Conspicuous Cheerfulness

Is it really possible to have too much of a good thing?

To consider this question, take for example the purchasing of luxury items such as designer clothing, cars, homes, and jewelry. Obviously, it is nice to be able to spend money without concern. When the goal of such purchasing is simply to flaunt one’s wealth, however, it is called conspicuous consumption, and conspicuous consumption is definitely not a good thing.

Even going to a virtuous extreme, such as being exceptionally environmentally conscious, can actually ultimately be a negative trait. Conspicuous conservation is just as obnoxious as conspicuous consumption and can be equally wasteful. When people put solar panels on the front of their house where their neighbors can see them rather than on their roof where they would do more good, that is conspicuous conservation. While it may do some good for the environment, the way in which the deed is executed belies its selfish motivation.

The psychological equivalent of conspicuous conservation could very well be conspicuous cheerfulness. This branch of largely self-help therapy, which is growing in popularity, encourages people to act cheerful so that they will actually feel happier. People have learned that satisfaction and happiness are attractive to others as well as being indicators of success. Just like too much conservation, however, there is such a thing as too much cheerfulness.

When a man invariably answers a question about his day with a reply such as, “Fantastic! Never been better!” not only is his enthusiasm annoying, but his credibility also suffers. Clearly, the man’s responses do not mirror his actual emotions. Rather than encouraging only unrelenting cheerfulness, therefore, positive psychology should instruct people to express appropriate cheerfulness. They should be happy about good things that happen but not about bad things. In fact, appropriate discontent with the world is necessary to inspire people to make changes. If everyone were always cheerful and unconcerned about disease, homelessness, and hunger, no one would take steps to ameliorate any of these problems.

Positive psychology may not be to blame for conspicuous cheerfulness, but as a philosophy, it is flawed. Being cheerful is generally a good thing, but that cheerfulness needs to be founded in reality. The goal of any psychological treatment should be to establish healthy habits that are in tune with both internal and external realities. By encouraging constant cheerfulness, positive psychology fails to serve patients in this way.


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