Is Seeking Happiness Making You Sad?

Like searching for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, finding happiness may prove elusive. Recent studies investigated the way in which one values happiness has an influence on one’s actual feelings of well-being. Evidently, focusing on the goal of happiness could actually make you unhappy.

It appears that those who placed a high value on happiness were not necessarily any happier.  Furthermore, valuing happiness more and trying harder to feel happy, can actually lead to greater disappointment.

In one study, happiness was considered to be the feeling of pleasure. The participants were asked to describe how they felt about happiness and these were compared to their level of stress and happiness. While happiness didn’t appear to be connected to their values, those who were less satisfied with their lives were more depressed.

Another study investigated what effect changes in women’s values had on their subjective well-being. Women watched short film clips and rated their positive and negative feelings on a scale.  Those who were encouraged to value happiness more tried harder to feel happy after watching a sad film clip.  Consequentially, however, they actually experienced a lower level of well-being.

There are, of course, a myriad of factors that could potentially affect happiness.  In particular, cultural influences have a lot to do with perceived happieness.

The study results could have important implications for the self-help industry, which encourages people to seek greater happiness. Valuing happiness doesn’t need to be self-defeating, but the results suggest we should not try too hard to direct our own emotional responses. Apparently, the concept of “trying to hard” can be applied to happiness as well. Perhaps we just need to allow ourselves to feel the full spectrum of emotions that life may elicit and fully enjoy all of the spontaneous happiness we can experience.

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