Want to be happier? Science Says 2 Neglected Variables May Be Keys To Happiness
A friend – we’ll call her Polly, short for Pollyanna, for reasons that will become obvious – is tirelessly positive. Always in a good mood. Always enthusiastic. He’s the happiest person I know.
Except that, according to her, it is not. She says she’s often unhappy, especially when she’s feeling really happy … but then thinks she really should be, really happy.
Like when she goes out with friends. She’s having fun, but shouldn’t she be Following amusing? Or when his company gets a new customer; success is rewarding, but shouldn’t success be Following rewarding?
Since she knows that happiness is not only a good thing but that it is also good for her, she wants to be happier. So she works hard to be happier. In her own words, she’s focused and motivated and almost consumed with being happier.
Which makes her less happy.
She is not alone. Research published in Emotion has found that overstating the pursuit of happiness – in short, trying too hard to be happier when you are already happy – can work against you and cause higher levels of unhappiness.
As the researchers write:
Valuing happiness can be doomed to failure, because the more people value happiness, the more likely they are to feel disappointed.
Paradoxically, therefore, valuing happiness can lead people to be less happy at the very moment when happiness is at hand.
The result is a form of what is commonly referred to as “toxic positivity“. In some cases, toxic positivity involves trying to convince someone that everything is fine – instead of listening and empathizing and allowing them to solve a serious problem in a more natural and healthy way. .
In my friend’s case, her constant quest to find an even brighter side to every positive situation – a toxic inward-looking form of positivity – leads her to underestimate what she is actually feeling and deal with it. in an unhealthy way.
To sum up: trying to be happier makes her less happy.
What can you do if this sounds like you? (What can I do, because it looks like me sometimes?)
Focus on positivity, not happiness.
The researchers who conducted a 2020 study published in Journal of Positive Psychology divided the participants into two basic groups:
- People who value happiness: Happiness raters agreed with statements such as “I care about my happiness even when I feel happy” and “If I am not feeling happy, there might be something wrong with me. me “. They also agreed with statements such as “I see myself as a failure in life when I feel depressed or anxious.”
- People who prioritize positivity: Priorities of positivity agreed with statements such as “I structure my day to maximize my happiness” and “I seek and nurture my positive emotions”.
The result? People who valued happiness – who expected to be happy – tended to struggle with negative emotions. They felt like failures.
On the other hand, people who prioritized positivity saw negative emotions as a part of life. The result is a greater degree of emo-diversity: As research shows, feeling both positive and negative emotions is an essential aspect of overall health and subjective well-being.
Sometimes you are standing. Sometimes you are depressed. What matters is going through the lows to get up.
Or as the Stoics would say: although you can’t control what happens to you, you can control how you react.
The essential ? Focus on how you react when things don’t turn out the way you want them to. Focus on what you can do, not how you feel … and as a result, in the long run, you’ll feel happier.
And speaking of the long term …
To prioritize future joy.
The key? Prioritize current behaviors that are likely to lead to future happiness. Help others. To exercise. Work towards a long term goal. Build habits that make you healthier, richer (if that’s your thing), and wiser.
In short, seeing happiness as a journey, not as a destination.
And as a by-product of what you to do.