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Happiness and High Dudgeon

I'm always happy!

I’m always happy!

Some years ago, I discovered that I could improve my mood (and maybe my performance) simply by forcing myself to smile. I knew that being happy made me smile. I wondered if smiling could make me happy. Happily, it could.

As we’ve discussed before (here and here), the body and the brain are one system. The brain affects the body and the body returns the favor. Your posture affects your thoughts and your mood. According to Amy Cuddy, it can even help you get a job.

In fact, you don’t even have to smile. Just hold a pencil in your mouth sideways. Your smile muscles will flex and your mood will lift. Even though you know you’re tricking yourself, it actually works. Indeed, it’s foolproof.

When I discovered all this, I thought, “Great. I can always be happy. I’ll never be cranky or curmudgeonly again. I’ll always be in a good mood.”

But something funny happened on the way to happiness nirvana. I discovered that, on many occasions, I simply didn’t want to smile. I found that I actually enjoyed being cranky, snarky, and even a tad self-righteous.

This was a revelation. I’m a reasonably positive person and I always assumed that – if I had the choice – I would opt for happiness rather than its opposite. But I do have a choice and I find that I don’t always exercise it.

The dilemma seems to be the difference between being right and being happy. When I know I’m right – and somebody else is wrong – I can work myself into high dudgeon (as my mother called it). It’s a sense of self-righteous anger. I know I’m right and I want to prove the other side wrong. I’m indignant. I want to expose them for what they are – craven fools. My self-righteousness fuels the fire. I have no time to be happy. I’m on a mission.

I also enjoy winning, whether it’s an argument or a race or a poker hand. In a roundabout way, then, high dudgeon can lead to happiness. My indignation provides the energy and determination that can power me to victory. And victory makes me happy.

Getting angry to get happy, however, is a very odd dynamic. You’re going the wrong way. And winning one victory can simply lead to another battle. If there’s a victor, there’s also a vanquished. And he wants to get even.

I promised to write about happiness. First, I want to explore this conundrum of happiness and high dudgeon. Think about it. Do you actually want to be happy? Or, put another way, if you had to choose, would you rather be happy or right?

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