Trying to Be Happy All the Time Could Actually Make You More Miserable

When happiness is looked at as a goal or achievement, it may cause a bit of unhappiness in your life. A study looked into this theory and found interesting results. Here's how trying to be happy could make you unhappy.

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By Nicole Pomarico 

  • A lot of emphasis is placed on thinking positively, especially if you’re going through a difficult time in your life, but if that isn’t working for you, there’s a new study that could explain why.
  • According to new research, only 35 percent of Americans consider themselves happy, but why isn’t that percentage higher?
  • Trying too hard to be happy can make you more likely to obsess over the unhappiness in your life, causing you to be less happy overall.

At a time when people are finally starting to talk about mental health, the idea of happiness — or what it should be — is on many people’s minds. In the face of depression, anxiety, and normal day-to-day life, people are searching for happiness, but as it turns out, actively trying to be happy could be keeping you from ever reaching that goal.

According to a new study published in the scientific journal Emotion, over-promoting happiness in society and living under the social pressure not to express negative feelings publicly is actually making the negative experiences that inevitably happen in your life worse.

Basically, attempting to be happy and ignoring your sad moments is making those sad moments even sadder.

“Happiness is a good thing, but setting it up as something to be achieved tends to fail,” Dr. Brock Bastian, one of the authors of the study, told Time. “Our work shows that it changes how people respond to their negative emotions and experiences, leading them to feel worse about these and to ruminate on them more.”

The study included two experiments. In one, students were asked to solve anagram puzzles, but only some of them actually had solutions. One group was placed in a room with motivational posters on the walls and were encouraged to be cheerful, while the others were in a more neutral room. A third group was given a solvable puzzle in a happier environment. In the end, the students placed in the happy rooms were more focused on their failure.

In the second part, researchers asked 200 Americans to share their thoughts on negative emotions — in their own lives, and in the way society views them. Those who said they felt pressured to be happy were actually less satisfied with their lives.

“When people place a great deal of pressure on themselves to feel happy or think that others around them do, they are more likely to see their negative emotions and experiences as signals of failure. This will only drive more unhappiness,” Bastian added, according to TIME.

So how do you avoid falling into this trap?

Keep thinking positively, but remember that failure and negative emotions are a normal part of life, and it’s OK to feel those negative feelings. Happiness is definitely the goal for so many of us, but that doesn’t mean you can’t experience other emotions along the way — or that you’ve failed if you’re bummed about something.

“Don’t shy away from the negative emotions, because they are like a compass guiding your way,” Susanna M. Halonen, MAPP, wrote in a post for Psychology Today, unrelated to this study.

The key is simply learning to manage them negative emotions an effective way, so that they don’t overpower the positive ones.

More from Insider:

There’s a free class that teaches you how to be happy — here are the 5 best things I learned

How to feel happier, according to neuroscientists and psychologists

How to overcome a panic attack, according to a psychologist

For more great stories, head to INSIDER’s homepage.

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