Is Happiness a Mental Disorder?

Glass half full or empty

“We have a tendency to regard people in their ordinary moods as rational information processors, relatively free of systematic bias and distorted judgments… much research suggests that when they are not depressed, people are highly vulnerable to illusions, including unrealistic optimism, overestimation of themselves, and an exaggerated sense of their capacity to control events. The same research indicates that depressed people’s perceptions and judgments are often less biased.” Lauren Alloy

This idea actually has a name: depressive realism.

It’s a fascinating idea to me. The most realistic people among us are those we’d classify as depressed. The most unrealistic people are those we’d classify as optimistic. Ironically, reality doesn’t serve us well in this regard. It turns out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. But so does optimism. It all goes back to whether we see life as half full or half empty. The facts will usually tell you that it’s empty.

Depressive realism teaches us that while it serves a person well to be grounded in reality, a certain level of unwarranted optimism follows those people who prove to be successful. They don’t acknowledge (or realize) that their optimism and drive may not make even remote sense.

Happiness may actually be a mental disorder. But it proves to be a very healthy disorder.

Question: what is an area in your life where you have “unwarranted” optimism?

Sign up with your email and never miss a post!



Jeremy Jernigan

This is the personal blog of Jeremy Jernigan husband, father, executive pastor, and student of truth

11 Comments

peter

about 2 years ago

Wow - what a question. Didn't wake up this morning thinking I'd answer this one. Well, for me, I'd say most areas of my life, but probably more so when the chips are down... health issues, financial issues and planning for the future issues. I've lived a life centered around "...all things work together for good for those..." I don't say that for any affirmation - it can cause blind spots. It drives my wife crazy. When we butt heads (rarely) it has to do with my lack of action due to my optimism. Funny, the first thing I thought of while reading this was Steve Jobs and his pursuit of 'insanely great' products. When you watch interviews of his, he's got a dark optimism - a depressed optimism. I never thought about it until just now.

Reply

jeremy

about 2 years ago

Thanks Peter. I think that Steve Jobs' "reality distortion field" would definitely qualify!

Reply

MichelleJ

about 2 years ago

Well truthfully I think mine is that I can accomplish anything I set out to do...this could be a project, a career, a goal,etc. There isn't something coming to mind that I think is impossible if I set my mind to do. However, this can produce stress and unmet expectations if I don't get it accomplished as fast as I would like.

Reply

jeremy

about 2 years ago

Indeed!

Reply

BZ

about 2 years ago

Hmmm... Well, I feel this concept of depressive realism is hard to prove through testing. The whole premise of a test proving or disproving views you hold about yourself is impossible. What part of reality will be focused on? Is it reality that is perceivable to others or reality that the person wants to focus on. Not to mention, how are we defining depression? What levels of depression are we using? I know many patients who experience delusions and hallucinations due to their depression. What kind of judgement and perceptions will they have? I know patients that have no sense of reality due to their depression. I believe, instead of asking do depressed people have better insight - the better question would be do you view the world through " rose colored glasses"? In other words, what are people's life experiences and how do they equate to their perception of reality.

Reply

jeremy

about 2 years ago

Good insights here Brad. Isn't depressive realism making the point that happy people are wearing rose colored glasses?

Reply

BZ

about 2 years ago

To answer the question you proposed: I would have to agree with Michelle. Based on my life experiences, and living in America - I believe I can accomplish anything I put my mind to. In my reality, this is not a positive illusion.

Reply

jeremy

about 2 years ago

You could argue that the "American Dream" is an example of depressive realism.

Reply

Brad

about 2 years ago

Yes, but more to the point is people just aren't realistic. Depressed people, euphoric people, "sane" people, "insane" people, etc - all are not realistic. I would argue this has nothing to do with the type of lens you are looking through, but more to human nature.

Reply

BZ

about 2 years ago

You are correct. My point (not fully developed) was that depressed people can't see things through rose colored glasses, that is they are pessimistic. They are incapable of seeing optimism. Therefore, only seeing one side of reality, and thus limiting the scope of depressive realism. So, where the "optimists" fall short with positive illusion (ie I can do anything or I am better at things than most people) depressed people's pessimism looks more like reality (maybe we really aren't as good as we think). They may have a more "realistic" view of themselves by default. This becomes problematic when pessimism becomes reality. And, to depressed people pessimism is reality. Purpose of society? Purpose of life? These things are also seen as not having hope. Would that be reality? So, treatment becomes problematic because why would someone want to alter what is real? Psychiatrists are seen as bad and it becomes a barrier to recovery. Why would someone trust somebody trying to take away reality or distort it? My point is: I believe depressive realism puts a lot more (too much?) faith in a depressed view of reality as is, instead of challenging a depressed person's thoughts against what truly is real.

Reply

Earl Ricker

about 2 years ago

My friends who are not believers think I have unwarranted optimism in my belief in the hereafter that is promised in the Bible. On the other hand, I think they have unwarranted optimism about what is next for them after they leave this world. I think success takes a little bit of unwarranted optimism coupled with an ability to see and feel an uncomfortable reality. Then optimism comes when you can forecast a better tomorrow from a challenging set of facts based on knowing that Jesus will help you navigate.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Please be polite. We appreciate that.
Your email address will not be published and required fields are marked


Want your picture next to your comment? Click here!

Have you Subscribed via RSS yet? Don't miss a post!

More in Leadership
The Office Dunder Mifflin
Do You Steward Your Career?

Steward: noun a person who manages another's property or financial affairs; one who administers anything as the agent of another...

Close