I Distrust Too-Happy People

Svejk at 515 N Madison

Svejk: my cat who now lives with my mother

I may get myself into trouble with this one.

But I’ve always been suspicious of happy people.

I do NOT mean these people:

  • People who are generally cheerful and fun to be around
  • People who look for the opportunity or advantage in situations that don’t go their way
  • People who love and accept who they are, and reflect a confidence, or a natural/authentic manner as a result

Rather, I AM talking about the people who are so happy (and expressive of it) that you want to slap them. The people who make a point of their happiness. The people who are trying to convince you how to be happier, too.

Here’s the thing.

Most of us really aren’t after happiness. Perhaps satisfaction or fulfillment or meaning. But not happiness. Happiness is boring.

Alan Watts is a master at expressing this paradox, and it goes something like this: You can’t have light without dark, life without death, happiness without sadness. You need one to recognize the other.

Some people call this drama. Well, there is melodrama, and then there is simply the rhythm of life. We like to play a game with ourselves—and with life—to keep things interesting.

I’m reminded of a scene from Anne of Avonlea:

Marilla: You set your heart too much on frivolous things and then crash down into despair when you don’t get them.

Anne: I know. I can’t help flying up on the wings of anticipation. It’s as glorious as soaring through a sunset … almost pays for the thud.

Marilla: Well, maybe it does. But I’d rather walk calmly along and do without flying AND thud.

I admit it: I love the anticipation.

And what I love are the people who realize we’re playing that game all along, and don’t take it too seriously. People who take their happiness very seriously scare me.

We do choose suffering (consciously or not)—we do choose to be sad—because being happy all the time would be no fun at all. Complexity and melancholy and sadness and suffering—these things lend richness to life.

The most beautiful humans to me are the ones with a tinge of sadness—the kind of sadness that only comes with knowing one’s impossible condition, and knowing the beauty (and the loss of beauty). I want to acknowledge this—this too is part of life, as much as the happiness.

Posted in Life Philosophy.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by JaneFriedman, Paulo Campos. Paulo Campos said: Beware of the Happy People. In fact, slap them: http://ow.ly/2eyfz via @JaneFriedman […]

Simon Hay Healer

I loved the last paragraph, and yes, I know what you mean about overly happy. It's forced and behind closed doors they're not really. I like that this is sincere and honest. We need more of that. I don't think we need to have hate to know what love is, but life is complex and exciting and all emotions serve a purpose. If you're angry, be angry, but stop at violence. It's like when it's okay to be impatient there's no point. It sorts itself out. Calm is better than happy.

Becky Levine
Becky Levine

I'm with you and Anne. You get the thud no matter what; why would you want it withOUT the flying?

Jenn Hubbard blogs about this same thing, from a writing/rejection perspective: http://writerjenn.livejournal.com/185668.html

Patricia V.Davis
Patricia V.Davis

“People who take their happiness very seriously scare me.” I wonder why that is. Having had a life “tinged with sadness” from a horrific child to the death of a beloved stepson, to watching George W. Bush sign the Military Commissions Act, I am one of those people who do take my happiness very seriously, to the point where I like to 'infect' others with it. Life can take away the people you love, the freedoms we've fought for; and the dreams we discover we'll never achieve. But if you're strong enough,and disciplined enough,(because happiness does take discipline and mental… Read more »

Amber Corbisiero
Amber Corbisiero

I really enjoyed this, because you've beautifully summed up the paradox that is everyday life. The aggressive embrace of excessive happiness is manic, an unrealistic fantasy, or it's simply a temporary lull in the ebb-and-flow of life. One must see some darkness in order to truly appreciate the beauty of light.

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[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Darrelyn Saloom, Yadira. Yadira said: “@ficwriter: RT @JaneFriedman I Distrust Too-Happy People: http://bit.ly/9OcNI0 via @addthis” ME Too! ME Too! […]

LoisL
LoisL

LOVE your post. Please see: http://www.amazon.com/Bright-sided-Relentless-P… and this reprint from an article in current? Bitch magazine: http://www.alternet.org/reproductivejustice/147… I can't get on board with “We do choose suffering (consciously or not)”, and I don't believe that is what Buddhism is authentically trying to teach. I believe Buddhism is trying to help people understand the nature of suffering when it hits their home, their body, their soul. “We choose to suffer” sounds like the blame the victim crap we've had shoved down our throats non-stop for the better part of 30 years now, by the “positive thinking” & “new age” and “Buddhist… Read more »

Jacqui Armstrong
Jacqui Armstrong

I agree with you about the oxymoronic state of our existence (if I may use the word oxymoron in that tense), but I'm not totally sure if happiness is boring. If it is, I would like to be bored more often. 🙂

I would like to ask a question about whether unknown / beginning writers should use their real names when blogging.

Parish
Parish

I always suspected you were a cat person–even a closeted one!
-NAP

Darrelyn Saloom

So funny because this reminds me of one of the reasons I don't watch the news. Especially early morning news. For my taste, it's way too early to be so perky. Remember Joan Lunden? I'd used to drag around the house with one eye open, in a tattered but comfortable robe, getting kids off to school. And there she would be dressed and made up and always perky. It really bothered me, so I stopped watching. Give me grouch, cranky, coffee drinkers on a morning news program, and I may watch it. But even then I'd have no need because… Read more »

Michael Wheatley
Michael Wheatley

I don't know if it is so much a “distrust” for me, as a sense of unease. But I absolutely concur with your feelings here. I think we have been taught that it is rude/wrong to wear our emotions. Sometimes people make a point of putting on their happy face when not laone. Feeling anything/everything shouldn't be taboo. But I know what Jane is saying here – it's not about people who are simply good-natured and naturally happy. It's about those borderline manic-types, where their happiness radiates like an emotional assault. (It feels like work, or even denial). I think… Read more »

WendyBurt
WendyBurt

I love this post. “You can’t have light without dark, life without death, happiness without sadness. You need one to recognize the other.” When my dog died 12 years ago I asked my dad why he thought we had to feel so much pain and he said something similar to what you wrote. (Something like, “How would we recognize happiness if we didn't have sadness?”) Thanks for the reminder.

LoisL
LoisL

I would never suggest that no one ever chooses to be miserable. I think we all can point to examples of our own decisions at any given time to jump in bed, pull covers over head, be cranky, etc. That isn't what I'm talking about. The Barbara Ehrenreich book talks about how she felt demonized by the medical system and others, for not being 'positive thinking' enough about her cancer treatments. Censorship and suppression of people's rights to express themselves however they see fit is at pandemic stages in the US right now. Unprecedented in the course of my lifetime… Read more »

Leaf River Writer

Jane Friedman's blog: “I Distrust Too-Happy People” My perspective on happiness comes from my Dressage riding instructors. Each one of these dedicated women taught me to “Live for the moment.” I'm only a beginner, but I've watched them develop a single horse, training every day for five or six years, working toward a level that will be tested in competition. When the day comes, most of the time something goes wrong–a piece of flying paper, a sneeze from the audience, or an invisible goblin that her horse spooks at, ruining the fine-tuned focus and precision of the dressage exercise. Sometimes,… Read more »

jcorn1

I'd go so far as to add that seeking permanent happiness is not helpful for writers. Oddly, I learned this while taking an art class. We were asked to focus ONLY on the shadows to start drawing a picture. It was amazing to see how the shadows really were vital to creating the rest of the picture, leading me to immediately see a writing analogy: is it the shadows (sadness, unhappiness) that sets off the light (happiness, beauty) so vividly or is it the light that sets off the shadows? I think you can't have one without the other and… Read more »

jcorn1

Having written my post, I did want to add that sadness can be very hard to face, depending on the circumstances. I have always acknowledged sadness as a part of life but I find that I can't even write about the impending loss of someone I love very deeply, someone who has always been a touchstone for me. The pain is too fresh, too real and the upcoming event simply too close for me to find it cathartic or helpful to write about it. I will have no choice but to acknowledge it and I do believe I will be… Read more »

Soumya
Soumya

There are a lot of people out there who ask you to be happy when your heart hurts. They say Happiness is something you need to achieve by trying to be happy with whatever happens to you. I really wonder how is this possible? Can your heart break and mend at the same time????

ljduncan
ljduncan

OMG!!! I am so glad that I found this…an old friend of mine is always trying to tell me that I am an unhappy person and that I have too much drama in my life…and in the end I should be as happy in my life as he is in his…I am a very emotional person and the mother of 2 daughters that are just as emotional, i don’t think being emotional means that I am unhappy!!! He is constantly trying to get me to leave my fiance that I have been in a relationship for over 4 years to… Read more »

Hellfire1968
Hellfire1968

If they are too happy – they are fake – if they are fake, they aren’t genuine. If they aren’t genuine, it is impossible to trust them or their motives. Sadly, I have to work with some of these plastic people. Great Article!!!