The downside of being too happy

Have you ever had the feeling that the majority of the people around you seems to be happy 24/7? Whether it’s on social media, TV commercials or magazines. You may be wondering what you’re doing wrong, but this could be a result of the general obsession with happiness in our society. Especially seeking positive emotions and avoiding negative emotion are overpromoted.

Although it is well known that being happy is a good thing, being too obsessed with happiness could be problematic. There are two reasons for this. First, people often feel less happy when they actively try to feel happy. Having expectations of being happy all of the time is linked to disturbances in mood. Second, people are less able to handle their negative emotions in effective ways when happiness is overpromoted. When people feel socially pressured to avoid negative emotions, they may feel like they are failing when they do experience negative emotions. Besides, obsession with happiness can result into riskier behaviours, shorter lives and lower salaries.

Research has shown that people ruminate more on their negative feelings and experiences in contexts where happiness is overemphasized. In one study participants performed an impossible task in such a context. They found that there was more rumination of their failure on this task, thus more negative emotion. In another study participants completed a questionnaire including measures such as negative emotions, rumination and social expectancies. The social pressure to avoid negative emotions turned out to be associated with rumination of negative thoughts.

McGuirk, L., Kuppens, P., Kingston, R., & Bastian, B. (2018). Does a culture of happiness increase rumination over failure? Emotion, 18(5), 755–764.

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