The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.
– Eric Hoffer (1954)
Have you considered that there is something dysfunctional about our deep cravings for the pursuit of happiness? It’s like most things in our lives. If we eat too much of it, it spoils the good of having enough.
This is about the dark side of the pursuit of happiness.
The Negative of Happiness
My profession in the mental health circles are guilty for propagating this overly simplistic and self-defeating idea. Sometimes it’s bubble wrapped in the paddings of positive psychology. At other times, it’s coated in the zeitgeist of “client’s goal” when they tell us that all they want is “TO BE HAPPY.” Shouldn’t we listen and abide by their goals?
This is the danger. We fail to see the negative impact of over-valuing something so innocuous, and forget to critically evaluate the shadow side of this pursuit.
A recent study by Ford, Mauss, and Gruber 1 caught my attention. I was totally floored when I read this. Published in a well regarded American Psychological Association journal Emotion, these researchers wanted to find out if there were negative consequences to people who valued happiness to an extreme. It turns out that not only do these “happiness-chasers” have worse psychological health, such as experiencing depressive symptoms, there were also associated with bipolar disorder! Based on the combination of studies that Ford and colleagues did, they were even able to demonstrate that participants with extreme valuing of happiness were at an increased risk of developing manic symptoms, as well as maintaining feature of bipolar if they were already diagnosed with such an issue.
I was aware that the clients that I’ve met through the years with bipolar symptoms sometimes have inflated and grand goal-setting, which spirals them in a self-defeating cycle. But what Ford and colleagues indicated in their study was a flashbulb moment for me.
This has important implications for us to come full circles and reconsider the ethos of knowledges-based, and sometimes hedonistic culture. Happiness does have it’s dark side.
As a psychologist, I’m going to take a more specific angle. I’m going to make the case about about the negative impact of our “happiness-chase” on our emotional wellbeing.