Why The Quest for Happiness May be a Recipe for Misery


Are We Trying Too Hard to be Happy?

There is no such thing as constant happiness. It is something unrealistic.  People who put their faith too much on an imaginary notion of ideal happiness are bound to being disappointed and unsatisfied with their lives.

A survey on happiness in 2017 found that only 33 percent of Americans said they were happy. That’s sad to know. Why?

A new paper published in the journal Emotion said that people may be trying too hard to be happy, which likely results to constantly obsessing over every failure and negativity when they eventually happen.  Consequently, stress mounts up in the long run.

Study co-author Brock Bastian explains that ”when people place a great deal of pressure on themselves to feel happy, or think that others around them do, they are more likely to see their negative emotions and experiences as signals of failure.”

The Australian and American Experiments

Two experiments were conducted during the study. The first involved 3 groups of Australian psychology students. The first group of thirty-nine were asked to solve 35 anagrams in 3 minutes, 15 of which without their knowing, were impossible to solve. Their test was in a “happy room” full of motivational books, posters and positive ideas. The proctor was instructed to exhibit cheerfulness and casually mention about happiness.

The second group of 39 were given the same set of tests but in a neutral room with a neutral proctor.  The third group of 38 were given solvable tasks in another “happy room” similar to the first group. After the tests, they were subjected to breathing exercises where they were asked from time to time about their feedback on the tasks.


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Feedbacks from the first group are found to be more likely to think back on their mistakes and ponder on them too long. Eventually, feelings of negativity and disappointment at themselves arise. The other 2 groups did not differ so much in their feedback of the exercise.

The second experiment was conducted on 200 Americans, who were asked how frequent they experience negative emotions, and second, their views on how should society perceive these emotions.

Compared to the other respondents, the participants who felt that society expects them to be happy or who look down on people experiencing depression and anxiety, are those who are prone to stress about feeling negative emotions.  As a result, satisfaction and happiness among these participants are greatly lowered.

Accepting Failure and Sadness

A social psychologist at the University of Melbourne, Bastian underscores that the study is not aimed to disapprove happiness or denounce people trying to pursue happiness. Rather, the study emphasizes that knowing and feeling sad is normal and healthy. He further explained that if we keep on avoiding negative experience so as not to feel negative or sad, we tend to respond to failure badly once they actually take place.

To live a meaningful life is to be happy while accepting the bad. Recent studies also state that negative emotions can boost happiness, while failure is also important in innovation, learning and progress.

Source: Health

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