Being Happy All the Time Isn’t Good for You

Debbie Downers everywhere, get ready to say ‘I told you so.’ New research shows that, amazingly, being happy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Contrary to what you might think, being truly happy means that you also realize there are times you’ll be unhappy, and that life can’t be sunshine and roses all the time. That way, you’re prepared when the going does get rough, and you’re thus better equipped to face the challenges that arise. No, you shouldn’t lower your expectations for a happy life or start expecting rainy days when it might be sunny. But by managing expectations and expecting challenges, you will be better off. In fact, there’s a biological reinforcement for this too: Your levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of damaging inflammation) have been shown to be higher when you have unattainable expectations, which means that being realistic keeps the ol’ stress levels down all around.

QUIZ: Are You Feeling Stressed?

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  • safetynet2razorwire

    Several weeks ago on the train my adult daughter and I got to the broadly generalised differences between the majority genders’ (female/male) underlying ways of relating to our emotions. I always keep my eyes open for litmus tests – for touchstones that reveal hidden qualities of things we take for granted – for the things that we gloss over on our way to accepting ‘conventional wisdom’. Our intellectual mud-stirring surfaced just such a reality-checker.

    The touchstone was in movie categorisation.

    It suddenly struck me that amid genres like ‘Action/Adventure’, ‘Horror’, ‘Sci Fi’, ‘Comedy’, ‘Drama’ and ‘Suspense’ there is one category that is invariably qualified – by just its very label emotionally diluted. That category? ‘Romantic-Comedy’.

    The question I posed my daughter was “Why do you think there’s no ‘Romantic’ film category? Why does Hollywood see the need to dilute romance with a laugh-track?” I knew I’d hit on something when the young woman in the seat ahead who’d until then been engrossed in a ‘Statistics’ textbook blurted “Exactly!” Then sheepishly turned and with a wry apologetic grin explained “I couldn’t agree more” before returning to her cramming.

    The reason, of course, is that unlike the other genres pure undiluted ‘Romance’ is a near certain ‘no go’ for the brittle sex – by which I mean my gender ‘men’. Why?

    Because ‘romance’ is too vital for us to take seriously.

    By bastardising ‘Romance’ with ‘Comedy’ the film helps perpetuate the comforting (to men) idea that the challenge of finding someone to unswervingly trust, unambivalently lust after, and love ‘isn’t a big deal’. It can be laughed off. Other than myself I’ve met no other het male who’d place ‘Pride & Prejudice’ among their top five favourite films. Heck, even ‘Rom-coms’ rarely make that cut (to be expected since they are about the ‘trivial’ – rendered with the prefacing header ‘This is laughable’).

    Romances, if they are geared to the adult – to the woman (or man) rather than the adolescent in us – are gut-wrenching suspenseful – characters walking the highest emotional tightrope without a net – a tightrope so high even landing in a net promises internal injuries and gaping wounds.

    The fact that that walk is one most of us hope to take – despite the fact that to succeed we must strip ourselves emotionally naked while so precariously balanced – despite knowing the odds are we’ll be pushed (by a chance wind or a betrayal) or fall through some personal stumble – means that any ‘Romance’ leaves us … drained exhausted – all our energy translated into love. That we will, like Lizzie and Mr. D’arcy, be left with just enough to lean forehead to forehead together.

    In the case of ‘Pride & Prejudice’ the protagonists (and we) win thru all obstacles to live in joy. In ‘Pride & Prejudice’ (my preferred version is the one ending with that dawn meeting on the moors) we all know they win through to love in the end. The first readers of the new released novel had no such assurance. Happiness for our intrepid heroine wasn’t a known. In the Schrodinger’s Box of love the reader had no surety whether Lizzie’s was dead or alive. The stuff that in our intimate personal lives keeps us – women and men alike – awake at night.

    Rarely do we get a new romance, a romance where there’s the outcome is unknown – where the hope of a lifetime of love is what we feel safe to imagine.

    Think ‘Titanic’. Titanic is an exception that proves the rule. Titanic is a romance wrapped in what I’d call a nihilistic fantasy of the sort that we men drool over. (Captain America has us when as a scrawny ‘Just a guy from Brooklyn’ he instinctively hugs death by hand-grenade.) In Titanic we’re allowed to know that Rose & Jack’s passes the ‘Til death do us part’ test – and then the sadness of the lifelong love of the absent other. That we need that unhappiness is confirmed by just how many of us went to the theatre – sometimes multiple times – then bought the box collectors set – and etched Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’ on our hearts in an acid ecstasy of unhappiness. ‘Titanic’ escaped the need for its romantic gin to have a comedic chaser. “There’ll be heroic and selfless sacrifice (the ultimate male ego fulfillment fantasy) – and almost everyone dies” means a plurality of men could vote “I’m in” at the box-office. Certain death negates the need for laughter in the male psyche as revealed by our pop culture fantasies. Romeo & Juliet doesn’t ‘do it’ since almost everybody lives – the tragedy is pointedly in the romance – not in the state of the world’. In Titanic guys can focus on the ‘ground’ rather than the ‘object’ – the story can be about the heroic (and ultimately futile) struggle against the elements – rather than about what befalls Rose& Jack. In Romeo & Juliet there’s no escaping that it’s all about them.

    Or look at Rogue One. At, specifically, its ending – after all the obstacles are overcome and the designed to be shipped protagonists are free to admit and express their mutual romantic love – they are stood, hand in hand, facing their immediate oblivion. Very satisfying for the guys – who (despite there being no ‘consummation’ have the vicarious satisfaction that the chase was won. My wondrous girl child spoke of how divided the fan-girls were about the ending – some feeling utterly ripped off and others okay with it. Whether upset or okay about the ending almost every one of the women she’d chatted with were saddened more than angered. How sad to make a beginning and have no chance to see where it goes. Not unlike Romeo & Juliet. Tragically sad.

    The world would be a far healthier place if we’d face up to the fact that romance is probably the greatest adventure humanity has ever faced – an adventure faced by each alone striving not to be alone. An unpredictable mixture of joy and sadness.