Does Striving for Happiness Make You Lonely?

According to a new study led by Iris B. Mauss of the University of Denver, people who put a heavy value on happiness are lonelier than those who don’t. Until now, most research suggested that happiness has tremendous benefits on overall quality of life. “Indeed, growing evidence suggests that happy people have more friends, more occupational success, and live longer and healthier lives than do less-happy people,” said Mauss. “So what could be wrong with wanting to be happy?” She pointed out that people who place significant emphasis on achieving happiness may forget to interact with those closest to them, causing them to feel lonely. She said, “For example, people who strive for high self-esteem often fail to attend to others’ needs, and achievement goals can cause people to disregard others’ feelings. Like people who value self-esteem or success, then, people who value happiness might experience decreased social connection and ultimately loneliness.”

To test her theory, Mauss and her colleagues recruited 320 female participants, ranging in age from 20 to 60. The women completed an online survey that measured various factors, including the value they put on happiness. They were instructed to fill out a diary for two weeks, citing the day’s stressful experiences and their level of loneliness during the experience. They found that the women who valued happiness the most experienced the highest levels of loneliness during the stressor. “These findings are suggestive but not definitive of a causal relationship between valuing happiness and feelings of loneliness.” To confirm their theory, the team conducted a second study on 43 women in which the participants read a valuing happiness article, followed by a romantic film clip. The control group read a neutral article. Again, the researchers discovered that those who read the valuing happiness article reported higher levels of loneliness after viewing the amorous video. The team noted that these results seem to be part of a vicious cycle. They said, “It may be that the desire for happiness decreases happiness and well-being because it evokes loneliness. Indeed, loneliness is one of the most robust negative predictors of happiness and well-being.”

Reference:
Mauss, I. B., Savino, N. S., Anderson, C. L., Weisbuch, M., Tamir, M., & Laudenslager, M. L. (2011, September 12). The Pursuit of Happiness Can Be Lonely. Emotion. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025299

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Sandra

    Sandra

    September 21st, 2011 at 11:21 AM

    Placing importance on one thing and then giving up on everything else might get you in such a situation.but if you strive towards something while being aware of who and what is around you, then that is sweet. that can get you your goal and keep you happy!

  • mighty b

    mighty b

    September 21st, 2011 at 12:21 PM

    But if the goal of being happy is real and attainable how could that pursuit make you unhappy? It is only when we constantly strive for the things in life that are impossible to reach is when we become unhappy with our lives.

  • Felicity Logan

    Felicity Logan

    September 21st, 2011 at 4:48 PM

    I feel the majority assume that to be happy by society’s standards we need to have a wide circle of friends and relationships. Is that really true though? Or is it because we read so much about how we need or must have-as opposed to simply want or choose to have-that connection, to be fulfilled?

    I know I’m perfectly happy with who I am and my life and I can count on one hand how many friends I have. I don’t need to read an article supplied by a researcher to see if I’m up to scratch in that area and then feel sad if I’m not according to what they gave me.

  • Lexie S.

    Lexie S.

    August 12th, 2014 at 11:24 PM

    Thank you your comment was very helpful and true. I’m being a teen see a lot of people with a lot of friends seeming to have the time of their life and I ask why not me. Everyone tell you that the older you grow the less friends you have until it able to count on one hand. I guess I didnt realize it would happen so fast. The more I think about it the more I should grateful at least I know who be their through the rises and falls,and with the rises I won’t be caring other who only gone to leave when I fall

  • Star

    Star

    September 21st, 2011 at 5:11 PM

    You can decide to be happy right now this very minute. You can also decide not to feel lonely right now this very minute. Your thoughts create your reality. Live it, breathe it, believe it-because it’s true.

    It’s ironic that worrying about whether you’re happy or not can make you feel sad and lonely. Accept life as it is and be content. You’re alive, aren’t you? That’s reason to be happy right there.

  • Loretta Bonet

    Loretta Bonet

    September 21st, 2011 at 5:19 PM

    Listen to your heart before you do self-help books or magazines or TV gurus, that’s my advice. That’s the best benchmark you’ll ever have about anything, including whether you’re lonely or not. If you feel lonely, take action instead of wallowing in it. Get out and meet folks.

    If you aren’t physically able to do that, get online and do it. There’s literally millions of discussion groups and online communities out there, all looking for new members to chat with.

    Happiness truly is a state of mind.

  • Vivek Katara

    Vivek Katara

    September 21st, 2011 at 5:36 PM

    I believe she is talking about striving to achieve happiness and in the process of making efforts of achieving your goal (to which your happiness is attached to) you are so left alone (cuz you sacrifice your leisure activities and socialization, pumping all your energy in concentrating what you Wana achieve), to the point that even though at the end you achieve your set goal to which your happiness is attached by then you sailed miles away from those who would be part of your celebration. All you got left with is your achievement and yourself plus a little better recognition which might last for not a long period and in a broader perspective ALL THIS IS EQUAL TO LONLINESS

  • T.Hall

    T.Hall

    September 21st, 2011 at 10:17 PM

    Does Striving for Happiness Make You Lonely?

    I think the answer would depend on what defines happiness for a person. It could be one thing for you and another for me. If it is solely about money and in the pursuit of which you neglect everything else then YES. but if you can balance things and still seek happiness then you will get it, and without the loneliness factor. So NO in this case.

  • Lara

    Lara

    September 22nd, 2011 at 12:31 PM

    If striving for happiness shuts you off from other people then I guess that it will make you lonely

  • Manuela Lopez

    Manuela Lopez

    September 22nd, 2011 at 1:40 PM

    I think those that actively and consciously pursue happiness tend to ask the deeper questions in life and that by itself can make you feel quite isolated. In my experience the average person’s more interested in talking about reality shows or sports and keeping up with them than personal and spiritual development.

    Which is fine if that makes them happy, but for deeper thinkers, it can make you feel like an outsider if you can’t find like-minded individuals to talk about it with. Thanks to the net, they are never more than a few pages away on a search engine. It would be nice to have in the flesh conversations too occasionally though!

  • Amy

    Amy

    September 23rd, 2011 at 2:50 AM

    Nice way to put it, Hall. What happiness means to one person need not mean the same to another. And the priority that we give to various things is life also matters a lot.

  • Stephanie Wilcox

    Stephanie Wilcox

    September 23rd, 2011 at 12:50 PM

    I have a theory that happiness seekers are more intuitive than most and therefore feel emotions like loneliness more strongly. Intuitives don’t only feel their own emotions. They pick up on other people’s too and with the world being in the state it’s in, there’s not a lot to be happy about for most of us right now. They are much more sensitive.

  • dave j albereta

    dave j albereta

    September 23rd, 2011 at 5:08 PM

    How could this possibly be the case? If you are striving to feel happy shouldn’t you at least be a bit more happy than the average person? Unless these people are lonely to begin with and have decided that this is not where they want to be, therefore valuing happiness higher than those who have never experienced unhappiness.

    But this study needs to be tried a bit more before anyone makes conclusions that wanting to be happy is bad. I i’ll ready see people jumping onto the anti-happiness bandwagon in the comments, really guys?

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