Weaving happiness into journalism

Happiness provides a rich source of inspiration for readers and writers alike, journalists among them.

Reposting on social media means we more often consume stories when off-balance and in isolation, sometimes without other stories to provide emotional counter-point. We should take care to manage the emotional impact of the stories we consume and those we deliver.

All this is likely to raise doubts over whether the results would count as serious journalism. After all serious journalism is meant to be hard-bitten, raw and cynical. When we think of something serious we tend to think of something sombre and edgy, while something happy is goofy. 

But happiness, as scientifically understood, is not about becoming a beaming emoticon. Happy people are not constantly elated. In fact they tend to experience an elaborate fabric of emotions, with plenty of negative and awkward feelings woven into a backcloth of positivity.

This makes sense even if we are not among the happy few. The things which make us happy are often imperfect or visions of imperfection: following a football team, a holiday, a film or novel, a picture, a piece of music, a group of friends or family. All have a balance of high- and lowlights.

The way we tell our stories is something we can change to reflect this without ignoring nagging facts and uncertainties. Relentless confrontational, provocative or alarming angles are unsustainable. Readers will tire and begin to mistrust such monotone impressions.

We do not need to ignore conflicts, crises, uncertainties or tragedies. In fact we should not. We need to face them to improve our understanding and foster solutions. But we also need to be able to come to this understanding without undue unease, which may mean we close down our curiosity.

This, perhaps, does not describe the mental state of many journalists kept going on caffeine, alcohol and a passion for their work. There is romance and excitement to this approach, but being overstretched makes it harder to write stories with an open outlook.

Communication requires recognition of our own needs and adaptation to the other’s. Happiness is among them. With imagination and consideration journalism can be woven in.