How Searching For Happiness Is Actually Detrimental To It

mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant By Sarah Regan
mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant

Sarah Regan is a writer, registered yoga instructor, and Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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The key to happiness may paradoxically come down to accepting unhappiness, research has found.

How many people are on the pursuit, only to be inundated with all the negativity in their lives? According to research by the University of Reading and De Montfort University, the pursuit itself may actually be the problem.

In a newly published study in the Journal of Happiness Studies, the team found placing too much value on feeling happy was found to reduce people's ability to enjoy life, which in turn was linked to depressive symptoms.

The effects of a scarcity mindset.

The study demonstrated how directing our attention can have a real impact on the way we feel. If we can't direct our attention, we'll be overwhelmed by our feeling of lack (i.e., dwelling on unhappiness highlights the absence of happiness).

This research found that increased value of happiness was linked with less emotion attention control and lower savoring of positive experiences, suggesting that wanting happiness is actually counterproductive to getting it.

And what was interesting about the findings was the significance of the culture participants came from; those from Western cultures, particularly the U.K., were found to be more affected by depressive symptoms than less Westernized cultures, raising questions about scarcity mindsets across different cultures.

Julia Vogt, Ph.D., a psychologist from the University of Reading says, "There seems to be a significant divide between English-speaking Western cultures and other cultures when it comes to how our internal value of experiencing happiness shapes our experiences and mood [...] The team found that while there was a strong association among UK-based participants [between valuing happiness and depressive symptoms], EU and international participants didn't display the same association."


Focusing on abundance.

"We have very limited cognitive space and bandwidth," explains Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir Ph.D., in an interview with the American Psychological Association. "When you focus heavily on one thing, there is just less mind to devote to other things. We call it tunneling—as you devote more and more to dealing with scarcity you have less and less for other things in your life."

Like happiness, in this instance. But if you've fallen victim to this scarcity trap, it may just be a matter of mindset. And as we know, mindsets can change.

Vogt notes that "the inability of participants to focus attention while feeling a range of emotions was a major factor in this idea of not being able to savor a positive experience." So to get started, check out these tips for living a more mindful life, as well as how to recognize and attract abundance in your life.

Philosopher Alan Watts put it well in The Wisdom of Insecurity when he said, "If happiness always depends on something expected in the future, we are chasing a will-o'-the-wisp that ever eludes our grasp, until the future, and ourselves, vanish into the abyss of death."

Indeed, when we place conditions on our happiness, we will always find something wrong. When we focus not on what's lacking and rather on all that we do have, happiness finds us.


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