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Pharrel Williams And The (Spiritual) Happy Phenomenon

There’s the starving artist. The moody writer. The angry young man. The super-cool, ultra-serious musician who never smiles. The thoughtful psychologist who only laughs at his own jokes…

And there’s Pharrell Williams, the skateboarding Star Trek fan/successful businessman/pop star who’s caused (another) international sensation with his seemingly everlasting chart-topping song, Happy.

Today is the first day of Spring and the International Day of Happiness, which is why news sites are quick to feature Pharrel’s contagiously danceable Happy song, and home-grown Happy videos made by people around the world.

Two Types Of People?

There are two types of people in the world (okay, we know there are really more than two types, but for the sake of this blog post, let’s say there are two):

The first type, faced with others’ happiness, scowls and feels even more miserable than usual.*

The second type feels his mood lift and his spirits soar—to him, happiness is contagious.

Which type are you? Which type do you want to be?

High-Immunity To Happiness

Some people simply don’t “get” others’ happiness. Some only feel a sense of satisfaction, pleasure, or even glee when others are unhappy. There are many theories and some research on the nature of schadenfreude, both personal and political. In some cultures, schadenfreude is considered natural and acceptable, especially when it is directed at “out groups” (such as those of another political party, sports team, or culture). In others, schadenfreude is considered immoral, even evil, in virtually every situation.

Low-Immunity To Happiness

Others find happiness and joy eminently catchable. They recognize, perhaps instinctively, that we are all in this “life-thing” together, we all, ultimately, come from the same, life-giving Source, and that another’s pure joy is at least a little bit, our own.

But I Don’t FEEL Happy…

We all know about the studies that show that by the act of merely smiling, even if you do not feel happy, you up your seretonin and endorphin levels. These hormones will give you a sense of well-being.

Is happiness, then, denial? Well, perhaps it is a bit.

But isn’t denial unhealthy? Yes, deep denial of painful truths can be a block to personal growth and can ham self and others. For those with depression, denying trauma and suffering is probably not the first step towards happiness—acknowledgment, releasing emotions, and talking with a caring, compassionate listener are usually essential to healing.

But setting aside pain, and even pretending it doesn’t exist (at least some of the time), is vital to happiness because every single person on the planet has his or her share of pain and suffering. Light and shadow both are part of being human.

Joy Is A Spiritual Task

Western culture teaches: Go out and do this and that and you will be happy. Achieve this, buy that, reach this goal, check this item off our bucket list and happiness will ensue.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, the great sage and mystic whom we’ve blogged about before, teaches that happiness is actually a requisite of a life well-lived and our most important spiritual task. He teaches that happiness does not occur because of what we have in this world, but who we are in this world.

To find joy is the hardest thing of all. It is harder than all other spiritual tasks…Put all your energy into being happy. — Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

Perhaps making Happy videos is one way to begin to fulfill this spiritual task.





*We are not referring to people with mental illness, such as clinical depression.

Pharrel Williams And The (Spiritual) Happy Phenomenon

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2014). Pharrel Williams And The (Spiritual) Happy Phenomenon. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 21, 2018, from


Last updated: 20 Mar 2014
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 20 Mar 2014
Published on All rights reserved.