That Th!nk You Do Chapter X+4 – Can’t Be Happy? Blame Your Parents

(Another chapter in my forthcoming non-fiction That Th!nk You Do (note the clever change in the title? Gotta love those creatives, don’t you?) The fascinating chapter numbers are due to unfinished editing. I hope to share the bookcover soon)

Are you happy? Do you have a positive outlook on life? Is the glass usually half full when you drink from it?

If so, there’s a better than even chance you’re from Latin American countries, possibly the US and could have northern Mediterranean ancestry. Not so happy? Chances are your from Asia or the Pacific Rim countries.

What…did you think I was going to suggest you blame your parents for your outlook on life? Maybe in another column, but this time out we’re going to look at how ethnic origins – ancestry – often pre-determines how you’ll deal with life’s situations big and small.

According to a now long-standing study involving five dominant ethnic groups, ethnic origins play a significant role in how people view their world. These results don’t surprise me, and I’m sure they don’t surprise anyone with a cultural anthropology background.

But why is one culture happier than another? Cultures that place higher values on self-worth and self-fulfillment – as opposed to group identity – tend to promote happier, psychologically healthier individuals. But wait, there’s more…

It also seems that cultures that promote open emotionalism have happier, psychologically healthier individuals.

Open emotionalism?
Yes. As in crying when you’re sad, laughing when you’re happy, talking about your feelings with others, showing and sharing your disappointments and anger, getting hot under the collar when appropriate (see Get a Good Mad On – It Might Be Good For You for more on this), …, recognizing that emotions are the basis of who we are so we might as well share them.

Why self versus group?
Cultures that value individual achievement (regardless of how the culture defines it) over group achievement have happier individuals. The group achievement concept goes back to group dynamics and will be obvious to anyone who’s studied 12-Step and similar programs – no one can be healthier than the group is healthy. This is true in groups, tribes, families, and yes you guessed it, societies and cultures. The individual who grows beyond the needs of the program is usually ostracized by others staying in the program. This is completely understandable in recovery programs as they get their strength by their group unity. Individuals electing to leave these programs due to their own growth threaten the group’s unity and identity and so it goes.

Ah, but that culture who salutes and honors the hero, the individual who selects a truly unique path and finds joy from it? How can you not be happy when you’re honored and respected simply by being the best you possible?

And that Open Emotionalism thing?
The parts of our brains that work at birth, at death and all times in between are the emotional centers, what is sometimes called the primitive or reptile brain. Some cultures inculcate their members with the belief that emotions are negative and that only logic and reason should be displayed (and Mr. Spock went completely freakin’ nuts once every seven years because he had to let his … emotions … out, remember?).

What’s amusing about that kind of cultural belief is that 1) “belief ” in and of itself is emotional in nature and 2) the worst thing one can do for their psychological health is have different parts of their psyche in conflict with each other. It doesn’t matter who you are, the primitive brain will win out. It’s far better to work with it than attempt to hide, destroy, or ignore it.

So a happy camper? Go ahead and blame your parents. Or at least where they came from. It has a lot to do with it.