Psychologists: Can’t think positive? Psychologists say being grumpy can actually be useful


As psychiatry, which uses medical and biological methods to treat mental disorders, has largely overtaken psychotherapy, which relies on non-biological approaches such as conversation and counseling, psychotherapists have been looking for alternative challenges. One common approach is to focus on increasing the happiness of mentally healthy people rather than alleviating the pain and trauma of those who are suffering.

This is known as “positive psychology” and has recently expanded to include not only psychologists, but also social workers, life coaches, and new age therapists. But there are reasons to believe that this approach also has a negative side.

Perhaps the most common advice from positive psychologists is that we should seize the moment and live in the present. It helps us to be more positive and avoid three of the most infamous emotional states that I call raw emotions: regret, anger, and worry. Ultimately, this suggests that we shouldn’t focus too much on regrets and anger about the past or worrying about the future.


This sounds like an easy task. But human psychology is evolutionarily programmed to live in the past and the future. Other species have instincts and reflexes to help them survive, but human survival largely depends on learning and planning. You cannot learn without living in the past, and you cannot plan without living in the future.

Regret, for example, which can make us suffer when reflecting on the past, is an indispensable mental mechanism for learning from our own mistakes to avoid repeating them.

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Why not worry

Worrying about the future is also important to motivate us to do something that is somewhat unpleasant today, but may benefit us or save us from great losses in the future. If we didn’t worry about the future at all, we might not even bother getting an education, taking responsibility for our health, or stocking up on groceries.

Like regret and anxiety, anger is an instrumental emotion that my colleagues and I have shown in several research papers. This protects us from abuse by others and encourages others to respect our interests. Research has even shown that a certain degree of anger in a negotiation can be beneficial, resulting in better outcomes.

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What’s more, research has shown that a bad mood in general can be quite beneficial, making us less gullible and more skeptical. According to research, a whopping 80% of people in the West actually tend to be optimistic, which means we learn more from positive experiences than negative ones. This can lead to some poorly thought out decisions, such as putting all of our funds into a project with little chance of success. So do we need to be even more optimistic?


For example, optimistic tendencies are associated with overconfidence—the belief that we are generally better than others at most things, from driving to grammar.

Overconfidence can be a problem in relationships (where a little humility can save the day). It can also lead to us not being able to properly prepare for a difficult task and blaming others when we end up failing.

Defensive pessimism, on the other hand, can help anxious people, in particular, prepare by setting the bar low enough instead of panicking, making it easier to overcome obstacles calmly.


capitalist interests

Despite this, positive psychology has left its mark on policy development at the national and international levels. One of his contributions was that he sparked a debate among economists about whether a country’s prosperity should be measured by growth and GDP alone, or whether a more general approach to well-being should be adopted. This led to the erroneous assumption that happiness can be measured simply by asking people if they are happy or not.

This is how the UN Happiness Index is built, which is a ridiculous ranking of countries according to their level of happiness. Although happiness questionnaires measure something, it is not happiness per se, but rather people’s willingness to admit that life is often difficult, or, conversely, their tendency to arrogantly boast that they always do better than others.

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Positive psychology’s excessive focus on happiness and its claim that we have complete control over it is harmful in other ways as well. In a recent book called Happycracy, author Edgar Cabanas argues that this statement is being cynically used by corporations and politicians to shift the blame for everything from mild life dissatisfaction to clinical depression from the economic and social agencies onto the sufferers themselves.


After all, if we have complete control over our happiness, how can we blame unemployment, inequality, or poverty for our misery? But the truth is, we don’t have complete control over our happiness, and social structures can often create adversity, poverty, stress, and injustice—things that shape how we feel.

To believe that you can simply think better of yourself by focusing on positive emotions when you are in financial danger or have experienced a serious injury is naive to say the least.

While I don’t see positive psychology as a conspiracy of capitalist companies, I do believe that we don’t have full control over our happiness and that pursuing it can make people more unhappy than happy. Teaching a man to be happy is not too different from asking him not to think about a pink elephant—in both cases, his mind can easily go in the opposite direction. In the first case, the inability to achieve the goal of being happy adds serious disappointment and self-flagellation.

And then the question arises whether happiness is really the most important value in life. Is it even something stable that can last over time? The answer to these questions was given more than a hundred years ago by the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. any difference that you lived and lived well.


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