Is it possible to be too cheerful?

Good News

We all know at least one. That painfully upbeat individual who thinks everything is wonderful and sublime, seems to exist in a chronic state of euphoria, and loves nothing more than to constantly let you know about it.

It might be a relative, an acquaintance or a co-worker, but their buoyant gait, blinding grin and air of unrepressed joy makes them impossible to miss — or sometimes tolerate.

You may feel guilty for your impatience. "How," you ask yourself, "can someone always be so cheerful?" and, "Is there something wrong with me for even thinking that?"

The good news is you're not alone. Far from it. Christopher Peterson, a psychology professor at University of Michigan, recently published an article that explored whether you could, in fact, be too cheerful. The answer, he concluded, was a resounding yes.

"I was just thinking about cheerfulness and whether it could be overdone. I thought of specific people who really annoyed me by their unrelenting chatter about how great their lives were. Maybe I was just in a bad mood that day," he jokes about his inspiration for the piece.

While it seems counterintuitive in a happiness-driven society that a psychologist would poke fun at Pollyanna types, Peterson is quick to point out that he's not criticizing the genuinely happy. He simply takes issue with individuals who display cheerfulness in excess, particularly when they fail to read the social cues of those around them.

"Being too cheerful has to do with being cheerful when it is inappropriate to be so, in the wake of bad things that have happened and/or when the people in your vicinity are going through tough times. Then you should rein it in," he advises.

That's not to say you should allow another's bad mood to bring you down. It just means a bit of sensitivity may be required if someone is going through a tough time.

So, if you're feeling on top of the world and happen to bump into an acquaintance who just lost his job, perhaps it's not the best time to gush about your fabulous boss and all the perks of your exciting career. A quick "everything's good, but tell me how you're faring" should suffice until he's back on his feet and ready to hear all about your good fortune.

Peterson also points out that even the cheeriest people are often putting up a front. For some, the idea that you always have to appear positive and bubbly supersedes any genuine expressions of sadness or frustration. This sort of "performance" can impede the overly cheery from relating to others on a more sincere level.

"Cheerfulness is attractive and pleasant. I think as well that we have learned that grumpiness is not, and perhaps in refraining from complaining, we can get too carried away in the cheerful direction," he says.

"[But] we have missed the point that it is also good to be realistic, sensitive (to others), and nuanced in our emotional experience and expression."

The trick is to be authentic, and if that means an extra dose of cheer then by all means let it rip. However, where people tend to get off track is in overdoing it just because they think it's what others want to see or hear.

"Vitamins provide food for thought here," Peterson suggests. "Health-wise, you cannot overdo some of them; at worst, excesses are secreted. No harm. But other vitamins may be harmful or even lethal in large doses. The trick is to figure out which kind of vitamin cheerfulness might be."

In the meantime, the same principle applies to the overly grumpy. Even if you consider Oscar the Grouch a kindred spirit, remember that an excess of cynicism can turn people off in equal measure.

"This is the logical extension, but it is hardly a principle to follow to achieve a good life. We might admire those who are consistently grumpy for their authenticity, but we would not want to be them or be around them," says Peterson.

Be happy (or grumpy), but above all, be yourself. Now that's something to be cheerful about!

(Photo credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)