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How to campaign for happiness we end up making unhappy

The pursuit of happiness has become one of the most important issues in our societies, a trend exacerbated by times of economic crisis, social and political that we are suffering. We are surrounded by messages that invite us to seek happiness. And although many of these messages can be honest, what is true is that they also have their dark side.

A study a few months ago, reviewed in an excellent manner in the blog Research Digest, shows us the negative effects of certain ways of understanding positive thinking: according to the authors, the abundance of social messages that encourage us to be happy can end up making us feel more sad.

The authors interviewed hundreds of australian students and japanese, and found that those who believed more strongly that society expected you to try to be happy tended to evaluate their negative emotions more negatively. Thus, to believe that there is an expectation of culture to try to be happy is associated with feeling sad by being sad.

And what is more: the individuals surveyed that they felt this social expectation more strongly also expressed feeling negative emotions more frequently and have a lower well-being.

The researchers conducted two experiments with individuals australians based on the phenomenon of “priming”: the participants were invited to read newspaper articles that talked about happiness, and then ask them to esciribieran about a negative event that had taken place in their lives.

Those individuals who had been provided with articles that said that sadness is infectious, or that people are sad, they are rejected by the other, they experience more negative emotions after recalling a negative event from their lives. In contrast, those individuals who read articles which said that the people who are sad are accepted and loved, experienced less negative emotions after recalling the event.

In this way, a reminder of the intolerance of the society towards negative emotions may aggravate the own negative emotions that we feel.

There is an aspect of study that highlights aptly the input of Research Digest. The authors created a control condition, in which individuals were provided with articles on fertilizers, and thus are not sharp in any sense, neither in favor nor in against of happiness. In this case, the participants claimed to experience the same degree of negative emotions that the participants who read articles about the intolerance of the society to the sadness. And this suggests that the social intolerance to the sadness is so widespread that it is not necessary to have a reminder that we should feel bad for feeling sad. The authors say:

Social pressures appear to be highly normative and particularly so within Western cultures

The authors of the article include a look especially insidious social expectations: set emotional objectives that are difficult to abandon. Thus, the profusion of reminders of the value of the happiness ensures that persons embarking, explicitly or implicitly, on the achievement of these objectives, but avoid constantly the sadness is rather difficult to achieve. The irony, then, is that:

promoting particular emotional states as more desirable than others may achieve more harm than good