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Positive EmotionIntegrating the Light Sides and Dark Sides$
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June Gruber and Judith Tedlie Moskowitz

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199926725

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199926725.001.0001

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The Paradoxical Effects of Pursuing Positive Emotion

The Paradoxical Effects of Pursuing Positive Emotion

When and Why Wanting to Feel Happy Backfires

(p.363) Chapter 20 The Paradoxical Effects of Pursuing Positive Emotion
Positive Emotion

Brett Q. Ford

Iris B. Mauss

Oxford University Press

Experiencing happiness is consistently associated with a wide range of positive outcomes, including greater well-being and better psychological health. However, it is less clear what outcomes are associated with pursuing happiness. In fact, several lines of research suggest a paradoxical effect: the more people pursue happiness, the less likely they are to experience positive outcomes, including feelings of happiness. This chapter reviews current findings on the paradoxical effects of pursuing happiness, discusses possible mechanisms to explain these paradoxical effects, and suggests methods to avoid these effects. Specifically, we explore three key mechanisms for the paradoxical effects of pursuing happiness. First, as people pursue happiness, they tend to set high standards for their happiness which can cause disappointment and discontent when their current state falls short of those standards. Second, people are not always accurate about how to achieve happiness and may consequently engage in activities that are ineffective—or even counterproductive—for achieving happiness. Third, as people pursue happiness, they tend to monitor their progress toward this goal, which can interfere with the experience of happiness. Fortunately, these mechanisms—high standards, ineffective strategies, and monitoring—point to ways in which the paradoxical effects of pursuing happiness can be avoided. By removing impossibly high standards, disappointment can be avoided. By engaging in effective ways to increase happiness, people may be able to attain sustainable happiness. And, by rendering the process of pursuing happiness more automatic, the ill effects of monitoring can be avoided. In sum, the pursuit of happiness can lead to paradoxical effects of reduced happiness. However, understanding the mechanisms by which this pursuit can go astray can provide valuable insights into more effective ways to achieve that most cherished goal: happiness.

Keywords:   pursuing happiness, paradoxical effects, high standards, emotion regulation, monitoring, values, goal pursuit, happiness, positive psychology, self-focus, well-being, depression

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