Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pollyanna's Secret

There have been many times in my life when someone with bad brain chemistry (BBC) argued that to pretend to feel happy when you're not happy is phoney.  "Don't be a Pollyanna," that person would say, then follow up with a declaration of contempt for those people who are always cheerful or perky.

I must admit that from time to time I was one of those Pollyanna-hating people.  And the only reason I felt that way is because I couldn't believe that anyone could be that happy--even Pollyanna had to be putting it on. And to fake feelings you don't have is contemptible.

But as I eventually learned, there are people who are that happy.  They have good brain chemistry and a happy disposition.  And maybe in addition to being blessed with those good traits, they've learned to look on the bright side of life, so that even when they have an occasional sad moment, they talk themselves out of it.  And what's wrong with that, anyway?  ("Always look on the bright side of life" is, as you may know, a line from a sarcastic song by Monty Python, people with bad brain chemistry, no doubt.)

I think that bad brain chemistry people don't really hate the Pollyannas of the world--they envy them.  They want to be happy too, so they try to figure out how they can get there.  What they come up with, however, is based on false data, the data they invent in their efforts to determine why they are currently unhappy.

For example, a BBC person feels bad, but doesn't realize he's feeling bad because of bad brain chemistry, so he goes off in search of a reason in his environment.  He scrutinizes his life, his work, his family, his friends, his health, the government, the air--you get the picture.  With all that scrutiny, he's bound to find something that bothers him.  Let's say he picks his work.  There he finds a rigid, obnoxious boss with whom he's had numerous clashes.  But there's more to dislike at work.  There are also his coworkers, who are uncreative apple-polishers; and there's the work itself--boring and beneath his talents.  He might go on, finding other faults with his job to add to the already tall stack of grievances.  No wonder he's so unhappy!  Who could be happy in such a place?  So he starts looking for a better job, one where he's appreciated for his intelligence and where he's surrounded by interesting, creative people. And if he's really in the throes of BBC-inspired zeal, he may quit right away, all the better to spend time looking for that perfect job.

But of course there is no perfect job.  Even if he finds a job that is closer to ideal than the one he has now, he'll soon find something wrong with that one too, and the cycle will begin again. And again.  Such is the nature of the quest for happiness that doesn't take into account the main cause of unhappiness: bad brain chemistry.

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