Can Happiness Be Bad for You?

According to a recent article, certain types of happiness can have negative emotional consequences. Researchers state that striving for happiness by focusing on happy things or being thankful may backfire. Although the techniques are not bad, June Gruber, co-author from Yale says, “…when you’re doing it with the motivation or expectation that these things ought to make you happy, that can lead to disappointment and decreased happiness.” Iris Mauss of the University of Denver conducted a study in which people who read or watched something that celebrated happiness felt worse than people who viewed something that never produced to happiness at all. The researchers suggest that when people expect to feel better and don’t, they may experience more negative emotions as a result of feeling as if they had failed.

Another study followed people from childhood until death and discovered that those who died at a younger age were most often described as being happy and cheerful. Previous research has suggested that people who experience extreme happiness, such as people with bipolar who experience manic episodes, often engage in riskier behavior and are less creative than their less happy counterparts.

This new research also identified inappropriate happiness, which can be found in those people experiencing manic episodes, can also be problematic. Reacting excitedly or positively to traumatic news, for instance, can create a negative situation. Additionally, absence of negative emotions, such as fear or guilt, can cause someone to behave in ways that harm themselves or others. In a related article, Gruber explains that psychology has identified one factor that is most likely to influence a person’s happiness. She says, “The strongest predictor of happiness is not money, or external recognition through success or fame. It’s having meaningful social relationships.” She adds, “If there’s one thing you’re going to focus on, focus on that. Let all the rest come as it will.”

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

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

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  • John Lee LMHC

    John Lee LMHC

    May 19th, 2011 at 2:15 PM

    You are right! There is nothing like having close friends especially during rocky times in life. Sometimes listenning to upbeat music or calling a friend can add to one’s happiness.
    Many have a false hope that a self help book will help them. Like the author says sometimes expecting something to help can be depressing.

    I’ve found happiness comes from a conclusion of the mind to be happy!

  • arthur


    May 19th, 2011 at 6:57 PM

    happiness as a bad thing? I don’t think so…but as you have described,if somebody expects happiness n doesn’t get enough that can be a bad thing…but happiness is not to be blamed here…rather it is the lack of sufficient happiness…it is the greed of us humans…!

  • Penny Rayas

    Penny Rayas

    May 19th, 2011 at 9:57 PM

    To my experience supressing feelings such as anger, fear and sadness and trying to always be happy can lead to unhappiness. Nobody can be happy all the time. Suprising feelings that we find unpleasent can lead to not feeling much at all at first and then into depression. I am not suprised at the findings at all. Yes having good relationships can help us throught life.

  • danielle


    May 20th, 2011 at 4:36 AM

    There is no way that actually being happy could make things bad in your life! Now I can totally see where if you have unrealistic goals and expectations and think that these are things that will make you happy and then that turns out not to be the case, I know that this can be disappointing. But to be truly happy with your life, how in the world could that have any negative consequences?

  • Gabe K.

    Gabe K.

    May 20th, 2011 at 9:11 AM

    I agree that everything else, a successful career or a bank account brimming over with money, pales into insignificance if you don’t have those meaningful relationships.

    Without close family and friends, there’s no-one to celebrate your life with nor do you get the pleasure of celebrating and being part of theirs. They are what matters. Happiness will fall into place if you have them.

  • Nick


    May 20th, 2011 at 7:00 PM

    Although it’s true that relationships matter a lot in our lives,I do not agree that happiness can be a bad thing-for the simple fact that happiness is,well,happiness-a good thing!

  • cheri


    May 21st, 2011 at 6:29 AM

    I suppose that anything when taken to the extreme can be bad for you but come on! Being happy? That is the most ridiculous thing that I have ever heard of. I thought that the point of living was to live the best life possible and to discover a way to be happy with that. Now this sounds like you are promoting that we should all just mope around all day, that it is not going to make a diffence anyway. Well I refuse to believe that. I have goals and I have dreams and I have still found a way to be happy.

  • Trevor Swanson

    Trevor Swanson

    May 21st, 2011 at 2:56 PM

    “Although the techniques are not bad, June Gruber, co-author from Yale says, “…when you’re doing it with the motivation or expectation that these things ought to make you happy, that can lead to disappointment and decreased happiness.””

    I guess Ms Gruber never heard the words of C.S.Lewis, reflecting upon the loss of his beloved wife.

    “The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.”

    In life, there is always balance.

  • alice


    May 22nd, 2011 at 11:42 PM

    it is nevergood to be expecting something nice and then not actually having yes,maybe this finding does have some truth in it.happiness,or rather,illusionary happiness that did not materialize CAN be bad for you.

  • Mae


    May 23rd, 2011 at 4:49 AM

    Pretty irresponsible to compare being truly happy with manic episodes. These are completely different things. Of course those with manic episodes are only going to be happy on the surface. this is an illness that cannot be compared with real happiness.

  • Ucasur


    May 23rd, 2011 at 6:54 PM

    I think statement says it all about happiness: “The strongest predictor of happiness is not money, or external recognition through success or fame. It’s having meaningful social relationships.”

    I know from experience with that not having a close family to turn to, especially when life gets rough, that it has been a very hard and lonely road. Close family and friends are what really matter in life!

  • Jane Colby

    Jane Colby

    May 29th, 2011 at 10:21 PM

    This goes against the grain of every single thing I’ve heard about moods.

    Unless it’s an aberrant part of the mind that says it’s better to die happy than to suffer through the indignities that advancing years bestow upon us…

    I’m sorry but I do not see any connection between a good mood and a short lifespan whatsoever.

  • Stewart Grisham

    Stewart Grisham

    May 29th, 2011 at 11:17 PM

    The cause of this might be because the happier you are, the further you have to fall on the happiness scale. If something ruins your good mood, you can become anything from irritated to absolutely furious.

    If the same thing happened while you were already in a bad or neutral mood, it would have nowhere near as significant an effect.

    Just a thought.

  • Marina Fischer

    Marina Fischer

    June 2nd, 2011 at 3:53 AM

    I’m not so sure about the traumatic news part. We all react differently to news based on our own perspective. An example: if you hear about the deaths of enemy soldiers on the news, you may applaud it whereas their supporters would be devastated. Same news, opposite reactions.

    No matter what reaction you have, it’s never going to be exactly the same as another person’s. We’re not all cut from the same cloth.

  • Charles Noble

    Charles Noble

    June 11th, 2011 at 9:06 PM

    Disappointment stemming from when your expectations go unfulfilled is one of the biggest mood killers. You can’t really expect a guy to keep his expectations low either.

    What’s the point in a life where you have no big dreams?

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