Mental Health

Mental health: why being the ‘second happiest’ person in the room has its advantages

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Lauren Geall
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The desire for happiness is entirely normal – but letting it get in the way of other areas of your life can have its downsides.

The pursuit of happiness is one of the most universal parts of being human. While the reality of what happiness looks like may differ from person to person, the goal is the same: at the end of the day, we all want to feel happy with our lives.

As such, we tend to revere those people who are happy most or all of the time – to interrogate where their positive emotions come from and try to replicate their lifestyles. 

But what if happiness wasn’t the be-all and end-all it’s been made out to be? According to psychologists, that could be the case.

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As highlighted by a recent article in The Atlantic, studies have shown that ‘second happiest’ people – aka, those people who consider themselves mostly happy – tend to be the most successful and satisfied with their lives.  

Why? It’s all to do with the way we think about happiness – and what we’re willing to do in order to achieve it. 

While the happiest people may experience more intense and extended periods of happiness, they’re also more likely to put the pursuit of happiness above everything else – a fact that can lead them to prioritise things that provide them with a short burst of joy compared to challenges which are riskier but satisfying in the long run.

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Trying to be happy all the time can have its downsides.

Feelings of sadness, while unpleasant to experience, can also have their benefits. The idea that there’s no light without dark is well-known – we can’t fully appreciate moments of joy and excitement without going through darker moments, too. 

Indeed, as the professor, podcast host and author Arthur C. Brooks writes: “Bringing good things into your life, whether love, career success, or something else, usually involves risk.

“Risk doesn’t necessarily make us happy, and a risky life is going to bring disappointment. But it can also bring bigger rewards than a life played safe, as the study of happiness, academic achievement, and income suggests. Those with the highest performance at work and school made decisions that were probably unpleasant at times, and even scary.”

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While success at school and at work is no more the key to a good life than feeling happy all the time, it’s clear that there’s more to a good life than one emotion.

Struggle and strife are as much a part of life as happiness and excitement, and while no one’s going to wish difficult times upon themselves, being open to the hard times and appreciating them as part of life can open us up to more opportunities.

The desire to be happy is entirely normal – but letting it get in the way of everything else in your life is only going to shut you off from everything the world has to offer. 

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.