Hello happiness... hello loneliness?
It has profound implications for the longer term goals of those who work in education: can we continue to improve things in general so that contentment rises infinitely? Or might we get to a point that is "as good as it gets"?
Teachers may want to think about how happy they are going to be able to make pupils, parents and managers. Is a certain amount of grumbling discontent inevitable?
Tarlow and colleagues suggest it's possible that excessive levels of happiness might be associated with psychological dysfunction. They suggest one rough measure of excessive personal happiness is defined by the average ratio of positive thoughts to negative ones over an extended period of time. A ratio of three positive to one negative indicates optimal happiness levels, they suggest; when the ratio reaches one negative to nine positive, it might be regarded as excessive.
The downsides of very high happiness levels, they suggest, might include a tendency to behave in an unrestrained way, causing discomfort to those around us, similar to the way the mildly drunk may lose their inhibitions.
People who have a 100 per cent positive self-image, it is suggested, might find their self-confidence leaves no space for humility or self-improvement. What the authors omit to say is that being too happy could be unbearable for the rest of us, rendering a person socially isolated in the longer run as a result.
It may be we prefer relationships with those who have a culturally acceptable level of self-doubt and a need for reassurance and support. The question then becomes: if it is possible to be too happy - what level of imperfection should we aim for in ourselves and our public services?
Dr Raj Persaud is consultant psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital in south London and Gresham professor for public understanding of psychiatry. His new book, Simply Irresistible: the psychology of seduction - how to catch and keep your perfect partner, is available from Bantam Press, pound;12.99. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org