Putting too much value on being happy, paradoxically makes that happiness more difficult to achieve, research finds.
In fact, a greater need to enjoy experiences is linked to more depressive symptoms.
In other words, people who push themselves to feel happy can end up feeling worse.
One reason is down to disappointment.
Imagine listening to some music and trying to force oneself to enjoy it more.
The disappointment felt if it does not work could make one feel worse than if they had not bothered trying to feel happier.
None of this means that pursuing happiness is a waste of time — it just has to be done in the right way.
A happiness culture
There is also a cultural factor to consider.
Culture plays an important part in how we think about happiness, the new study reveals.
Researchers carried out happiness surveys on groups of people in the UK and EU and compared them to previous results from people in the US.
The results showed that people in the US and the UK who valued happiness more also found it harder to focus on and savour positive experiences.
Dr Julia Vogt, study co-author, explained:
“We observed that the inability of participants to focus attention while feeling a range of emotions was a major factor in this idea of not being able to savor a positive experience.”
However, the link was not as strong in the EU, suggesting that culture is a factor.
Dr Vogt continued:
“The relationship between valuing happiness and depressive symptoms was seen far more significantly in UK [and US] participants than those from other nationalities or dual citizens.
We don’t go so far as to test what those differences are, but there seems to be a significant divide between English-speaking western cultures and other cultures when it comes to how our internal value of experiencing happiness shapes our experiences and mood.”
→ Read on about sustainable happiness.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the Journal of Happiness Studies (Kahriz et al., 2019).