Psychological Grim Realities of Happiness: The Negativity Surrounding the Positivity
“Happiness” – undoubtedly the most desired feeling of this world that is why it was always an area of interest by psychologists. Recently it has been pointed out by various psychologists that happiness, which is associated with everything positive and desirable, has a dark side too, and like everything else excess of it is not beneficial but harmful same goes with happiness too.
In 2011, psychological grim realities associated with happiness was bought into notice when Gruber, Mauss, and Tamir published their study titled “A Dark Side of Happiness? How, When, and Why Happiness Is Not Always Good. They pointed out that happiness is harmful when it is high in intensity, experienced, and persuaded all the time, leads to the violation of cultural norms and impairment of social interactions.
Researchers have found that intense degrees of happiness may be costly as it can lead to negative outcomes instead of benefiting us (Oishi, Diener, & Lucas, 2007). Davis (2009) stated that while happiness can boost creativity but we no longer experience that same boost when we experience an intense level of happiness. Researchers explain that when we are extremely happy, our brains zone in on the physical manifestations of happiness and we become busy enjoying that happy moment instead of focusing on creativity or problem-solving (O’Faolan, 2016). It is possible that when we are extremely happy, our brains cannot go into problem-solving mode, thus making us less creative. Not only creativity but paying attention to details also are reduced when we experience intense levels of happiness as proved by the experiment of Schnall, Jaswal, & Rowe (2008) on kids ages 6 to 7 and 10 to 11years. They found that extreme happiness might have negative effects on a child’s performance, specifically with detail-oriented tasks. They explained that their results are likely to be because happiness leads to the assurance that everything is fine, leading to carelessness and eventually missing out on the finer details that may require attention to process information.
Studies have also shown that excess levels of experiences, emotions, and mental states can lead to becoming unhealthy (Gruber et al., 2011) and the same goes for happiness too. Researches proved that intense levels of happiness lead to an increase in the tendency of indulging in risk-taking behaviors like consumption of alcohol, drugs, unsafe sexual activity, or highly risky adventurous activities (Cyders & Smith, 2008). Gruber (2012) explains that when we experience positive emotions, we are likely to focus on things that will sustain that happiness. We become more adventurous and more likely to take risks to find ways that sustain those levels of euphoria.
Excessive happiness also leads to the disengagement with reality as Scott Crabtree, in his Thrive from 9-5 Online Course, explains that an extremely happy person and always happy, may not be completely in touch with reality. This disengagement from reality, as a person experiences intense levels of happiness, may lead to risky behaviors and dysfunction in certain areas of our life. Moderate levels of happiness allow us to experience unpleasant emotions, which help us to learn and grow from them and motivate us to keep moving forward towards our goals. As Deiner & Seligman (2002) put forth, there is a higher likelihood for students who are extremely happy to drop out of school compared to those who are moderately happy. They explain that a high level of happiness gives birth to feelings of superiority and achievement accomplishment and thus dropout rate is high in extremely happy students.
Any emotion if not expressed at the right time will harm you instead of benefitting you; the same is the case of happiness too. Gruber et. al (2011) stated that happiness can lead to several negative outcomes when experienced all the time in all the situations, for example: how will you feel when you see someone showing happiness at a funeral. Thus, apt expression of every emotion including happiness is important for smooth and congenial social interactions.
In this world, everyone at all times is in pursuit of happiness, whatever we do has the sole purpose of increasing our happiness but this never-ending persuasion of happiness leads to various negative impacts physically as well as psychologically. As well pointed by Crabtree that when we become desperate as we pursue happiness, or when we try too hard to become happy, this persuasion backfires and eventually works against us. Kesebir and Diener (2008) support that pursuing happiness can result in a paradoxical outcome. This means that the more a person pursued happiness, the more challenging it was to achieve it. Gruber and colleagues (2012) relate these paradoxical effects with those connected to achieving goals. They cited Carver and Scheier’s (1981) study where they found that the goals we set often come with specific standards. We use these standards to evaluate the way we achieve the goal and the actual achievement of this goal. Therefore, it becomes a never-ending vicarious cycle of persuasion in which ones trapped a person is never able to enjoy whatever they already had.
Gruber et.al.(2011) mentioned that excessive happiness often leads to the impairment of social interaction as it evokes certain other emotions (like pride, feeling of superiority leading to arrogance or even aggression) that hinders one’s interaction within society. Marta Zarakasa’s (2012) in her article published in The Washington Post pointed out that really good feelings can sometimes make us selfish, as when people are experiencing goodness all around they tend to ignore the pain and agony of others easily. To maintain this level of positivity in their lives they act selfishly towards others and sometimes may unknowingly cause harm to others in their state of euphoria. Forgas (2011) in his study how extreme emotions hinder social interactions. He found extreme positive emotions can make us more prone to stereotype thinking, such as making decisions based on gender and cheerful people find it more difficult to detect a lie, thus being more easily deceived than those in a negative mood are. He tries to explain that people in a state of elation feels that as they don’t want to cause any harm to others similarly, others are also not going to cause bad to them and thus, they easily believe others without looking for details or any investigation and so get deceived and cheated easily.
Thus, we can conclude that like everything else happiness also has a dark side. Too much of it leads to so many harmful physical, social, and psychological impacts. So, we should try not to be in constant pursuit of happiness as too much of anything either good or bad is not beneficial as the age-old proverb says, “excess of anything is bad”, same goes with happiness too.