The pursuit of happiness and the tyranny of positive thinking

The Rose Hill blog intends to help the reader to be more reflective on what other blogs and Internet sites are trying to peddle as the Truth. We dedicate our efforts in these blogs to mobilize the critical thinking of our readers. Our philosophy is that truth lies inside the individual and cannot be prescribed. We as analysts would like to help the reader access his or her mind using the same tools we use with our patients, to relocate his/her ability to think, to be more self generative and, more than anything else, to stay away from the cookie-cutter knowledge that proliferates on the web.

The prescribed pill for happiness is the first such arena of “knowledge” we would like to address:

In a recent NYTimes article, “Get Happy: Four well Being Workouts,” Julie Scelfo refers to Dr Martin Seligman’s research about the direct path to happiness being that of alleviating negative emotions. Dr Seligman, in his misreading of Freud, states that what makes life is much more than the absence of the negative. According to Dr Seligman, ‘happiness is experiencing a sense of contentment in the knowledge that your life is flourishing and has meaning beyond your own pleasure.’ Who could disagree with that? The way, however, that this article proceeds, as so many other articles on the web also do, is to prescribe a step-by-step to do list; identify signature strengths by writing a story about a time when you were at your best, find the “good” by setting aside 10 minutes before you go to bed to write three things that really went well that day, make a gratitude list, respond constructively, and so on.  In doing these mind-workouts your depression will lift and you will begin feeling good about yourself.

Well, I don’t know about you, but for me, just reading this article I became depressed.

Positive psychology might work for some people, but it does not work for most. The demand of propelling yourself towards positive thinking, and forgeting any negative emotions that are storming inside, creates a tyranny that tends very often to backfire.

This very point is the thesis of a Newsweek article ‘the tyranny of positive thinking can threaten your health and happiness’ (

Moreover, despite the fact that recent findings and plain intuition support the notion that the side effects of positive thinking are (sorry to say) negative and can increase depression in the long run, since individuals feel that they can never win in this race to positivity and end up feeling like big losers in the end, the pill of positive thinking still retains great appeal to the public.

Do you remember these words from The Declaration of Independence?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Who doesn’t want to be happy? Happiness is the paradise that we thought once had and lost and can regain only if we try hard enough and do the right thing. But, let’s pay close attention to the clear mindedness of our founding fathers. The inalienable rights they declared were life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  When we swallow the positive thinking “pill of happiness” the pursuit of happiness feels fruitless unless we regain the lost paradise of our fantasies! By swallowing that pill, we place an extraordinary weight and pressure on ourselves, a pressure that might foretell many not so desirable consequences.

So if there is no perfect happiness pill, then what? Well, we still have our lives; we still have our liberty; and we still have the right to pursue happiness by experiencing the  truth that lies inside the individual and cannot be prescribed, by accessing our minds to the best degree we can, by relocating our ability to think, and to be more self generative.