"Don't Forget to be Happy"

By Matthieu Ricard on February 10, 2014

In Don't Forget To Be Happy (just published in French under the title Et n'oubliez pas d'être heureux , Christophe André, gives us, once again, a treasure trove of inspiration and wisdom deeply rooted in the experience of daily life and authentic science.

Christophe is careful not to promise us the moon — the Dalai Lama once said that one of the problems of modern life is that people want the fruit of the path to awakening to be ‟easy, fast and, if possible, cheap.” — but he points a wise finger towards the moon of fulfillment to which many of us aspire.

Until the 1980s, only a few researchers had focused on how to develop the positive aspects of our temperament. Psychological Abstracts' analysis of the books and articles published on psychology since 1887 finds 136,728 titles referring to anger, anxiety or depression, but only 9,510 referring to joy, satisfaction, or happiness!

Obviously it is important to treat psychological problems that handicap or even paralyze people's lives. However, as Christophe André explains in his book, happiness is not the mere absence of unhappiness: "Classical psychology mostly attempts to ‘fix' what is gone wrong in the mind of the patients. But we must also help patients to develop skills that will make them happier.” These are skills that are needed not to just help people feel better. It has been well established that happiness is an excellent tool for preventing the onset of mental illness or its relapse.

Happiness is not simply ‟the silence of suffering,” to quote French novelist Jules Renard. In 1969, the psychologist Norman Bradburn showed that pleasant and unpleasant affects not only represent opposites, but also derive from different mechanisms and should be studied separately. Merely eliminating sadness and anxiety is no automatic guarantee of joy and happiness. The suppression of pain doesn't necessarily lead to pleasure. It is therefore necessary not only to rid oneself of negative emotions, but also to develop positive ones.

Such a position is in harmony with the Buddhist assertion that it is not enough to just abstain from harming others (the elimination of malice); this abstention must be augmented by a determined effort to help them (the development and implementation of altruism).

According to Barbara Fredrickson of the University of Michigan, one of the founders of positive psychology, positive emotions broaden the array of the thoughts and actions that come to mind, including joy, interest, contentment, and love.

Positive psychology, as represented by a new generation of researchers, aims at studying and enhancing positive emotions and healthy minds that will allow us to become better human beings while gaining greater happiness.

Christophe André emphasizes that we should not underestimate positive psychology by assuming that all it only gives vague advice such as ‟See the bright side of life!” or only encourages people to ‟think positively”. Positive psychology is the study of what works well in a healthy human mind, and it attempts to reinforce the positive emotions that allow us to become better human beings and to get more joy out of life. It can help us to progress from a pathological state to a so-called ‟normal” one, and from a normal state to an optimal one.

According to a number of researchers, developing positive thoughts is an indisputable evolutionary advantage. It helps us to broaden our intellectual and affective universe and to open ourselves to new ideas and new experiences. Unlike depression, which often sends us into a tailspin, positive emotions create an upward spiral ‟by building resilience and influencing and influencing the ways people cope with adversity.”

To help in this way, it is not enough to simply seek some magical moments. We must persevere in understanding the inner conditions of well-being and practice, hour after hour, day after day, a more effective way to deal with our thoughts and emotions. As Christophe André writes, ‟It is a conviction, a science, and a practice.”

It becomes a conviction when we acknowledge its merit through our own experience; it is a science, because it involves some discipline and does not come about by simply doing anything that comes in our mind; and it is a practice because it does not come about simply by wishing for it. Without recognizing the importance of practice, one might fall in the trap of the apprentice musician who claimed: ‟I took the violin and I rubbed the bow across the strings. Not only did nothing beautiful come out of it, but it actually made a horrible sound. Violins are no good! "

Positive psychology does not guarantee us a rosy life without suffering, but it can certainly help us to actualize the best in ourselves.

André, C. (2014). Et n'oublie pas d'être heureux . Odile Jacob.

Read also: Fredrickson, B. (2001). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive . Crown Archetype [Hardcover]. Crown Archetype.