3 Curmudgeonly Insights into the Good Life

not cheerfulI’ve experienced the pull of positive psychology since it was called humanistic psychology, back in the 1970s or before. Newly re-packaged, with a lot of recent research backing up what to me seems, by now, like common sense, this field aims to turn self-help into a science.

You want to be happy, or happier, or live a better life? Fine, here’s what you need to know. Yet, more than just how to make life better for yourself, the full spectrum of what positive psychology can do includes making life better for others, too.

Thus, here we have a book entitled Pursuing the Good Life: 100 Reflections on Positive Psychology, by Christopher Peterson, one of the founders of the field of positive psychology. He died unexpectedly at age 62, before this compilation of his bite-sized blog posts came out.

I’ve chosen some of the ideas mentioned in the book that have perhaps been less publicized and that fit well with what makes sense to me personally as a Bright.


1. Keep Your Bucket List to Yourself

Peterson may have lived his life without feeling the need to check off items on a list. Though he acknowledged that bucket lists do serve to make certain events more memorable, most such lists, in his estimation, often contained narcissistic wishes that wouldn’t necessarily make for a more meaningful life. He wrote that those items that might connect you to something larger (family or whatever) would, according to positive psychology, lead to more fulfillment.

In an aside, Peterson wondered how many items on some people’s bucket lists would be deleted “if he or she were not allowed to talk about them to others.”

2. Must You Be So Cheerful All the Time?

Peterson equated conspicuous cheerfulness (or glaring glee or eternal ebullience) with conspicuous consumption. He found it forced and insincere. Sometimes I wonder if it’s insincere so much as evidence of people deluding themselves, purposely putting a positive spin on everything to deny reality or because they fear that if they admitted anything less upbeat, they’d be accused of being depressed.

Peterson’s examples include when someone responds, “Great!” to how they’re doing, each and every time. My favorite example would be the way a lot of people on Facebook, Twitter, et al, seem to have, for the most part, terrific days and meals and books and relationships and lives. I feel I have to stifle any comment I might make that isn’t 100 per cent agreeable. Is positive psychology to blame? Peterson asked. And he answered that sincerity trumps satisfaction. A little less conspicuous cheerfulness might help us all achieve our real goals.

3. Small Talk Won’t Make You Happy

Peterson based his ideas about small talk—which he felt he was good at—on a single study, but I believe there’s a definite common-sense aspect to consider. Small talk is chatter about inessentials. It can be socially useful and convenient when you don’t want to get real, or really deep. But it can also be boring and get in the way of genuine engagement with another person. The study mentioned by Peterson found that the extent of small talk was negatively associated with happiness.

It’s possible that extroverts get something from a lot of small talk that introverts like me are simply missing. Maybe it’s odd, but I find a real conversation, whether with a friend or a relative stranger, vastly easier to take part in and infinitely more gratifying.

Kylie’s Heel, my first novel, comes out soon in paperback and e-book. Read reviews and pre-order.

Copyright (2013) by Susan K. Perry Follow me on Twitter @bunnyape

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