Why your focus on happiness can be damaging

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Portrait of a confident, happy young woman

Focusing on the pursuit of happiness can be damaging (Image: Getty Images)

Happiness is one of the most important goals in life. During the pandemic, it tends to be the most searched word on Google. But here’s why the pursuit of happiness can be bad for you.

It can make us more self-centered. The active pursuit of happiness can exacerbate individualistic tendencies to seek pleasure at the expense of others (breaking up with friendships because it’s not fun), social (driving fast can make you are happy, but it endangers human life) or the environment (keep the air conditioner on overnight).

Ironically, that egotism, in addition to not serving others well, also makes those pursuing happiness more lonely. Focusing on making ourselves happy, we forget the basic principle of happiness, which is to look outside of ourselves for true happiness.

Those who score highest in any of the happiness charts report having good social support (e.g., helping others in need and being supported in return), living meaningfully for them to contribute socially (in an effort to develop skills to serve others well), experience the myriad of positive emotions often produced by being with others (we smile in a group more than 30 times compared to when alone).

This is the irony of the idealistic pursuit of happiness. Focusing on ourselves and wanting to be happier reduces our chances of experiencing happiness.

It can make us realize that we are not happy. The idea that we should look for it can highlight the lack of happiness in our lives. The more we value happiness, the more likely we are to be disappointed with our current situation. Worse still, the more desperate we are about finding happiness, the more likely we are to experience symptoms of depression.

Portrait of a happy, confident young man smiling

The pursuit of happiness can make us more miserable (Image: Getty Images)

It can make us blame ourselves for being unhappy. The implication that we should all be happy and that it’s easily achievable can make us feel like something is wrong with unhappy people, causing further suffering. Our obsession with happiness has spawned an industry of people and organizations that promise quick fixes to make us happy. This is just one of the reasons why a narrow focus on ‘happiness’ can be damaging.

Apart from happiness that is not good for those who pursue it, it is often inappropriate to talk about happiness when dealing with people in extreme poverty, experiencing political injustice, living through devastating conflicts, or facing disaster.

Simply put, happiness is not a priority in these situations. Advocating for initiatives that promote happiness can make people feel alienated and misunderstood. In traumatic times, advising people to be ‘happy’ can sound deaf or lack compassion.

Boost your health instead

If we focus too narrowly on the pursuit of happiness, we run the risk of forgetting about wellbeing, which goes beyond mere hedonism and includes relationships with people, life purpose, sense of accomplishment and self-worth.

Here are five ways to improve your health:

  1. Make sure you can meet the basic needs of yourself and those you care for.
  2. Allocate regular time for enjoyable activities, such as walking, playing a game, or watching or listening to something you enjoy.
  3. Invest in building and maintaining positive relationships. Meet friends, stay in touch with family members, nurture your working relationships.
  4. Stay connected to what makes your life meaningful. For example, support a movement, follow a faith, or commit fully to your personal or professional role.
  5. Make things better for your community by advocating for better services, volunteering in your community, or challenging unfair practices.

Christian van Nieuwerburgh, Professor of Coaching and Positive Psychology, RCSI College of Medicine and Health Sciences, and Jolanta Burke, Senior Lecturer, Center for Positive Psychology and Health, College of Medicine and Science Health RCSI

Click Click here to read the original article on The Conversation.

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https://metro.co.uk/2022/02/24/why-your-focus-on-pursuing-happiness-might-be-damaging-16161488/ Why your focus on happiness can be damaging

Sarah Y. Kim

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