Saturday, January 7, 2012

Happiness: Why Thinking About it Less is Really More

I was thinking today about things that make people happy - you know, like maybe cute puppies, or traveling, or even a big ol' bucket of ice cream. (That seems to do the trick for me, on occasion.) But I decided to put my own opinions aside and do a little bit of research to see if I could find some more concrete evidence of practices that were scientifically proven to make people happy. 

After sifting through a number of surveys, articles, and polls, I came across a post about 7 things that were proven to boost this emotion in people, and there was one in particular that caught my interest.

According to this article, concentrating less on being happy will increase your happiness. Yes, you heard me. Concentrating less on finding happiness will actually increase your chances of being truly happy.

Hmm. For how odd that seems, I think I actually get it. Here's the evidence that was cited in the post:

 "Wanting to be happy can make you less happy," study researcher Iris Mauss, an assistant professor in psychology at the University of Denver, told LiveScience. "If you explicitly and purposely focus on happiness, that appears to have a self-defeating quality."

The study, published in the journal Emotion, found that women who valued happiness more or focused on it more exclusively had trouble actually achieving it. Perhaps these people set their happiness standards too high, Mauss said. Or they may be focusing on personal happiness at the expense of things that really make people happy, like relationships with friends and family.

It's not that trying to be happy is a lost cause, Mauss said, it's just that you may want to pursue activities that make you happy, rather than happiness itself.

After mulling this over for a bit, I came to understand that when it comes to thinking about happiness, less really is more. Have you not noticed that the more you think about what it would take to be happy - about the things that you don't have that you think would improve your life - it only makes you feel less appreciative, a bit more sad, and maybe even depressed about the things that you do have?


But what I think is even more important to learn from this finding is the last piece of this quote: " may want to pursue activities that make you happy, rather than happiness itself." Exactly!

No one person can set the definition for "happiness", as it represents something different for every single person on earth. So to pursue such an non-concrete, faint idea at a high level will leave us always reaching for something more. Only you can establish what happiness means to you, and only you can make the decision to pursue the people, places, and things in life that bring this emotion into your life. 

I'd love to hear what you think about this. So when it comes to thinking about happiness, do you believe that less is more?

Keep Smiling,


  1. Hi Vanessa:
    This makes perfect sense to me. Here's why:
    When you're constantly searching for something, are you ever in the present moment? To be happy I find you have to be present. You can't be thinking what will happen tomorrow, next week, next month.

    If you're looking for happiness it's the same thing as living your life in advance. How can anyone truly be happy if they're always seeking the next best thing? The next way to happiness?

    Be present as Eckhart Tolle states in his book The Power of Now.

    1. Chris: Loving your incredible insight here. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! We definitely must be in the present!


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