Psychology TV

Bojack Horseman: The Psychology of Happiness

so if you had to come up with one overarching theme of what Bojack horseman is all about, I’d say it’s happiness and why certain individuals struggle so much to find it and why for other individuals it’s just automatic.

if you look at the three main characters on the show, Diane, Bojack and Princess Carolyn, when we follow their story-line, it’s really all about them just struggling to be happy, and to achieve this thing that people like Todd and Mr. PeanutButter just come so naturally to them.

this show has so many different interesting things about happiness, so I’ll delve into what are the different things and whether or not they’re true. so the show says a lot of different things about happiness, but the one thing it’s consistent about and constantly nails home, is how often achieving your goals and having different things happen to you, that you think are gonna make you happy, end up not changing your happiness at all, and this is absolutely true.

In fact it’s been studied, you’re can look it up, it’s called the hedonic treadmill, basically people are born with a certain genetic set point for happiness, and this is your baseline level of happiness and no matter what happens to you, whether it’s something like winning the lottery, or losing control losing the ability to walk and losing your legs, you will have a temporary shift in happiness, but in a surprisingly rapid amount of time you will go back to that baseline level of happiness and be no more or less happy than you were before this monumental life-changing event.

most people will never experience anything close to an event as life-changing as winning the lottery, so think about it if you can win the lottery and that won’t make you happy and you’ll go back to the same level of happiness, what hope do most people have in really changing their happiness? because most of us will never really achieve anything close to winning the lottery. so there’s the very bleak view that you really can’t do anything to change your happiness, that’s how you’re born and the happiness that you’re born with, that’s the happiness you’re basically going to have for the rest of your life.

There’s a slightly less bleak view that says you can change your happiness, or you can do things to affect your happiness, your behavior, and how you conduct yourself does have an effect on your happiness, but happiness isn’t something that you can chase, because paradoxically the more you chase it the more you try to be happy, and the more you force it the less likely happiness is to come to you.

there’s this quote on Bojack, where she says look you can’t chase happiness, you can’t force it you just have to be a good person day after day open up your heart and maybe someone’s gonna come in and make you happy, and that’s again the very bleak view that you can’t do anything to change your happiness, the slightly less bleak view is that we can’t really do anything to go and force it, but you’ve just got to convince yourself that if you hold out hope, and if you consistently do the right thing eventually it might come to you.

so what are some of the reasons that people aren’t happy? one is that our brains are wired and we’re biased in the way that we need way more positive things than negative things if we want to be happy, if we have slightly more positive than negatives in our lives we’re going to be unhappy, there’s a ratio where you have to hit and outweigh the negatives by a certain amount of positives to be happy, and it’s interesting when Princess Carolyn says to Bojack, “I could say 10 positive things to you and 1 negative and you’d only focus on the negative”, of course if that’s true and that’s to some extent the way we’re wired, that it takes so much positive to outweigh the negative, and as part of a survival mechanism, like it’s good for our survival if we’re so hyper vigilant of negatives. But when it comes to happiness that kind of sucks,

Do intelligent people tend to be unhappy ?

are more intelligent people less happy? I don’t think that’s true, but I do think that if you have flaws, if you have things you’re guilty about, if you have things that you wish were different, being intelligent and being very self aware of these things can make it much harder for you to be happy, compared to someone who might have the same flaws the same problems the same issues but less awareness and understanding of them.

In Diane’s book, the one she writes about Bojack, she says “he constantly fills the air with words as so many of us who are intelligent enough to see the things wrong but are unwilling or unable to really change” and that’s bojack’s problem, is that he’s very smart, surprisingly self-aware, sometimes not, but a lot of times very self-aware of the bad things he does, but for whatever reason he can’t change, and that’s in some ways the most miserable position to be in of all. where you realize how bad things are, you realize how bad your behavior is, you have the intelligence but not the will to change them.

At one point Bojack says “…that’s just one of the 10 billion horrible things that’s constantly going through my mind at all times” and you get the sense that one of the reasons he drinks and uses drugs, is to some extent just to turn down his mind and try to become a little less self-aware a little less intelligent for lack of a better word.

now there’s two of the things that the show touches on happiness, they’re a little more optimistic, so one thing is how pretending to be happy can actually make you happy” they say that if you force yourself to smile even if it’s a fake smile that actually does trick your body into actually being happy, He says “you know the secret to happiness, just pretend you’re happy and eventually you’ll forget that you’re pretending, and you’ll actually be happy” that sounds like nonsense, but actually they’ve studied it and that is a somewhat valid way to at least temporarily improve your happiness.

At one point Rutabaga says to Princess Carolyn : you are the star of a movie. This is the part of the movie where you get your heart broken, it has to be this way because this way when you get to the end of the movie, and you get everything that you want it’ll be more rewarding… meaning because you had this lack of happiness when you do get happiness you’re gonna appreciate it so much more. I do think that it is absolutely true, the low times can help you appreciate the high times, and to some extent if there was no such thing as sadness there would be no ability to conceptualize or appreciate happiness.

However this doesn’t change the fact that if you have a really low genetic set point for happiness, you’re never really gonna get into those high times, and you’re really only gonna exist to make people who have that high set point for happiness appreciate it more, because they can look at the low genetic set point of happiness, and say oh wow I’m glad I’m not that, I’m glad I’m so happy, so it is kind of bleak in the sense if everyone was able to go up and down, if everyone was capable of that, then this idea of the sadness helps you appreciate the good times would be a little more palatable and a little better to think about, but when you realize that some people are kind of always high, some people are kind of always low and only a few people can really make that shift up and down it’s kind of bleak

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