Every few days, I seem to come across another example of what is, surely, the crowning cultural achievement of the internet era: the Ridiculously Specific Single-Topic Blog. Consequently, I've spent far too much time perusing Angry People In Local Newspapers, Goths In Hot Weather and Glum Councillors (glumcouncillors. tumblr.com), each of which consists of news stories featuring exactly what the title implies.
But none has left an imprint on me so much as Unhappy Hipsters, a compendium of photo-shoots from high-end interiors magazines, showing the aforementioned hipsters relaxing in vast, minimalist slate-and-glass homes and all, without exception, looking absolutely miserable. In one picture, a fashionably spectacled man mopes beneath an all-white painting. "At the art opening," the satirical caption reads, "he'd been convinced that the blank canvas symbolised endless possibilities. Back at home, it was just one more reminder of his own desperation." Unhappy Hipsters isn't funny. It's haunting.
Why the long faces? In Psychology Today, the designer Ingrid Fetell speculated that modernist spaces might be inherently depressing. "Desaturated" colours may mute our autonomic nervous systems, making us less animated; there's also evidence that angular shapes trigger an unconscious fear response, perhaps because we've evolved to associate angles in nature – cliffs, rocks – with danger. But I reckon the hipsters are one more example of a phenomenon that, though well-known, remains mysterious: the link between gloominess and cool. Looking happy isn't hip. When did you last see a catwalk model grinning? No less a celebrity frowner than Victoria Beckham has labelled this the "miserable cow syndrome", and seems to appreciate its ironies. "People would be quite upset if I actually smiled," she said.
US psychologists have studied this puzzle: they cropped pictures of models in ads so only their faces were visible, then asked people to rank them in order of mood. Overwhelmingly, models advertising pricier brands were judged to look glummer. This is probably down to signalling, noted researcher Timothy Ketelaar: smiling indicates eagerness to please, suggesting low status. If a Prada model isn't smiling, she clearly doesn't need to, implying high status. Brands that target less wealthy customers use smiling models, suggesting lower status, and thus affordability.
More broadly, being happy is seen as indicating silliness, boringness or lack of creativity. ("To be stupid, and selfish, and to have good health are the three requirements for happiness," groused Flaubert, "though if stupidity is lacking, the others are useless.") The image of the brooding artist is compelling; cheeriness betokens a failure to comprehend the horrors of existence.
But this is backwards. Overwhelmingly, psychology's lesson is that we're drawn to happy people. Even if it's true that the most creative minds are unhappy, it doesn't follow that becoming unhappy will make you creative: that's like imagining that wearing a Nike headband will turn you into Roger Federer. I want to say to those uptight hipsters: Relax! Loosen up! Dance like no one's watching and – actually, ignore that last one. That glass-topped coffee table looks sort of fragile.