Are there pitfalls associated with valuing happiness?

Are there pitfalls associated with valuing happiness?

by Jonathan Rottenberg, Ph.D. for Psychology Today


Nothing could be more American than the pursuit of happiness. Along with life and liberty, the pursuit of happiness is written into the Declaration of Independence as a fundamental right. Everyone I know wants to be alive, free, and happy. So what could ever be wrong with pursuing happiness to the fullest extent possible? The more you value your happiness, the happier you will be, right?

Wrong, says compelling new research.

In two studies to be published in the journal Emotion, the authors, led by Iris Mauss of the University of Denver found evidence for an alternative hypothesis: People who value happiness more are less likely to achieve their goal of feeling happy.

In the first study, the authors administered a questionnaire designed to measure the extent to which people valued the experience of happiness as a fundamental goal. Women who valued happiness more were less happy in life than women who valued happiness less. Women who valued happiness more reported that they were less satisfied with the overall course of their lives and were more bothered by symptoms of depression. Strangely enough, valuing happiness seemed most problematic for women whose lives were low in stress–the people for whom happiness should have been within easiest reach…

…and later in the article

As the authors conclude: “People who highly value happiness set happiness standards that are difficult to obtain, leading them to feel disappointed about how they feel, paradoxically decreasing their happiness the more they want it.” Setting a goal to become happier is like putting yourself on a treadmill that goes faster the harder you run.

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