What's the Happiness Project?

What About Unhappiness?

Ignoring our unhappiness in favor of a pursuit of nothing but happiness is harmful, say some psychologists.
Ignoring our unhappiness in favor of a pursuit of nothing but happiness is harmful, say some psychologists.

There's another famous quote about happiness from author Edith Wharton: "If only we'd stop trying to be happy, we'd have a pretty good time" [source: Wharton]. This raises an excellent question: In the pursuit of happiness, do we have a tendency to try too hard? Do we ignore the very real fact that some things in life are simply destined to make us unhappy?

Psychologists who accept unhappiness as a fact of life are concerned that this focus on happiness paints an incomplete picture of what it means to be a human being. Russ Harris, the author of "The Happiness Trap," points out that, despite modern culture's mechanisms of unhappiness and isolation (like overwork and those crises from the first page), we're obsessed with being happy. This obsession has led to several myths about happiness, like the ideas that "happiness is the natural state of human beings" and that "if you're not happy, you're defective" [source: Buhr].

These notions about the importance of happiness are not only harmful, say Harris and others; they also lead us away from truly understanding the concept. In the book "Against Happiness," author Eric G. Wilson argues that to "suffer melancholy is also to understand its polar opposite, joy" [source: Parker].

As it turns out, Happiness Project creator Gretchen Rubin agrees. She asserts that her experiment isn't a quest to eradicate unhappiness from her life. On the contrary, Rubin's found that The Happiness Project has made her more cognizant of the unhappiness she does feel. What's more, she now sees that gloom as a signal that attention must be paid to those parts of life that make us sad, angry or dissatisfied. "Feeling bad is a sign that it's time for action," she wrote in 2009 [source: Rubin]. Facing change can be a frightening experience, and humans seem to prefer immediate relative comfort over hard-fought happiness. Unhappiness pushes us into action, Rubin has concluded.

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