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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Negative Emotions: do we decide to feel bad?

I came across this Gallup world-wide poll, and thought it made for a very interesting observation of the human condition:

Here's the key chart:

What's most fascinating about this poll is to see how societies reporting high levels of negative emotions versus low levels of negative emotions are spread across all the various levels of socio-economic conditions.  If you compare this list to per-capita GDP by country, there is very little correlation between the two lists:

The reason this is important to observe is that addiction often begins with the assumption that having something means being happy.  Happiness is ties to getting one's way, but particularly when it comes to possessing things.  The alcoholic wants unfettered access to the object of his obsession.

A great deal of human unhappiness is also blamed on not having the things one desires.  We assume that poverty automatically leads to unhappiness, and this unhappiness excuses both crime and addiction.

Yet, we see here that wealth does not automatically mean happiness, since the two tables are utterly different: some of the happiest countries have the lowest GDP, whereas high GDP countries are all over the chart, including rather high scores of unhappiness.  What's going on?

There are social factors: Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures tend to be more emotionally expressive than Northern European cultures, and so one would assume that the callers would get higher scores in Lebanon than in Sweden.  Funny thing: Sweden and Kuwait are tied at unhappiness scores.  Social factors play a part, and certain social groupings can be seen, but there is still some wiggle room.

What's important here is to see that unhappiness is perceptual rather than measured by materialism.  This makes it a person, or even a societal, decision.  This is important to remember when dealing with addiction, because addicts will often blame their unhappiness on external factors.  This chart reveals on a larger scale that such is not the case: some of the lowest unhappiness levels are found in the poorest of countries.

Unhappiness is a choice, and sobriety begins when we start taking responsibility for our unhappiness, and quit try to blame it on other reasons.

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