What’s the downside to happiness?

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Can you be too happy?

Positive psychology came about, in part, due to a reduction exercise. It seems, according to several philosophers (most of whom were Greek and were men), that if you ask people what they really want in life, the bottom line is “Happiness”.

To wit:

What’s important for you right now? Let’s say it’s a job, or money, or getting along with your neighbour, or making a really great dinner for your guests, or getting that basement renovated or getting a promotion…

Why is that important for you? Perhaps for status, for a nice place to live, for harmonious relationships, and so on.

And why is that important for you? If you pursue this line of questioning long enough, the bottom line answer becomes “to be happy.” And if you continue to ask why being happy is important, you are likely to be met with an answer along the lines of “Well it just is!” – as if everyone should be aware that fundamentally, happiness is critically foundational to the human condition.

Perhaps it is. But not too much of it.

Recently, there have been a spate of articles about how being “too” happy is detrimental – for example: http://bigthink.com/ideas/40693 and http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/10/09/optimism-science-study-shows-optimists-block-out-information.html.

However, this is of no surprise to positive psychologists. Believe me, positive psychologists have known for a long time that being “too” happy causes problems. Excessive optimists (as opposed to realistic optimists, for example) are less likely to see doctors and have health concerns diagnosed. Excessive optimists take more chancy risks with their physical selves and with money. Excessive optimism just isn’t the goal.

A typical happiness scale will ask people to assess their happiness level on a 1-10 scale. A good place to be is about 7 or 8, maybe 9. Not 10. There are problems with 10. (Which also gives rise to problems in comparing personal income levels to happiness, because if happiness has really stayed stable around 7 or so, and real income has really gone up, why are we worried? Easterlin Paradox – who cares? But that’s another blog post…)

So is there a downside to being too happy. Sure there is. Just like there’s a downside to any excess of emotion which interferes with your safe and normal functioning in the world. Granted, that’s a broad and general definition, but hey – they are broad and general emotions. Just be happy with it.


Have you ever known anyone who was “too happy”? What did it mean for them, or for you?


More links on being “too happy”:





PS. Thank you to those who made me aware that my feedburner was not working as it should. Hopefully those issues have been corrected. So good to have caring friends out there in the blogosphere!



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Posted in coaching, MAPP, positive psychology
2 Comments » for What’s the downside to happiness?
  1. Dirk Schetsen says:

    Great stuff here LVS Consulting!

    Maybe you’ll find this article interesting as well: http://positivepsychologyprogram.com/dark-side-happiness-why-too-much-good-thing-is-not-a-good-thing/

  2. Thx for the article Dirk. One of these days, I’m going to write a post highlighting all of the “dark sides of…” research out there. Everything has a dark side – happiness, optimism, smiling, whatever it is. Everything in moderation – including moderation! 🙂

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