C’mon get happy! Start­ing now!

Are you able to ad­mit that your life is awe­some with­out get­ting doubt­ful looks? Why do we doubt our own joy?

Glamour (South Africa) - - Glamour 2017 April -

so how are you?” a friend asked me at brunch re­cently. I hadn’t seen her in a while and thought for a mo­ment. “Great!” I replied. “Things have been go­ing re­ally well for me.” Even I was sur­prised by my re­sponse; it’s rare that I don’t have a com­plaint at the ready. Ap­par­ently my friend was taken aback, too. “Re­ally?” she asked. “That’s awe­some. I’m happy for you.” And there was an awk­ward pause. In the si­lence I re­alised I had vi­o­lated an un­spo­ken code. The an­swer to “How are you?” is sup­posed to be “I’m so busy and stressed!” And in­deed, when I asked what was new with her, she rat­tled off com­plaints: an­noyed with her mom, drown­ing at work.

The ex­change made me re­alise some­thing else. I no­ticed, strangely, that I felt a lit­tle guilty. Doubts be­gan to creep in: Was I re­ally happy? Or had all my yoga, med­i­ta­tion and ther­apy ses­sions just mo­men­tar­ily tricked me into think­ing that I was? I re­assessed: I had a new job I loved, I’d been dat­ing some­one ex­cit­ing – dammit, I was sat­is­fied. But the whole episode made me won­der, ‘Why is there this hap­pi­ness catch-22 in which all we want is to feel it, but when we do, we can’t ac­cept it?’ Ex­perts have

ac­tu­ally stud­ied this phe­nom­e­non and have iso­lated some pretty good rea­sons.

1 It’s hu­man na­ture

Those doubts I felt? Turns out they are a pretty stan­dard re­ac­tion to life’s feel-good mo­ments. “Hap­pi­ness makes us feel vul­ner­a­ble, be­cause we’re scared it will be taken away from us,” ex­plains clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist Dr An­drea Bo­nior. Our species is also hard­wired to see the worst in things. “Evo­lu­tion­ar­ily speak­ing, hu­man be­ings had to be pes­simistic to sur­vive,” notes psy­chol­o­gist Dr Sonja Lyubomirsky, au­thor of The Myths of Hap­pi­ness (Pen­guin Books; R305). “If you were too happy or op­ti­mistic, you might miss threats in the en­vi­ron­ment.”

2 Women es­pe­cially doubt their hap­pi­ness

Even though I was cer­tain I was en­joy­ing my life, I couldn’t help chalk­ing it up to a lucky streak. ‘I’m sure this won’t last,’ I thought. Also a to­tally nor­mal re­ac­tion, ex­perts say. “It’s un­com­fort­able for women to own their suc­cesses, and our so­ci­ety cre­ates that dis­com­fort,” says Dr Bo­nior. “Our cul­ture still doesn’t see women as be­ing as com­pe­tent as men, which un­der­mines fe­male ac­com­plish­ments in gen­eral.” Ob­jec­tively, I know that cred­it­ing my suc­cess to luck is ridicu­lous: I’ve worked hard for my hap­pi­ness, sur­viv­ing count­less dates, mer­ci­less bosses and chal­leng­ing ther­apy to get to this good place. But the re­flex­ive self-doubt is hard to kick, Dr Bo­nior ac­knowl­edges. Do you no­tice your­self dis­miss­ing your ac­com­plish­ments? Dr Bo­nior rec­om­mends list­ing what it took for you to make them hap­pen.

“We know how eas­ily things can go wrong,” Dr Bo­nior says. Dr Lyubomirsky agrees: “When every­thing is go­ing right, women tend to ques­tion or over­think it.” Other women told me they, too, have a hard time rel­ish­ing their hap­pi­ness. “Some­times when things are go­ing re­ally well for me, I don’t let my­self feel happy be­cause I don’t want to jump the gun,” says Al­li­son, a 29-year-old ac­tress.

3 Neg­a­tiv­ity brings us to­gether

Another rea­son we hes­i­tate to embrace our joy? As I saw at brunch, shared mis­ery is a huge part of how women bond. “Our per­spec­tives are bi­ased to­ward pes­simism,” says psy­chol­o­gist Dr Emma Sep­pälä. “We are more likely to pay at­ten­tion to neg­a­tive sit­u­a­tions than to pos­i­tive ones.” This ten­dency can mean that con­nec­tions forged in com­plain­ing may feel stronger than pos­i­tive ones.

4 We com­part­men­talise our hap­pi­ness

There ac­tu­ally is one place we feel we have per­mis­sion to be down­right giddy: so­cial me­dia. Your va­cay shots, your metic­u­lous brunch bowl, your cat – only on In­sta­gram can you ex­press joy and re­ceive just pos­i­tive feed­back. ‘Likes’ pour in, and even if you do have a few an­noyed friends, you don’t have to deal with their eye rolls. And real-life con­ver­sa­tions tend to fast-for­ward past the good stuff, which your friends have al­ready dou­ble-tapped.

So how can we fi­nally embrace our joy?

There are pow­er­ful rea­sons to let your­self feel good, es­pe­cially off­line. “Peo­ple who ac­knowl­edge their hap­pi­ness are health­ier than those who don’t,” says Dr Lyubomirsky. “They’re more likely to find a part­ner, have bet­ter re­la­tion­ships and they’re stronger lead­ers.” So quiet that voice that’s telling you this is all about to dis­ap­pear. And also know that it’s OK to ad­mit it when you feel happy, even though it feels a bit like brag­ging. Your good vibes may be con­ta­gious to oth­ers. “Re­search shows that peo­ple who are happy in­flu­ence three de­grees of sep­a­ra­tion around them,” says Dr Sep­pälä. We owe it to our­selves and one another to be happy – and to un­abashedly bask in that joy.

“When every­thing is go­ing right, women tend to ques­tion it or over­think it.”

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