Happiness Not all it's Cracked up to be

Pursuit of happiness often backfires

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) All we ever want for ourselves and our children is happiness - right? That's what we say, but chasing after the bluebird of happiness can actually make us feel worse.

Not all happiness is created equal. And striving for happiness is actually depressing for some. Those are the conclusions of a new review article published in Perspectives on Psychological Science.

"Pursuing meaningful relationships is more satisfying than pursuing happiness."

Happiness and its pursuit have some definite downsides, according to June Gruber of Yale University, who co- wrote the article with Iris Mauss of the University of Denver and Maya Tamir of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Setting goals for achieving happiness and trying to do the things that are supposed to make you happy can set you up for failure. Studies have shown that people reading articles about happiness or watching a happy film can feel disappointed afterwards because they weren't left feeling happier.

The authors explain that when people don't end up as happy as they'd expected, their feeling of failure can make them feel even worse.

Too much happiness can also be a problem. One study followed children from the 1920s into their old age and found that people who died younger were generally seen as highly cheerful by their teachers.

People who are exceptionally happy may not be as creative and may also take more risks. This happy high is common in the mania that accompanies bipolar disorder, which can result in substance abuse and careless risky behaviors relating to money, sex and everyday activities such as driving.

Being overly happy can lead to feeling and expressing happiness inappropriately. It's obviously not healthy to be happy after learning of a car crash or that someone has lost a loved one.

People with mania can be short of negative emotions, such as fear, that reins in dangerous impulses and guilt that molds behavior toward others.

But there is one way to promote genuine happiness, according to the authors.  Stop worrying about being happy and nurture your relationships with others,

"The strongest predictor of happiness is not money, or external recognition through success or fame," Gruber says. "It's having meaningful social relationships."

Gruber adds, "If there's one thing you're going to focus on, focus on that. Let all the rest come as it will."

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 18, 2011
Last Updated:
May 19, 2011