Why valuing happiness is a good thing after all

Why valuing happiness is a good thing after all

If you want more happiness it doesn't hurt to value and actively strive towards it. 

Recently, in one of our free eNewsletters, I wrote about some research in which the argument that actively working towards happiness was a bad thing was contradicted. In fact, there are a number of studies now that support the notion that as long as our expectations are realistic (always a caveat), then working directly towards boosting happiness is a good thing. 

One of the most exciting, young researchers in this field, Acacia Parks, published on this also recently and her brief summary of the ideas and arguments in this area is definitely worth reading…

Why Valuing Happiness Is a Good Thing After All

New data contradicts the finding that wanting to be happy dooms you to misery

In 2011, a paper came out in which the authors declared that wanting to be happy paradoxically makes it so that you can't actually be happy (Mauss, Tamir, Anderson & Savino, 2011). This paper is described in many other blog posts (here, for example), and so I won't spend too much time recounting that previous work here. In a nutshell, though, they found that people who really want to be happy are inevitably disappointed by whatever they experience. Even if they feel pretty good, it's not the elation they expected, so by comparison with their hopes, their experience seems pretty bad.

The end result of this study being published was a series of headlines saying "Stop Trying to Be Happy! You're Ruining It!" I have felt for a long time that this was an epic failure of the science-news cycle because, while the results of the study are compelling (it's thoughtful, well-executed research), the types of conclusions that have made it into the mainstream media are pretty significant overextensions of the data.

The biggest problem with these studies is the way that they defined "valuing happiness." In Study 1, it was measured using a self-report questionnaire that, if you look at the actual items, seems to measure "obsession with happiness" or "desperation to achieve happiness" more than simply thinking happiness is important or valuable. I completely buy that if you are desperate to become happier, it'll be difficult to get yourself there. However, I see a clear difference between desperation to become happier and simply thinking happiness is a vaulable goal worth pursuing.*

…keep reading her wise and useful thoughts HERE