plan better, and dream for a different route which will lead to more happiness over the long run.
Featured photo credit: Clemens v. Vogelsang via flickr.com