I am a big fan of the positive psychology movement. One of my favorite authors on the subject is the late University of Michigan professor Chris Peterson. You would think that most positive psychologists would lobby for happiness for everyone. Peterson was much more of a realist. In his last book, Pursuing the Good Life, he posed the question: “can you be too cheerful?”
That’s a question I always wondered about. After all, whenever I attend dental meetings and seminars…everyone is oh, so happy. Life and dentistry can’t be all that good…I know my life has its ups and downs…just about every week, and sometimes daily.
But in public, most dentists are smiling, or at least talking about smiling.
In Peterson’s rant he sites a concept first discussed in 1899 by Thorstein Veblen, known as conspicuous consumption, which refers to the over the top and blatant materialism undertaken to show others how well off they might be.
He stretches that definition to a concept he calls conspicuous conservation which refers to people who take over-the-top ecologically relevant actions undertaken to show others how “green” they might be.
Quite honestly showing off how green or rich you might be kind of bothers me.
Peterson stretches the analogy to cheerfulness. People who relentlessly display a positive stance. I’m sure we can all identify someone like an ex-neighbor I had who always made a point to compliment me and tell me how great things were. One week after a recent surgery and after losing ten pounds, she told me how good I looked. And she didn’t know I just had the surgery.
Look, I’m all for the power of positive thinking, but I am aware the good things happen as well as bad things. And Chris Peterson is not just another positive psychology happiologist…he confirmed that for me. The goal for positive psychology is appropriate cheerfulness.
And Peterson tells us that appropriate cheerfulness and discontent with the status quo has likely led to almost anything that has improved in the world. I know that is true in my life. I once took on the mantra of motivator W. Clement Stone who claimed he was always inspiration-ally dissatisfied.
So let’s keep it real…our lives and our practices can’t always being doing that well. We all can’t be doing a big case everyday…especially if you live in New Jersey.