The pursuit of happiness is as American as apple pie and Chevrolet.
But is it good for you?
In the study “Too Much of a Good Thing: The Challenges and Opportunity of the Inverted U,” Professor Adam M. Grant of the University of Pennsylvania and Professor Barry Schwartz of Swarthmore College examine the effects of actively pursuing and expecting happiness.
What they found is startling: expecting to be happy or pursuing happiness can actually make us unhappy.
The study was especially true for achievement-oriented individuals.
In the study, Grant explains how an expected level of success sets us up for failure.
“Highly persistent, conscientious individuals who strongly value achievement are more likely to escalate their commitment to failing courses of action, investing time, money, and resources in losing endeavors,” he said. “Such dysfunctionally high levels of persistence may undermine psychological and physical well-being by preventing individuals from disengaging from goals at appropriate times driven in part by excessive levels of optimism and self efficacy that fail to correspond to reality.”
In essence, high expectations of high achieving students—the norm for the highly-involved Butler student population—may lead to psychologically harder failures.
Alison O’Malley, an assistant psychology professor at Butler Universty who specializes in positive psychology, said this study applies to Butler students, most of whom are very achievement orientated.
“When you’re in college, you almost put off really having to be happy or outsourcing your happiness,” she said. “There’s always a ‘what’s next’ mentality to keep you busy.”
O’Malley said pursuing studies you’re not passionate about can also create unhappiness.
She said students should find other avenues for happiness besides achievement, like hope.
By finding other ways to happiness and self worth, students are more likely to be happier long term.