“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, It’s baked right into the United States constitution, a God given right that the government was created to protect. In the US self-improvement book industry is worth $10 billion per year, your happiness is up for grabs and there’s a ton of people out there willing to show you the true path to happiness. You just need to do things just right and you’ll be happy forever, or at least happier than the dude next to you. Being happy is healthy, so we’re told, but is the pursuit of happiness healthy? Is actively forcing yourself to be happy and plastering on a smile in an attempt to fake it till you make it really good for you?
Well quite frankly, probably not if an article published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology back in 2014 is to be believed.
The study title cuts straight to the point “Desperately Seeking Happiness: Valuing Happiness Is Associated With Symptoms & Diagnosis of Depression”.
“Although experiencing happiness is associated with increased well-being and psychological health, recent evidence suggests wanting to feel happy to an extreme degree, or, highly valuing happiness, leads to decreased well-being.”
Accepting one’s emotions, and not inflexibly striving for one specific kind of emotion such as happiness, appears to causally contribute to greater psychological health.
The study results found that highly valuing happiness is associated with elevated symptoms and diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder. “In sum, these findings support that highly valuing happiness acts as a risk factor for depression.”
The casual enforcement of happiness being something that’s highly sought all the time is rife throughout American culture. The study points out that “children’s storybooks produced in the U.S. are more likely to portray very happy characters compared to storybooks from other cultures”.
According to the World Health Organization the USA is Currently just behind China and India for unipolar depressive disorders, anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
So from a very young age children are being set up for a life where not being happy is considered abnormal.
So where can we go from here? A change of focus can free you up from the burden of striving. “Accepting one’s emotions, and not inflexibly striving for one specific kind of emotion such as happiness, appears to causally contribute to greater psychological health.”