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New study sheds light on ‘dark side of happiness’

May 23, 2011

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The “pursuit of happiness’’ has been something Americans have valued ever since the Founding Fathers inserted it into the Declaration of Independence. Yet some psychologists now question whether happiness is, indeed, a worthwhile goal, since new findings suggest the pursuit could actually make us more unhappy.

In a review paper published last week in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, researchers define what they call the “dark side of happiness’’: feeling happy all the time can destroy relationships and careers, while avidly pursuing happiness is bound to lead to disappointment.

While some of us may envy those manic folks at the extreme end of the cheerful spectrum, they often have the same level of dysfunction as a person who’s too sad, some recent studies suggest. They may completely tune out sad events around them like, say, their spouse being laid off or a parent dying.

“It’s happiness turned inward,’’ says June Gruber, a professor of psychology at Yale University who is studying mania. “They’re attuned only to their own happiness’’ and completely oblivious to what loved ones are feeling around them. It’s the flip side of depression, where individuals can only focus on their own suffering.

Researchers have found that people with high emotional states are more likely to engage in riskier behaviors like drug and alcohol use, gambling, sexual promiscuity, and drag racing.

“They have persistent euphoria, may feel like they have special powers or instantly fall in love with strangers,’’ says Gruber. They also may constantly feel inspired but don’t use this creativity to produce very much.

Far more common than extreme happiness, though, is the overwhelming need to seek out happiness, evidenced by the current No.1 advice book on The New York Times paperback bestseller list called “The Happiness Project.’’ The author, Gretchen Rubin, spent a year thinking about what makes her happy by making lists, keeping a journal, and engaging in activities centered around increasing her state of well-being.

While the approach makes sense in theory, the latest studies have shown that trying to increase happiness can actually be counterproductive. “People often fall short of their goals and that can make them feel unhappy,’’ says Iris Mauss, a psychologist and researcher at the University of Denver.

In her recent research, Mauss discovered that those who value happiness the most have a lower state of well-being, less satisfaction with life, and are more likely to be depressed. She also found that teaching people to adopt happiness as a value caused them to feel more lonely and socially disconnected.

“People may be happiest when they’re not monitoring their own happiness,’’ Mauss contends. That doesn’t mean we should completely abandon the pursuit of happiness and resign ourselves to leading unhappy lives. But rather, we should pursue happiness the right way — defining it as leading a meaningful life, rather than partaking in hedonic pleasures.

DEBORAH KOTZ

bliv wrote: It’s not the destination it’s the journey.

dune17856 wrote : “The pursuit of happiness’’ implies something you don’t have. Happiness is not something you look for, it’s something you find. Happiness is an attitude.

Scorpio75 wrote: I pursue happiness and don’t think that I am unhappy. This doesn’t mean I am running around smiling and handing out rainbows to everyone, it means to me that I am happy with my life and I do look for things that make me happy rather than making me upset.

He needs to tone it down

Celtics coach Doc Rivers returned to Boston to have throat surgery last week for a noncancerous growth. No word on what caused the growth, but last October when Rivers had a biopsy for a “spot’’— which turned out benign — he blamed it on his yelling a lot. I asked Dr. Ramon Franco, director of the division of laryngology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, to explain. D.K.

Can you really get a throat growth from using your voice too much?

Definitely, and Doc Rivers is someone who yells and screams all the time.

How does screaming lead to a lesion?

The kind of hard slapping of the vocal folds — we call them folds now, not chords — that occurs with using your voice too loudly and too often can cause injury in the form of broken blood vessels. If those blood vessels don’t get a chance to heal by resting the voice, a lump of blood vessels will form, getting bigger and bigger until it’s really affecting your voice.

So why was the lesion tested for cancer? Infection with the cancer-causing human papillomavirus is the number one cause of benign lesions in the larynx. And precancerous white lesions called keratosis are common in smokers. It could be his doctors wanted to test the lesion to see if it was one of those types.

What’s the expected recuperation time? Voice rest for one to two weeks, which means no talking whatsoever, not even a whisper or a sigh.

Binge drinking and memory

College students who binge drink have a slightly lowered ability to remember lists of words when the alcohol wears off compared with those who don’t binge drink, according to a study published last week by Spanish researchers.

While it’s not clear from the study if binge drinking caused these memory defects, this and previous research “supports that possibility,’’ says Aaron White, a researcher at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism who is familiar with the study.

How many drinks is a binge? Five or more servings of alcohol in a day for a man and four or more servings for a woman, according to Harvard researchers who studied alcohol’s effects on different genders. A serving of alcohol is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 8 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces, or a shot, of spirits or liquor (rum, vodka, whiskey).

“This is not about getting drunk one time but binging with some regularity,’’ says White. “The strongest evidence we have suggests that those at greatest risk for memory impairment drink heavily and often — often to the point of developing withdrawal symptoms.’’ D.K.

TheKidsRAllRight wrote: Let’s not forget “blog drinking’’. . . more dangerous than binge drinking because everything ends up in writing to bite you later.

AndyLang wrote: Long-term drinking has been demonstrated to cause memory issues in adults. It is therefore no surprise that this affects college students the next morning.

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