June 23, 2004
Against Happiness [Jim Holt, The Way We Live Now, NYT Magazine, 6/20/04] Is happiness all it's cracked up to be? The essay comments on findings reported in the May issue of Psychological Science: in laymen's terms, that "Sad people are nice. Angry people are nasty. And, oddly enough, happy people tend to be nasty, too." A hypothesis proposes that happy people's happy attitudes "[reduce] the motivation for analytical thought." Which may explain why I sometimes trod on people's feelings and not realize it until they tell me. IF they tell me.
Another passage that I found interesting:
There is one bit of the world that happy people do see in an irrationally rosy light: themselves. As the British psychologist Richard P. Bentall has observed, ''There is consistent evidence that happy people overestimate their control over environmental events (often to the point of perceiving completely random events as subject to their will), give unrealistically positive evaluations of their own achievements, believe that others share their unrealistic opinions about themselves and show a general lack of evenhandedness when comparing themselves to others.'' Indeed, Bentall has proposed that happiness be classified as a psychiatric disorder.
I'm still reading The Liar's Club by Mary Karr, my book club selection from last month. In her memoir Karr explains how people in her hometown acknowledged other people's problems:
This kind of bold-faced ugliness was common to us. The theory behind it held that not mentioning a painful episode in the meanest terms was a way of pretending that the misery of it didn't exist. Ignoring such misery, then, was equal to lying about it. Such a lie was viewed as more cruel, even, than the sad truth, because it somehow shunned or excluded the person in pain...from everybody else.
The "cruel to be kind" approach, however, doesn't work for everybody. Especially if they are inclined to think that you are just being cruel.