Everyone has heard “Just look on the bright side!” or “Happiness is a choice—so choose to be happy!” Countless self-help books on choosing happiness line the shelves of bookstores; You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero has been on the New York Times best-seller list for 32 weeks; and The Power of Positive Thinking by the Reverend Norman Vincent Peale, published in 1952 and translated into 15 languages, is still popular today. The idea that you can be happy if you simply choose to be has been integrated into America’s military, classrooms and workplaces to improve coping skills, performance and mental health.
But as the movement’s popularity grew, it started being used to shame people with depression, anxiety or even occasional negative feelings. The August and October issues of Motivation and Emotion, the official journal of the Society for the Study of Motivation, have studies that prove the shaming is real. The study from the August issue, conducted by Karin Coifman and colleagues, concluded that when people acknowledge and address negative emotions toward their relationships or chronic illnesses, it helps them adjust their behavior and have more appropriate responses. Those negative emotions, in turn, benefit their overall psychological health. The October study, conducted by Elizabeth Kneeland and colleagues, concluded that people who think emotions are easily influenced and changeable are more likely to blame themselves for the negative emotions they feel than people who think emotions are fixed and out of their control.
While these studies are important, they aren’t the first to suggest positive psychology can be dangerous. For years, psychologists have been studying emotions and how they affect everyday life, success and self-esteem. These studies found that even though positive psychology can help some people achieve happiness, it can be harmful to others, leading to feelings of failure and depression.
Despite these recent findings and years of research pointing out the negatives of positive psychology, the infatuation lives on. Some experts believe bombarding people with these bromides and self-help books that implicitly say they are at fault for not being happy may be a factor in the rise of depression rates in the U.S.
– Morgan Mitchell