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The Unhealthy Side of Happiness

We also know that the opposite of happiness is adaptive—stress (to a degree) is part of what keeps us alive. Unhappiness can spur us into action, help us get creative with our circumstances, and can help us get out of unsafe situations. Can you imagine if our caveman friend felt happy when he saw that T-Rex coming for him? Leaving space for other emotions allows us to adapt and survive in our surroundings and is key to our fight/flight/freeze/fawn reaction.

We also know that a relentless pursuit of happiness, and the single mindedness that comes from such a pursuit, can be counterproductive. Often, when we want something so badly that we seek it out at all costs, we shoot ourselves in the foot. Research has shown that too much happiness, and the aggressive pursuit of happiness, can decrease our efficacy, dampen our creativity, dull our attention to detail, and lead us to taking unhealthy risks.

While we haven’t quite pinpointed *the perfect* amount of happiness, researchers have settled around the 7-8 mark on the happiness scale. (With the occasional dip up to 9, here and there.) This balance of happiness and other emotions is the desired range—overall quite happy, with flexibility for the ups and downs of life.

Today, consider where you are on the scale of happiness. Are you usually on the upper end, or have you been hanging out in the 2’s and 3’s? How can you increase your happiness score by just 1 point, today?

Gruber, J. (2012). Four Ways Happiness Can Hurt You. Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. Retrieved from

Gruber, J., Mauss, I. B., & Tamir, M. (2011). A Dark Side of Happiness? How, When, and Why Happiness Is Not Always Good. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(3), 222–233.

Kesebir, P., & Diener, E. (2008). In pursuit of happiness: Empirical answers to philosophical questions. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(2), 117–125.

The Unhealthy Side of Happiness2