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More PsychNotes: Happiness and Well-being

April 12, 2016       

Why You Don't Need to Be Happy
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

We are bombarded daily with messages that we should be happy. Commercials and ads always show people living the good life. Even the health messages we receive are that happiness is associated with better health, both emotional and physical. Such messages teach us that we should be happy. Otherwise, something must be wrong with us and we need to correct it with medication or therapy. As a culture we have come to prize happiness and seek it desperately.

However, the relationship between happiness and health may not be so simple. Researchers Luong and colleagues (2016) found that the relationship depends upon how moods are valued. If someone sees negative moods as valuable too, then lack of happiness is not as likely to affect their health. (Read: Sadness is a State of Happiness).

Why is this not surprising? Because happiness and seeking happiness has become a “should” as in “I should be happy.” For those of you familiar with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) you know that a “should” is an irrational demand and can lead to poorer psychological and physical health. Therefore, when someone places a demand on happiness they are more likely to suffer poor health when they are not happy. However, someone who accepts both negative and positive mood states are not likely to be affected when they are not happy.

So, how can you find the balance? The key is to not value emotional states as good or bad but to accept them as they are. You don't NEED to be happy but it is okay if you are. It is also okay if you are sad or anxious or frustrated or bored. These emotional states are just messages to provide information to you. They are no different from the message from your body about whether you are hot or cold. If you feel cold, it is a message that you can decide to act upon, or not.

Learn to listen to the message without judging it as good or bad.

For more, read: The Secret of Happiness: Let It Find You (But Make the Effort)

Luong, G., Wrzus, C., Wagner, G.G. And Riediger, M. (2016). When Bad Moods May Not Be So Bad: Valuing Negative Affect Is Associated With Weakened Affect–Health Links. Emotion, 16, 387– 401. DOI: 10.1037/emo0000132

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