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Happiness Should Not Be Your Exclusive Goal

First off, happiness should not be pursued as a singular goal in and of itself

First off, happiness should not be pursued as a singular goal in and of itself. As Nathaniel Hawthorne eloquently put it, “Happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” When people have the overt, conscious goal of making themselves happier, it sometimes backfires.

Psychologist Jonathan Schooler and his colleagues created this mindset in research participants by instructing people to try and feel as happy as they possibly could while listening to an ambiguous piece of music. This actually led to a decrease in momentary happy mood, relative to those who were not asked to try to be happy.

Constantly assessing and monitoring happiness levels can also be counterproductive, as the same researchers found in a study of people on New Year’s Eve in 1999, a night in which people went to great lengths and expenses to create a fun-filled night of happiness. It seemed that the harder they tried and the more they consciously thought about how happy they were, the more disappointing the evening turned out to be.

Indeed, there is some anecdotal evidence that big events that carry a huge expectation of happiness (high school prom, wedding days) can be disappointing, because people pressure themselves to be extremely happy. Therefore, it is important to remember that happiness is very often the byproduct of an enjoyable experience, but it should not be a deliberate goal that preoccupies you on a daily basis. So, try to avoid constantly assessing how happy you are and whether or not the activities are producing the desired effect.

Checking in with yourself from time to time is fine. Doing it constantly, on the other hand, is not going to be very useful. When advising others of these activities, you might mention that they often make people feel happier, but you may not want to overemphasize this point, or to encourage people to excessively monitor their effect.

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