March 20th is International Day of Happiness, coming just before daylight saving time ends, and signalling a boost in mood for many of us. No one would dispute that being happy is a good thing, but can we expect to be happy all the time?
Where previous generations measured success in terms of wealth and prestige, today’s twenty and thirty somethings strive for happiness itself. At the same time, unhappiness is viewed with great trepidation; understood as a problem in need of fixing.
According to recent research, neither of these attitudes are conducive to a healthy existence, with experts warning against active happiness-seeking, and reminding us that fluctuations in mood are a fundamental part of being human.
A wave of studies from psychologists indicate a relationship between an intense desire for happiness and major depressive disorder (MDD). Psychologists from Toronto University and NYU Medical Centre suggest that ‘the culturally-pervasive value placed on attaining happiness can represent a risk factor for symptoms and a diagnosis of depression.’ The same academics produced empirical evidence in support of the notion that ‘highly valuing happiness, leads to decreased well-being.’
It can’t be wrong to do things to try and make our lives more comfortable and enjoyable (!), but it’s worth remembering that happiness is one of a number of states between which we fluctuate, as opposed to the default-level of human experience.
Accepting the bad along with the good, and seeking contentment rather than happiness-highs, may be a surer route to long-term emotional wellness. Plants and gardening (even indoor gardening!) can be a good way of introducing yourself to a way of thinking that is less about aspiring to be something more, and more about being satisfied with what you have.
For more about the relationship between plants, plant-care and mindfulness here.