Is There a Downside to Happiness?
I write about happiness a lot because I’ve learned through my writing that you have a lot to do with your own happiness. I had always thought that the only downside to happiness was that if you weren’t ever sad then you wouldn’t know what happiness was. But an article in The Washington Post conveys a bit of a different perspective.
While happiness does have a positive impact on health in that it staves off colds, strokes, and even prolongs life, there may also be a darker side. Happiness can also lead to erratic behavior like excessive drinking, use of drugs, and binge eating. It can also make you poorer than those that find themselves gloomy more often.
Rich in Happiness, Poor in Life
Psychologist Edward Diener, a renowned happiness researcher, analyzed one study that followed 16,000 people from all over the world. Those that reported the highest levels of happiness on a scale of 1 to 5 also reported smaller incomes five years later. Researchers found that happier people were less likely to switch jobs or careers and therefore didn’t end up making as much money.
The happiest people are normally those that view happiness as a priority and if that means making less money, who really cares if you’re happy either way? We already know that money cannot buy happiness anyway.
Princeton University released a study showing that people needed an annual income of $75,000 per year per household and no more to be happy. Above that amount, more cash has no effect on "emotional well-being," or how elated, sad or stressed you feel on a day-to-day basis, according to the research.
People have a threshold of financial security and material well-being and once they've reached it, there are diminishing returns on salaries exceeding that amount. Financial security is certainly an aspect of happiness. That is---paying mortgage or rent, utilities, food, and then whatever is left over for savings--but beyond that, money has little bearing on our outlook and overall happiness.
Happier people were also easier to deceive. Another study by Joe Forgas, a professor of psychology at the University of New South Wales in Australia and his team, followed 117 students who were either chosen to watch videos that brought up positive or negative moods. After the first video clip, participants were asked to watch another video that showed someone being interrogated after being accused of stealing a movie ticket. The person in the second video was guilty. Those that watched the positive clip and were considered in a more cheerful mood were more likely to believe the thief.
Happy people are also more likely to be deceived because they trust more people. I may be naive in saying this, but good for them. Most people are inherently good and in the end we all want the same things: to be safe, healthy, and loved. Believing in others is no real fault.
But the heart of Marta Zaraska’s article on the downside of happiness was not in its side effects but in the problems with too often striving for it. Psychologist Iris Mauss found that those who are constantly looking for happiness are constantly coming up empty.
“Just don’t keep a score on how happy you are. What’s bad is when people make happiness their explicit goal all the time.”
The key here is to avoid constantly thinking that the grass is greener somewhere else, if you were doing something else, or if you were someone else. It’s about learning to live your life in the present moment, no matter whether that moment is happy or not so much.
Photos: Thinkstock/Ryan McVay