When the pursuit of pure happiness can go wrong

Thursday 7 August 2014 0 comments

Healthy people want to be happy. And there’s little doubt about all the benefits of positive emotions. Amongst other things, they make us more sociable, allow us to think more flexibly and they’re associated with better physical and psychological health.


Gruber and her colleagues have looked at positive and negative emotions in particular and identified four dark sides to the pursuit of happiness , each of which shows that sometimes the pursuit of pure happiness can go wrong:

1. Too much

It might seem crazy to talk about ‘too much’ happiness, but, like gorging on chocolate, you can have too much of a good thing.

Along with overall life satisfaction, happiness is about the balance between positive and negative emotions that you experience every day. To thrive, we need both the positive and the negative.

2. Wrong time

Broadly, we need them when things go wrong. Without those appropriate negative emotions, things can go awry. Here are a few examples:

·         People who are too happy don’t see the warning signs of dangerous people or situations and may be more ready to trust when they shouldn’t. It’s no wonder that happier people also tend to be more gullible.

·         The fear response prepares the body for fight or flight: but with a silly happy smile on their face, it’s less likely they’ll get away quickly or win the fight.

3. Wrong way

It’s one of the great ironies of life that sometimes the more you pursue happiness, the further away it gets.

And this is backed up by some studies showing that when people make a special effort to make themselves happy, they actually feel less happy as a result.

4. Wrong type

So, how can there be a wrong type of happiness? Surely happiness is happiness is happiness? It all feels the same.

Well, not quite. Take the simple example of flying off on your holidays: there’s excitement, expectation, a strong feeling of wanting to get started. You can’t wait to get there and start exploring. This is happiness that’s all about arousal and feeling excited.
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