The Dark Side Of The Modern Pressure To Be Happy

What the continuous pressure to be happy is doing to some people’s emotions.

What the continuous pressure to be happy is doing to some people’s emotions.

People who feel greater pressure to be happy report feeling worse all round, research finds.

The pressure to feel positive emotions is linked to more symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress.

It underlines the fact that the pressure to achieve what are, for many, unattainable emotions and ways of being is exhausting.

Ironically, then, the pressure to be happy can make you sad.

The conclusions come from a study that compared the well-being and the societal pressure to be happy of over 7,000 people in 40 different countries.

People who feel the largest pressure to be happy are those who live in countries which have high average levels of happiness, such as Nordic countries and Canada.

Dr Egon Dejonckheere, the study’s first author, said:

“The level of happiness individuals feel pressured to achieve may be unattainable and reveal differences between an individual’s emotional life and the emotions society approves of.

This discrepancy between an individual and society may create a perceived failure that can trigger negative emotions.

In countries where all citizens appear to be happy, deviations from the expected norm are likely more apparent, which makes it more distressing.”

The researchers used data from the World Happiness Index, which rates the happiest countries in the world as:

  1. Finland
  2. Denmark
  3. Switzerland
  4. Iceland
  5. Netherlands
  6. Norway
  7. Sweden
  8. Luxembourg
  9. New Zealand
  10. Austria

The United Kingdom comes 17th on the list, with the United States at 19th (the Canadians come 14th).

Feeling bad about feeling sad

Society’s expectations work negatively for negative emotions, just as they work negatively for positive emotions.

Other studies have also shown that people feel bad about feeling sad (Bastian, 2012).

When people perceive that others expect them to hide their sadness, they feel even worse.

As a result of societal pressure not to express negative emotions, people also evaluate themselves more negatively on top of feeling worse in the moment (Dejonckheere & Bastian, 2021).

Quite naturally, both these effects, on people’s thoughts and emotions, are linked to symptoms of depression (Dejonckheere et al., 2017).

One of the reasons seems to be that the culture of happiness increases people’s tendency to repeatedly think about their failures (McGuirk et al, 2018).

The study’s authors write:

“Humans value happiness.

Around the world, individuals share a similar aspiration to lead a satisfying and happy life, yet there is also an emerging recognition that this personal quest in itself may have well-being consequences.

Placing a premium on the value of positive emotion is known to paradoxically undermine our well-being, not only as a function of how we value happiness ourselves, but also as a function of how the society we live in emphasizes the importance of being happy.”

The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports (Dejonckheere et al., 2022).

How The Season Of Your Birth Affects Happiness In Later Life

Summer, spring, autumn and winter babies have different personalities when they grow up.

Summer, spring, autumn and winter babies have different personalities when they grow up.

There is a link between a person’s birth season and their emotional life in adulthood, research finds.

Being born in a certain season may also be linked with developing a mood disorder later in life.

The Hungarian researchers examined the personalities of 400 people and matched this up with the time of year they were born.

They found that people born in summer are more likely than those born in winter to have a cyclothymic personality, characterised by frequent mood swings, between happy and sad.

The results also revealed a link between being born in either spring or summer and being excessively positive.

Those born in the winter had a higher chance of being less irritable.

Autumn babies were less likely to be depressives than winter babies.

D Xenia Gonda, who led the research, said:

“Biochemical studies have shown that the season in which you are born has an influence on certain monoamine neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, which is detectable even in adult life.

This led us to believe that birth season may have a longer-lasting effect.

Our work looked at over 400 subjects and matched their birth season to personality types in later life.

Basically, it seems that when you are born may increase or decrease your chance of developing certain mood disorders.

We can’t yet say anything about the mechanisms involved.

What we are now looking at is to see if there are genetic markers which are related to season of birth and mood disorder.”

Professor Eduard Vieta, Director of the Bipolar Disorders Program at the University of Barcelona, commented on the study:

“Seasons affect our mood and behavior.

Even the season at our birth may influence our subsequent risk for developing certain medical conditions, including some mental disorders.

What’s new from this group of researchers is the influence of season at birth and temperament.

Temperaments are not disorders but biologically-driven behavioral and emotional trends.

Although both genetic and environmental factors are involved in one’s temperament, now we know that the season at birth plays a role too.

And the finding of “high mood” tendency (hyperthymic temperament) for those born in summer is quite intriguing.”

The research was presented at a neuropsychopharmacology conference in Berlin.

The Nutrient-Rich Food That Boosts Happiness 28%

One handful of this food a day can help improve mood.

One handful of this food a day can help improve mood.

Eating walnuts can improve mood by 28 percent, research finds.

The conclusions come from the first study of its kind on walnuts.

Professor Peter Pribis, who led the study, said:

“In the past, studies on walnuts have shown beneficial effects on many health outcomes like heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

Our study was different because we focused on cognition, and in this controlled randomized trial (CRT) we measured mood outcomes in males and females.”

For the study, half of the participants ate walnuts, which had been ground into banana bread so they were impossible to see or taste.

The rest ate the banana bread unfortified with walnuts.

Participants in the study filled in a questionnaire about their moods.

Professor Pribis explained:

“We used a validated questionnaire called Profiles of Mood States (POMS).

It is one of the most widely used and accepted mood scales in studies on cognition.

The test has six mood domains: tension, depression, anger, fatigue, vigor, confusion and also provides a Total Mood Disturbance score (TMD).

The lower the TMD score the better the mood.”

After eight weeks of eating the banana bread with walnuts, men in the study saw a 28 percent improvement in their mood.

Professor Pribis explained:

“There was a meaningful, 28 percent improvement of mood in young men.

However we did not observe any improvement of mood in females.

Why this is we do not know.”

However, other studies have shown mood improvements among women after eating walnuts.

Walnuts contain all sorts of nutrients which may help to improve mood.

These include alpha-Linolenic acid, vitamin E, folate, polyphenols and melatonin.

Professor Pribis concluded that the research is clear:

“Eat more walnuts.

This is an easy intervention.

They’re not only good for your mood, but overall health as well.

The recommended amount is one handful per day.”

Walnut research

Previous studies have shown that:

The study was published in the journal Nutrients (Pribis, 2016).

The Secret To Happiness For The Psychologically Mature (M)

The simple pleasures like a delicious meal or enjoying nature make most people happy, but the psychological mature often need more.

The simple pleasures like a delicious meal or enjoying nature make most people happy, but the psychological mature often need more.

The search for meaning in life promotes greater happiness in those with high levels of psychological maturity, a study suggests.

People with advanced ego development tend to seek out more opportunities for personal growth, the nurturing of others and overcoming challenges.

However, the simple pleasures in life also play an important role in happiness for people at all levels of psychological maturity.

It is the psychologically mature, though, that benefit most from the search for meaning in life.

Paths to happiness

These conclusions come from a study that looked at how people’s paths to happiness change along with their psychological maturity.

The researchers used a theory of ego development introduced by the American psychologist Jane Loevinger.

As people mature psychologically, Loevinger proposed, they attain new strategies for establishing relationships, making sense of life experiences and regulating the self.

Essentially, people move from a pre-occupation with their own desires and emotions to understanding how they differ to others, cope with their feelings and make difficult decisions.

In other words, people slowly learn that they are not the only person in the world and everything does not revolve around what they want, feel or think.

Higher ego development

The researchers tested the ego development, or psychological maturity, of 360 people by using a projective sentence completion task.

These were then assessed by experts.

Dr Evgeny Osin, the study’s first author, explained the test:

“For example, completed sentences such as ‘Being with other people is cool’, ‘… is something I enjoy’ or ‘… is awful’ indicate an early stage of ego development.

In contrast, sentences like ‘Being with other people can be tiresome but often useful’ or ‘…means observing their personality and learning from them’ suggest a more advanced stage of ego development and higher complexity of self-perception.”

Participants were also asked about their levels of happiness and life satisfaction.

This provides an insight into people’s happiness, but only a limited one, explained Dr Osin:

“Emotional well-being functions like a thermometer: we can measure a person’s temperature to assess their overall state—does their life go well? —but the temperature alone is insufficient to make a diagnosis—what kind of life is it?”

Accepting new challenges

The results revealed that people at higher levels of ego development continue to seek out hedonic pleasures, such as pleasure (say, from eating, travelling, entertainment etc.) and comfort.

However, unlike those with lower levels of ego development, they also sought out more meaning in life.

They had a greater desire for personal development; to reach out and accept new challenges for themselves and explore.

Age, though, was no barrier to psychological immaturity, Dr Osin said:

“Interestingly, in adults, the level of ego development is no longer contingent upon age.

While some individuals progress to higher levels of psychological maturity as they age, others remain at the impulsive or self-protective stages without further advancement.

The study demonstrates that the meaning of life is not an abstract notion, but a real-life challenge that individuals encounter as they attain a higher level of personal maturity.

It is highly likely that everyone, at some point in their life, will confront this challenge.”

How to experience meaning in life

Here are some quick tips from psychological research for how to inject more meaning into life:


The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology (Osin et al., 2023).

3 Simple Exercises That Instantly Make You Happier

Three simple happiness exercises that take just four minutes.

Three simple happiness exercises that take just four minutes.

Simple exercises, including reliving happy moments, can make you happier in just four minutes, research finds.

‘Reliving Happy Moments’ involves choosing a personal photo that captures a happy moment and adding a few words of description to it.

This exercise gave people in the study the greatest boost in happiness.

The results come from research including over 500 people who were (or had) experienced substance abuse.

Another exercise they were given is called ‘Savouring’ and involves noting and appreciating two positive experiences from yesterday.

This was almost as powerful as reliving happy moments.

Next most useful was “Rose, Bud, Thorns” which involves listing a highlight and a challenge from yesterday and a pleasure to be appreciated tomorrow.

Dr Bettina B. Hoeppner, the study’s first author, said:

“Addiction scientists are increasingly moving beyond the traditional focus on reducing or eliminating substance use by advocating treatment protocols that encompass quality of life.

Yet orchestrated positive experiences are rarely incorporated into treatment for those with substance use disorders.”

Dr Hoeppner continued:

“These findings underscore the importance of offsetting the challenges of recovery with positive experiences.

Recovery is hard, and for the effort to be sustainable, positive experiences need to be attainable along the way.”

The study was published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment (Hoeppner et al., 2019).

The Surprising Personality Trait Linked To Happiness

People with this personality trait are more hopeful and assess their lives more positively.

People with this personality trait are more hopeful and assess their lives more positively.

People who believe in the oneness of everything are happier, research finds.

‘Oneness’ is the idea that everything in the world is interdependent and interconnected.

This includes a sense of connectedness to other people, nature and life in general.

Beliefs like these are incorporated in many religions.

However, whether or not people have a specific faith, they are more satisfied with life when they have a sense of ‘oneness’.

Activities such as yoga, meditation and action sports may help to increase the feeling of oneness or flow.

Dr Laura Marie Edinger-Schon, the study’s author, said:

“The feeling of being at one with a divine principle, life, the world, other people or even activities has been discussed in various religious traditions but also in a wide variety of scientific research from different disciplines.

The results of this study reveal a significant positive effect of oneness beliefs on life satisfaction, even controlling for religious beliefs.”

The conclusions come from two surveys that included almost 75,000 people.

People were asked whether they agreed with statements like:

  • “I believe that everything in the world is based on a common principle.”
  • “Everything in the world is interdependent and influenced by each other.”

They were also asked how much they felt connected to nature and other people and how happy they were.

The results showed that people who felt a sense of ‘oneness’ were more satisfied with their lives.

Dr Edinger-Schon explained her motivation for the study:

“I recognized that in various philosophical and religious texts, a central idea is the idea of oneness.

In my free time, I enjoy surfing, Capoeira, meditation and yoga, and all of these have been said to lead to experiences that can be described as being at one with life or nature or just experiencing a state of flow through being immersed in the activity.

I was wondering whether the larger belief in oneness is something that is independent of religious beliefs and how it affects satisfaction with life.”

The study was published in the journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality (Edinger-Schons, 2019).

These Personality Traits Make People Happiest

Having any, some or all of these qualities is linked to living a happier life, study finds.

Having any, some or all of these qualities is linked to living a happier life, study finds.

Being enthusiastic and difficult to discourage are two of the personality traits linked to the highest well-being, research finds.

Enthusiastic people tend to have more fun in life and experience fewer negative emotions.

Being difficult to discourage is related to more positive growth, self-acceptance and greater achievement in life.

These were not the only personality factors linked to well-being.

People who are industrious, compassionate and intellectually curious are also happier, but in different ways.

Industrious people, for example, work harder towards long-term goals and are very achievement-oriented.

Compassionate people tend to feel more positive emotions and have better relationships with others.

The intellectually curious are open to new ideas and they enjoy thinking deeply and benefit from greater personal growth.

The conclusions come from a survey of 706 US adults, who were asked about their personality and different aspects of their well-being.

The study demonstrates that there are different paths to happiness.

Positive emotions are good, but so is feeling satisfied with your life, being independent, reaching life goals and experiencing personal growth.

Personality psychologists typically identify high extraverts who are low in neuroticism as the happiest people, as the study’s authors explain:

“The large literature describing the associations between personality traits and well-being suggests that extraversion (the tendency to be bold, talkative, enthusiastic, and sociable) and neuroticism (the tendency to be emotionally unstable and prone to negative emotions) are especially strong predictors of well-being.

But is wellbeing only accessible to the extraverted and non-neurotic?”

No, they argue, being a non-neurotic extravert is not the only way to be happy.

If you look more closely at personality, it turns out there are multiple paths to happiness.

The authors write:

“…the personality–well-being relation varies appreciably across personality aspects and distinct dimensions of well-being.

Not all aspects of extraversion and neuroticism are equally predictive, and aspects of conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness/intellect also have idiosyncratic, meaningful associations with distinct forms of positive functioning.”

In other words, it’s possible to be a happy, neurotic, introvert.

It’s just a kind of happiness reached via a different route.

The study was published in the Journal of Personality (Sun et al., 2018).

This Personality Trait Boosts Happiness

Acting out this personality trait makes people feel happier.

Acting out this personality trait makes people feel happier.

Acting like an extravert makes people feel happier — even natural introverts, research finds.

Both extraverts and introverts report greater well-being after a week spent being more talkative, assertive and spontaneous.

It is the first study to report the benefits of acting like an extravert over such an extended period.

The study also demonstrates that people who are naturally introverted can enjoy this exercise as much as extraverts.

‘Faux’ extraverts (people who are really introverts) reported no problems acting as extraverts.

Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, the study’s first author, said:

“The findings suggest that changing one’s social behavior is a realizable goal for many people, and that behaving in an extraverted way improves well-being.”

For the study, 123 people were asked to act like extraverts for one week and introverts for another week.

During the extravert week, participants were told to be talkative, assertive and spontaneous.

During the introvert week, they were told to be more deliberate, quiet and reserved.

People were informed that acting like an introvert and like an extravert is beneficial.

This was to try and dampen the effects of participants’ expectations.

The results showed that people felt better after a week acting as an extravert and worse after the week as an introvert.

The positive effect on well-being is the largest known among happiness interventions.

Surprisingly, acting like an extravert seems to cause people’s personality to shift in that direction.

Professor Lyubomirsky said:

“It showed that a manipulation to increase extraverted behavior substantially improved well-being.

Manipulating personality-relevant behavior over as long as a week may be easier than previously thought, and the effects can be surprisingly powerful.”

The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (Margolis & Lyubomirsky, 2019).

2 Personality Traits That Predict Happiness

Two personality traits that lead to a happier and more satisfying life.

Two personality traits that lead to a happier and more satisfying life.

Young adults who are more outgoing go on to lead happier lives, research finds.

Being more emotional stable also predicts happiness in later life, psychologists discovered.

The study looked at data from 2,529 people born in 1946.

They first answered a series of questions about their personalities at 16 and 26-years-of age.

Forty years later, in their early sixties, they were asked about their well-being and satisfaction with life.

Dr Catharine Gale, the study’s first author, explained the results:

“We found that extroversion in youth had direct, positive effects on wellbeing and life satisfaction in later life.

Neuroticism, in contrast, had a negative impact, largely because it tends to make people more susceptible to feelings of anxiety and depression and to physical health problems.”

High extroversion is linked to being more sociable, having more energy and preferring to stay active.

High neuroticism is linked to being distractible, moody and having low emotional stability.

Increased extroversion was directly linked to more happiness.

Greater neuroticism, meanwhile, was linked to less happiness via a susceptibility to psychological distress.

Dr Gale said:

“Understanding what determines how happy people feel in later life is of particular interest because there is good evidence that happier people tend to live longer.

In this study we found that levels of neuroticism and extroversion measured over 40 years earlier were strongly predictive of well-being and life satisfaction in older men and women.

Personality in youth appears to have an enduring influence on happiness decades later.”

The study was published in the Journal of Research in Personality (Gale et al., 2013).

7 Psychology Studies On How Nature Heals The Mind

From the mental health benefits of gardening to the healing power of birdsong — explore the psychology of nature.

From the mental health benefits of gardening to the healing power of birdsong — explore the psychology of nature.

People are spending less and less time enjoying the outdoors and nature with every passing year.

The recent shift away from nature has been incredible: some studies estimate people now spend 25 percent less time in nature than they did 20 years ago (Pergams & Zaradic, 2007).

Instead, recreational time is often spent online, playing video games and watching movies.

The psychological literature clearly reveals how beneficial the experience of nature is to our minds.

In nature people feel more alive, creative, in sync and less stressed.

Here are 7 psychology studies from the members-only section of PsyBlog exploring the psychology of nature.

(If you are not already, find out how to become a PsyBlog member here.)

  1. The Great Disconnect: How Humans Are Losing Touch With Nature
  2. The Reason Being In Nature Feels So Good
  3. How Nature Heals The Brain Of Stress
  4. The Mental Health Benefits Of Gardening
  5. How Nature Can Lower Your Risk Of Dementia
  6. Spend This Long In Nature To Feel Fantastic
  7. The Beautiful Sound That Reduces Anxiety, Paranoia And Depression


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