Chasing Happiness Can Make Us Sad

Yes, it’s great to be happy. What’s not great is trying to be happy and not succeeding. In fact, researchers at the University of Melbourne are convinced that pressure to feel happy is contributing to depression. A U of Melbourne news release reports that social psychologist Brock Bastian has found that depression rates are higher in countries that place a premium on happiness. “Rather than being the by-product of a life well-lived, feeling happy has become a goal in itself,” says Bastian. “Smiling faces beam at us from social media and happiness gurus flog their latest emotional quick fixes, reinforcing the message that we should aim to maximize our positive emotions and avoid our negative ones. If we fail to live up to that, what effect does it have on us?” Bastian studied the relationship between the social expectations not to experience negative emotions, and the occurrence of depressive symptoms, looking at daily diary entries of 112 people with elevated depression scores. Bastion’s analysis showed that the more a participant felt social pressure not to feel sad or anxious, the more likely they were to show an increase in depressive symptoms.  “We’re finding that over-emphasising happiness – the importance of seeking positive emotion and avoiding negative emotion – has implications for how people respond to their negative emotional experiences,” he says. “We think we should be happy like we’re expected to be, and when we’re not, it can make us miserable.”

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