Why Do We Have An Obsession With Happiness?


A question: Why do you think people have an obsession to be happy? When did it become bad to just be ok?


Thank you for this interesting question. I have written before about society’s obsession with happiness and in fact propose that we should be weary of promoting happiness so much because it limits us in that we start to deny ourselves and others the wide variety of emotional experiences that exist in addition to happiness.

To answer the first part of your question, WHY, I would say that there are some obvious reasons why people pursue happiness like the fact that it’s unpleasant to experience negative emotions etc. but I think the real reason why we pursue happiness is twofold.

1) I think that we are scared of our vulnerability. I have written before about Brené Brown and her theories on vulnerability and shame. I think that everyone should watch her two Ted Talks which I have attached here and here.

I believe that this almost manic attempt at always being happy is part of our denial of our human fragility because saying “I’m not okay” takes a degree of humility and requires us to accept that we are vulnerable and not invincible.

I think that we do this as individuals. I think we project these unrealistic expectations on our partners, our friends, our parents, and our children. And I think we do this as a society. This leads me to my next point.

2) I believe that we do not exist in a vacuum and that many if not all of our intrapsychic experiences (internal processes such as thoughts, feelings, and beliefs) are mediated by social convention and macro structures such as culture. So what is it about our modern culture that promotes happiness? I mean, let’s be clear, there are many different cultures all around the world, some of which cannot be included under this grand umbrella term of “modern culture”. I am referring to modern, consumerist, capitalist, Western culture predominantly.

I think that the idea of promoting happiness started with the advertising industry. Ever since there have been adverts, there have been images of happy, smiling people selling everything from toothpaste to real estate. I think that we have now gotten so used this that we don’t even inspect it anymore. We don’t interrogate the adverts we see. But the truth is we’re being told daily that if we buy this or use that we will be youthful, beautiful, and HAPPY.

What do you think?

To answer the second part of your question, when did it become bad to just be ok? I think that we are a bit of a bipolar society. We are always bouncing between extremes. I see a lot of people in therapy who really struggle with just being, with quietly sitting still and feeling contained in themselves. I know that this is difficult if you are anxious or if you don’t like yourself and are plagued by negative thoughts but I believe that this is also a product (pun intended) of our consumerist culture.

In order to sell products, advertisers need to make us feel that who we are, where we are, and what we have is not enough. We are force-fed images and messages that make us feel inadequate. To this end we continue to buy and consume not only products but “lifestyles” in an attempt to feel like we’re doing something meaningful with our lives rather than just hanging out with ourselves and being “ok”.

So here’s to being just ok…

If being just ok means:

Liking yourself

Accepting your emotions

Accepting your appearance, your faults and limitations, and

Accepting those around you


Thank you!



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