Are You Annoyed by Excessively Cheery People? Or Extremely Gloomy People?

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It’s hard to have a real, new insight. But I think I may have had one. I’m still thinking through and testing this hypothesis, and I’d appreciate hearing if this rings true to you. Here it is:

Happiness has a surprisingly mixed reputation. Some people believe—wrongly—that happiness correlates with stupidity or self-absorption. Some people believe—wrongly—that others are generally attracted to unhappiness in others.

When I talk to people about these assumptions about happiness, I sometimes get a response that puzzles me. People say, “True, it’s no fun to be around someone who’s in the dumps all the time. But it’s also annoying to be around someone who’s unfailingly cheerful and chirpy, a Pollyanna who refuses ever to acknowledge that the glass is half-empty or to be realistic about things.”

What’s puzzling to me: I never seem to encounter people like this. Tiggers, to me, don’t seem to be nearly as common as Eeyores. (And lest you imagine that I myself am a Tigger—I’m not. I’m a hurried, distracted, reserved kind of person. Not overly sunshiny. One of the reasons I started a happiness project was to be more positive; as they say, research is me-search.)

What was less puzzling: the people who complained about the Tigger/Pollyanna types seemed to be on the downbeat side—Eeyores—themselves.

Still, I wondered, where were all these Tiggers, and why did others find them annoying?

Then, it dawned on me—and here’s what may be a big insight—perhaps the Tigger emerges in response to the Eeyore, and vice versa. To offset the Eeyore’s complaining, downbeat, and pessimistic attitude, the Tigger becomes ever more bouncy and insistently cheery. And of course, in a frustrating cycle, the Eeyore feels the need to interject some realism and bite into the situation. Which drives the Tigger to take an ever more upbeat attitude.

I’m reminded of some scenes from the movie Happy-Go-Lucky, when the cheery main character Poppy takes driving lessons from a sour instructor. As the two interact, they drive each other further into their positions, and they enrage each other: she becomes more stubbornly positive, he becomes increasingly negative. Neither of them shows the slightest empathy for the other’s point of view, and as each tries to convert the other, they destroy their bond.

This dynamics demonstrates the importance of the resolution to Acknowledge the reality of other people’s feelings. If Tiggers insist, “Hey, it’s not that bad,” or “There’s no point in worrying about it,” or “Look on the bright side!” Eeyores feel all the more emphatic on insisting on the correctness of their attitude. The more Eeyores say, “Life isn’t fair,” “It’s best to be prepared for the worst,” and “You’re not facing reality,” the more frantically Tiggers act as cheerleaders. Tigger and Eeyore feel increasingly frustrated by the one-sided attitude of the other—and increasingly determined to offset it. If Eeyore and Tigger could acknowledge the truth of each other’s feelings, they might slacken the tension.

If you’re annoyed at home or at work by the presence of an unfailingly chirpy, cheery person, ask yourself: Is someone causing a negativity imbalance that’s demanding a positivity counter-balance from this person? A spouse who suffers from depression, a boss who is a constant nay-sayer? In fact, if you’re particularly annoyed by the Tigger in your midst, could you be the source of this imbalance?

The lesson for Tiggers may be this: you can’t “make” someone happy, and don’t exhaust yourself trying; in fact, it may be counter-productive to try. The more you point out the reasons to see the glass as half-full, the more you may cause a person to dwell on the reasons to see the glass as half-empty, as a counter-balance to your well-intended cheer.

The lesson for Eeyores may be this: don’t try to force other people to adopt your point of view, even if you think it’s more realistic or more philosophically worthy. You can’t “make” someone see things your way, and you may actually make them shut their eyes tighter to what you’re trying to show.

What do you think? I just had this idea a few days ago, so am still trying to decide if I think it’s true. It’s funny: once I say it, it sounds blindingly obvious, and yet it also feels like a major insight. The obvious! I spend all my time trying to recognize the obvious. Harder than it sounds.

From 2006 through 2014, as she wrote The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, Gretchen chronicled her thoughts, observations, and discoveries on The Happiness Project Blog.



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