22 Sep The pressure to avoid negative emotions might help explain why some approaches to happiness backfire
via PsyPost by Eric Dolan
New research published in The Journal of Positive Psychology has examined the paradoxical effects of valuing happiness. The findings suggest that people who place a high value on feeling happy tend to also feel pressured to avoid negative emotional experiences, which in turn is associated with reduced psychological well-being.
“Happiness — one of the most sought-after values in the Western world today — is shown in research to be beneficial for one’s interpersonal relationships, career prospects and overall wellbeing. Yet curiously a sect of recent research has challenged the efficacy of this Western cultural ideal, revealing that placing a high value on one’s happiness can, paradoxically, lead to less happiness,” explained lead researcher Ashley Humphrey, a lecturer in psychology at Federation University Australia
“This phenomenon is termed in the literature ‘valuing happiness’ and is understood to be counter-intuitive to happiness due to the unrealistic resultant pressure people can place on themselves to feel happy at all times.”
“In response to this understanding, some research has suggested that when people prioritize behaviors that maximize the likelihood of future happiness, however, rather than attempting to engage emotional feelings of happiness ‘in the moment,’ people experience an increase in the inducement of positive emotions, higher levels of life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptomology,” Humphrey said.
“We were curious to find out whether one of the reasons this might be the case is the different way people may orient towards their negative emotional states in this approach, as opposed to how they do so when they value happiness.”
For their study, the researchers surveyed 510 U.S. participants via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform. Humphrey and his colleagues found that people who tended to place a high value on happiness also tended to devalue negative emotions, which in turn was associated with greater depressive symptomology, lower life satisfaction, and lower self-esteem.
In other words, participants who agreed with statements such as “How happy I am at any given moment says a lot about how worthwhile my life is” were more likely to agree with statements such as “I tend to place a lot of pressure on myself not to feel depressed or anxious,” which partially explained their reduced psychological well-being…
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