When the Pursuit of Happiness is Actually Making You Unhappy

When the Pursuit of Happiness is Actually Making You Unhappy

When the Pursuit of Happiness is Actually Making You Unhappy

People generally like to feel happy, but achieving a state of happiness takes time and effort. Research has found that people who pursue happiness often feel like they don’t have enough time in the day, and this paradoxically makes them feel unhappy.

Happiness listA study in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, investigated how the pursuit of happiness, as well as the state of being happy, influenced people’s perception of time. Some participants were either instructed to list things that would make them happier or asked to try to make themselves feel happy while watching a dull movie about building bridges. This made them think about happiness as a goal they tried to pursue. Other study participants came to think of happiness as a goal that they had already accomplished. They watched a slapstick comedy (rather than the bridge movie) or they listed things that are already making them happy. Afterwards, all participants reported how much free time they felt they had.

Pursuing happiness caused the participants to think of time as scarce. The researchers’ main findings showed that a person’s perception of time scarcity is influenced by their pursuit of (often unattainable) happiness goals. For participants who felt that they had achieved their goal of being happy to some degree, the feeling that time was scarce decreased.

But, time seemed to vanish during the pursuit of happiness when people saw happiness as a goal they had to continuously chase after. The research further underscores that people have different concepts about happiness, which influence how they perceive the time they have to achieve it. This adds to the growing body of research suggesting that the pursuit of happiness can ironically undermine well-being. However, this study shows that believing that we have achieved some happiness is tied to feeling like we have more time to appreciate it.

Given the influence that time availability has on people’s decision-making and well-being, it remains essential to understand when, why, and how we use our time in pursuing happiness and other goals. Engaging in experiences and savoring the positive feelings associated with them requires more time than maybe buying yourself something new. So feeling a lack of time ends up leading us to use less effective options like material possessions to make ourselves happy instead of enjoying meaningful experiences. Feeling pressed for time also makes people less willing to do things that promote positive emotions like spending time helping others or volunteering.

Worrying less about pursuing happiness as a never-ending goal might just end up giving us more time and more happiness. Sounds like a good reason to get out your gratitude journals and list all the things that are making you happy right now!


Authored by:  Kiara Moore, PhD, LCSW

Journal Source: Aekyoung Kim, Sam J. Maglio. Vanishing time in the pursuit of happiness. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 2018. Retreived from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180312104036.htm