Motivation and emotion/Book/2019/Being too happy

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Being too happy:
What are the consequences of being too happy?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Smile, darn ya, smile! (Warner Bros, 1931) Smiling cartoon on a train.

Imagine this, [grammar?]It's your birthday. You've had hardly any sleep and wake up early, because you are so excited that you cannot help yourself. You leave your room and are instantly greeted by the familiar smell of breakfast. You go into the kitchen and are immediately greeted by all members of your family as they say in unison "Happy Birthday". You see on the kitchen table a pile of presents waiting for you to unwrap them. You hug your family as you smile from ear to ear with an overwhelming emotion, wrapping you in pure ecstasy. That emotion is happiness. Now look at the picture above (Figure 1). How would you describe the cartoon? Did you conclude that the character seems happy? How did you come to that conclusion? Do you see any danger in the photo? Although the cartoon is displaying physical signals that they are happy, do you think that there is a risk from driving the train while ‘being too happy’?

The concept of happiness has been discussed in philosophy, religion and more recently, psychology. It is from within the scope of psychology, more specifically emotion theories, that ‘being too happy’ is discussed.

Focus questions
  1. What is happiness?
  2. What underlying emotions relate to happiness?
  3. What are the consequences of being too happy?
  4. How does specific emotion theories and research relate?

What is happiness?[edit | edit source]

“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.” Ernest Hemingway (1986)

Figure 2. Happiness depicting a man smiling, a characteristic of happiness.

Happiness is an personal emotional state, often used as a means of describing an individual’s subjective well-being (SWB) (Welsch & Kühling, 2014). Within SWB there are two components, cognitive well-being (CWB), also known as psychological well-being and affective well-being (AWB). CWB encompasses six components including positive relationships with others, autonomy, environmental mastery, self-acceptance, purpose in life and personal growth (Linley, Maltby, Wood, Osbourne & Hurling, 2009). AWB refers to an individual’s emotions, both positive and negative as well as autonomy (Warr, 2013) Happiness often occurs when presented with positive stimuli or as a response from achieving a desired goal or situation (Meier, 2009). It's physically characterised by smiling, a tightening of the muscles around the eyes and a tendency towards open body language.

Physical activity, including exercise as well as team sports have shown to improve both individual health and well-being (Rascuite & Downward, 2010). Finances plays a role in being happy with research suggesting that the relationship with happiness and money is small, however, the social grouping you are in because of your income is more important (Boyce, Brown, & Moore, 2010). The rank-income hypothesis highlights that people gain satisfaction, or happiness, based on on their individual financial positioning within their societal norm (Brown, Gardner, Oswald, & Qian, 2008). People who are financially secure have the opportunity to live a happier life (Mahadea, 2013). Sexual behaviour shares a relationship with happiness with Blanchflower & Oswald (2004), finding that sexual activity as well as sexual partners had a significant relationship with happiness on self-reported measurements.

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Quiz Time!

True or False? Affective well-being includes both positive and negative emotions?


Plutchik's wheel of emotions[edit | edit source]

Figure 3. Plutchik's wheel of emotions.

Robert Plutchik proposed his wheel of emotions in 1980 to help explain his Psychoevolutionary Theory of Emotions. Within his wheel the eight primary emotions included are Joy, Trust, Fear, Surprise, Sadness, Anticipation, Anger and Disgust. Although all of these emotions share either a negative or positive emotion with happiness, It is Joy, Trust and Anticipation that most closely interrelate with the emotion happiness. When these primary emotions combine, they create optimism and love, two emotions used to describe happiness. Plutchik (2001) noted the importance of these eight primary emotions as they promote psychological changes, behaviours and create thoughts and feelings. Plutchik's wheel of emotion also demonstrates the duality of emotions, in which for everyone emotion, for example joy, there is an equal and opposite emotion, in joy's case, sadness.

Neurochemistry of happiness[edit | edit source]

Within your brain there is an intricate balance of neurochemicals that interrelate and account for the formation of emotions. Four neurochemicals account for our happiness, those being Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin and Endorphins.

  • Dopamine is a hormone and neurotransmitter produced in the substantia nigra and the ventral tegmental area. Its production assists in reward-motivated behaviour, activating in cognitive processes relating to motivation and emotion (Kringelbach & Berridge, 2009).
  • Oxytocin is a hormone and neurotransmitter produced in the hypothalamus and is used for emotions and well-being. Its often associated with social interactions, facial, emotion recognition, childbirth, sexual encounters as well as stress and anxiety (Domes, Steinger. Porges, & Heinrichs, 2013).
  • Serotonin is a mood stabilizer produced in the pineal gland, mostly found in the digestive system. It assists in everyday functions including the body's sleep-wake cycle and initiating appetite. Within the brain, Serotonin is released to help regulate mood, specifically happiness (Young, 2007).
  • Endorphins encompass any group of opioid peptides; in the case of motivation and emotion they can be used as pain blockers. Increased levels of endorphins occur during periods of exercise (Eddington & Shuman, 2005) They are also associated with the ‘fight or flight’ response.

Hedonic Wellbeing vs Eudaimonic Wellbeing[edit | edit source]

Hedonic wellbeing is an emphasis on being able to achieve happiness by avoiding pain and focusing on increasing pleasure. The theory proposes that individuals can only have a 'happy life' when they have high life satisfaction as well as positive affect (Carruthers & Hood, 2004). Although research has found distinctions between hedonic and eudaimonic wellbeing, it is also suggested that because of the theories' relationship with happiness, they can be complementary in working together to better understand optimal human experiences, like happiness (Ryan & Deci, 2001)

Figure 4. Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Eudaimonic wellbeing suggests that happiness is achieved through self-actualisation and through individuals finding life meaning (Disabato, Goodman, Kashdan, Short & Jarden, 2016).The concept of self-actualisation is a key component of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a five tiered pyramid in which each level signifies a human need that must be achieved before moving up the tier (Maslow 1968).The theories origins lie within both the psychodynamic and humanistic perspective of psychology and places importance on the individual and the experiences they have in order to find meaning and purpose in their existence. The five levels include:

  1. "Physiological" needs
  2. Safety Needs
  3. Love/Belonging Needs
  4. Esteem Needs
  5. Need for Self-Actualisation

Positive psychology[edit | edit source]

Positive psychology takes many concepts of both hedonic and eudaimonic well-being by focusing on methods shown to improve human happiness as well as meaningful life development. It focuses on having satisfaction from decisions and interactions made in the past, being happy in the present and having a positive outlook on the future. Many theories exist within positive psychology, placing an emphasis on finding a path to happiness.

Selligman[spelling?],[grammar?] (2002), proposed a three-factor model in Authentic Happiness that proposed that there are three kinds of happiness in life that need to be achieved in order to achieve optimal happiness. Pleasant life refers to enjoying the moments of happiness in life and relishing them. It also explores ways in which individuals can have the most optimal experiences in relationships, personal interests and in spare time. Good life, also known as life flow is experienced when a person is engaging in a task that they are competent in and gain a sense of accomplishment. Meaningful life has a complete focus on social belonging and belief systems that individuals have and gain purpose and meaning from. Selligman, (2011), expanded on his initial theory of positive psychology, exploring in further detail the concept of a meaningful life. He identified five distinct factors of a happy life, creating the PERMA model.

Table 1. PERMA model categories and their description

Catagories[spelling?] Description
Positive emotions Emotions including happiness, joy excitement, pride. Focus on these emotions are connected to positive life outcomes including social interaction and job satisfaction.
Engagement Actively seeking out interests and tasks that contain some level of difficulty. Engrossing yourself in these tasks with focus leads to a sense of satisfaction. By not opening yourself up to opportunities you don't allow yourself to have positive life experiences
Relationships Actively seeking out meaningful relationships with family, friends and potential romantic partners. By sharing experiences with others, both good and bad, you gain an insight and understanding of others and strengthen the positive relationship
Meaning Finding purpose in one's own existence. Through overcoming challenges and difficulties throughout life you are able to gain a deeper understand of your own purpose and continue to move forward towards more difficult goals
Accomplishments The pursuit of gaining skill mastery and taking pride in ones own achievements. Both failure and success are needed to improve ones capabilities. Accomplishments can be achieved alone or with others, feeding into more meaningful relationships and positive emotions

Case Study[edit | edit source]

From the information above, see if you can highlight specific variables that may account for the happiness Jim experiences. Do you think Jim is displaying appropriate levels of happiness? Can you identify anything that may be negatively impacting his emotions? How is Jim's SWB?

Case Study 1

Jim is a straight male, 32 years old. He is in a trusting, loving marriage, with his partner of 8 years. He is physically healthy, although slightly overweight but he exercises regularly, including playing indoor soccer with his social group weekly. He went to university and subsequently found employment in his chosen field of business management. Sometimes Jim feels pressure in his employment to climb the ‘corporate ladder’ to gain further financial security. Last time Jim got a promotion, he celebrated by going to the casino and gambling, subsequently winning a small amount of money. Jim and his wife own a car, as well as currently paying off their home mortgage for their 3-bedroom house. Jim is a big fan of soccer, and loves to go watch games with his friends and family. Jim's mother is currently in hospice for stage IV lung cancer, he visits her regularly. Sometimes when Jim feels overwhelmed, he smokes cigarettes as well as splurging on his hobby, collecting vintage sports cards.

Psychological disorders[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Bipolar disorder[edit | edit source]

Bipolar disorder type 1 is classified as a mental illness by the DSM-5, characterised by uncontrollable energy levels and emotional arousal (Davis, Palladino, & Christopherson, 2013). Manic episodes may occur and individuals diagnosed with bipolar may go long periods without sleeping. Feelings of mania can lead to engaging in activities that are out of character, such as gambling, spending money inappropriately and dangerous sexual activity (Weiten, 2010). As with many other mood disorders, bipolar comes with an increased risk of suicide as well as self-harm with studies showing as many as 50% of patients suffering from bipolar will attempt suicide (Jamison, 2000). Ford , Mauss & Gruber (2015), highlighted the relationship that bipolar disorder has with overvaluing of happiness and went as far as to suggest that overvaluing of happiness could predict bipolar disorder.

Cherophobia[edit | edit source]

Cherophobia is an unclassified mental illness characterised by an aversion to happiness. The phobia stems from the belief that after becoming happy eventually you will eventually have something bad happen and that because of the unpredictability and instability of happiness, it is bad. Joshanloo et al., (2012) examined this phobia and noted the significance of cultural factors that play a role in its development. They noted that aversion to happiness was more prevalent in Eastern Cultures then Western. As it currently stands, research and evidence are lacking into cherophobia and further research should continue for it to be classified.

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Quiz Time!

What is not a symptom of biploar[spelling?] type 1?

Increased motivation
Emotional arousal
Uncontrollable energy levels
Lack of sleep

Consequences of "being too happy"[edit | edit source]

Now that the concept of happiness and the related theories have been examined we can connect them with the consequences of being too happy. Current research connecting the theories with negative consequences is still in its emerging stages. Due to this both negative and positive consequences of being to[spelling?] happy have been examined. This has allowed for a more scientific examination of the emotion.

Pursuit of happiness[edit | edit source]

People are inherently motivated to strive and set goals in a constant pursuit of happiness. Kesebir & Diener (2009) suggest that although goal orientation and happiness is beneficial, a happiness paradox can occur when we to[spelling?] keenly focus on this goal. Setting happiness as a goal creates a situation in which the more someone is in the pursuit of happiness, the more challenging it will be for them to obtain it. One experiment examined this paradox and asked one group of participants to actively try to be happy while listening to music and another sample to just listen to the music. Those who weren’t prompted to pursue happiness reported increased positive emotions then those who didn’t (Schooler, Ariely, & Loewenstein, 2003) Another study examined the relationship between participants overvaluing happiness and their subsequent emotions after engaging in task specific goals. The results found that participants who overvalued happiness elicited a less positive response when engaging with positive stimuli (Mauss, Tamir, Anderson, & Savino, 2011). More so, research has suggested that actively seeking happiness and not achieving it might result in a perception of wasted time spent setting happiness as a goal. This may in turn result in an increased lower mood state (Kim & Maglio, 2018). Overvaluing happiness and its pursuit has also been shown as a general risk factor for mood disorders (Ford, Mauss, Gruber, & 2015)[grammar?] There is undoubtedly a complicated nature of pursuing happiness and promotes the theory that trying to be happy can, in fact, be detrimental to you.

Pursuing the concept of happiness may be self-defeating, however pursuing interests and hobbies that interest you is not. Engaging in activities that you enjoy has been shown to improve emotion regulation and overall happiness (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, & Schkade, 2005; Troy, Shallcross, Wilhelm, & Mauss, 2010). Furthermore, moving forward, if an individual is trying to achieve higher levels of happiness, they should focus less on hedonic well-being and instead on eudaimonic well-being. By focusing on goals such as self-actualisation and actively engaging in positive social situations as well as pursuing interests and hobbies, you are more open to achieving happiness through a deeper meaning and understanding of life. By only focusing on being happy, you are setting yourself up for a never-ending goal that you will never be able to reach, due to the ever-changing nature of happiness.

Risk taking behaviour[edit | edit source]

Risk-taking refers to a behaviour or action that can have a potential negative outcome or loss. Being too happy and the relationship it shares has been examined as a potential dark side to being too happy. People who experience periods of happiness, including people who have pre-existing mental health disorders are more prone to poor decision making as well as mood relapses over time (Meyer, Johnson, & Winters, 2001) . Individuals who experience being too happy might have impaired fight or flight reflexes, resulting in neglecting dangerous situations (Gruber, Mauss, & Tamir, 2011). Adida et al., (2008), found that people experiencing manic episodes including extreme happiness had poor decision making skills and an increased lack of insight. Adolescents may also be susceptible to engaging in risk taking behaviours, such as illicit drug use, in an attempt to see experiences and increased levels of happiness. By attempting to improve happiness through drug use at a stage in which the brain is still in development and creating new brain pathways that control emotion, adolescents may experience future problems with emotion regulation (Kelley, Schochet, & Landry, 2006).

Being content and showing an appropriate level of life satisfaction has been shown to decrease activities associated with a dangerous level of risk. A study investigated life satisfaction and the relationship it shares with the risky behaviour of not wearing a seat belt in a vehicle. The results found a significant positive correlation between high life satisfaction and the use of seat belts (Goudie, Mukherjee, Neve, Oswald, & Wu, 2014). Close relationships that provide a nurturing, emotionally satisfying environment have been shown to improve happiness and lower aggression as well as lowering drug use and other risky behaviours (Lambert et al., 2014). The studies examined show both the positive and negative aspects of being too happy and again highlight the importance of a balance of emotions to lower the likely-hood[spelling?] of engaging in risk taking behaviours.

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Quiz Time!

What is not a not a potential risky behaviour during a manic episode of happiness?

Spending time with family
Drug use
Poor decision making
Lack of insight

Creativity[edit | edit source]

Figure 5. A man showing creativity through the medium of street art known as graffiti

Creativity stems from a desire to express passion in a medium that individuals want to engross themselves in. Creativity comes in many forms and is often an expression of emotions. Positive emotions, such as happiness can help for an individual to find expressive, creative ideas (Fredrickson, 2004). Myers (1992),[grammar?] studied well-being and the relationship creativity and happiness shared and theorised that being happy induced relaxation and subsequently allowed individuals the ability for free-flowing thoughts and creative ideas. Studies went further and found that people in lower moods were more likely they were to struggle coming up with new ideas[Rewrite to improve clarity] (Gasper, 2004). Happiness and creativity in the workplace also share a relationship. One study examined the effectiveness of authentic leadership roles and the influence that has on employee’s[grammar?] creativity and happiness. Effective individuals in leadership roles were found to promote creativity as well [missing something?] AWB (Semedo, Coelho, & Ribero, 2017). This data suggests that the more positive emotions, like happiness, that you experience, the more you will be able to have creative thoughts and actions.

In contradiction of this, another emerging theory is that for some forms of creativity, being too happy may actually hinder your abilities. Davis (2009), like a lot of related research, found that positive moods improve creativity. However, the study also found that you no longer experience the improvement if you are experience[grammar?] extreme happiness. This data suggests that although happiness is beneficial for happiness[say what?], extreme happiness is not. Akinola & Mendes (2008) explored negative affect in relation to creativity and found that sadness increased artistic creation. In line with Plutchik's wheel of emotion, this data shows that sadness, the opposite feeling of joy, can also produce creativity. Happiness has been shown to play an important role in creativity but negative emotions have as well, further showing that a wide selection of emotions can be used for eliciting creativity. By only being happy you narrow your emotional stimuli and remove the potential for other thoughts and feelings that may benefit your imagination.

Case Study[edit | edit source]

Do you think Tina is displaying appropriate levels of happiness? Do you think Tina could benefit from any emotion related theories? Do you see any behaviours that might indicate Tina has a mental health disorder?

Case Study 2

Tina is a straight female, 26 years old. She is currently single, although she has been in a couple [missing something?] tumultuous relationships. She isn’t physically healthy, due to her back pain as well as her ongoing mental health issues. She sometimes goes days without sleeping, often due to her racing thoughts. Tina goes through manic mood swings where she has uncontrollable euphoria and during this period she sometimes walks into oncoming traffic because she thinks she is indestructible. She smokes marijuana weekly, during periods in which she feels good, hoping to prolong her happiness. Tina use to draw a lot of comic book characters in the hopes of one day working for DC comics but after being harshly critiqued at CIT[explain?] she instead draws gore-filled short stories. She doesn’t have many face to face social interactions, instead choosing to spend that time interacting with other people online. She works a job part-time as a gas attendant. She uses public transport and lives in a small apartment that she gains financial assistance in renting.

Optimal level of happiness[edit | edit source]

As this chapter has progressed one recurring question has become apparent. If being too happy is a bad thing and not being happy enough is also a bad thing, is there an ideal level of happiness for personal and social well-being? Being low in happiness allows the potential of a plethora of both physical and mental illnesses but being too happy has been shown to create its own problems. So with that thought, is it not logical to theorise that like the body, the mind also wants a state of homeostasis? Does the mind not need both positive and negative experiences to achieve a steady, optimal level of happiness? Longitudinal data has shown that individuals who report the highest levels of happiness are not the most successful in terms of education and income (Diener, Oishi, & Lucas, 2009). By analysing data from preexisting surveys and using a life satisfaction scale between one to ten they found that it was individuals slightly below maximum levels of life satisfaction achieve both the highest income, education levels and political action. Lower levels of happiness have also shown to decrease productivity. One study conducted three separate experiments, examining the relationship between work productivity and happiness and in all three cases people who were randomly selected and made happier were up to 12% more productive (Oswald, Proto, & Sgroi, 2015).

Considerations to cultural differences must also be acknowledged as a factor for optimal levels of happiness. Biswas-Diener & Wiese, (2018), highlighted cultural differences in happiness, noting the varying emotions and components that form life satisfaction between individualist and collectivist cultures. This is based on varying expressions of emotions from different cultures as well as the way different cultures affect the experience of emotion. One study went further, indentifying three distinct cultural variations of happiness; cultural meanings of happiness, motivations underlying happiness and predictors of happiness. Results found that Western cultures and their citizens happiness was predicted be self-esteem compared to Asian cultures happiness was predicted by interpersonal connectedness (Uchida, Norasakkunkit, & Kitayama, 2004)[Rewrite to improve clarity]. The research highlights the importance of factoring in cultural differences as a contributor to individuals’ optimal level of happiness.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

The concept of happiness, as well as 'being too happy' have been shown to play a role within subjective well-being and more importantly life satisfaction. Theories of emotion have shown that a balance must exist with both positive and negative emotions for individuals to live safe, meaningful lives. The research explored has shown both beneficial and unhelpful aspects of 'being too happy' and future research should further examine risk-taking consequences of 'being too happy' as this factor has shown to be particularly detrimental to physical and mental health if not properly addressed. Creativity has been shown to benefit from positive emotions but also negative, fuelling the idea that a creative mind and the stimulation it needs is a differs from person to person[Rewrite to improve clarity]. The pursuit of the concept happiness has been identified as a fruitless endeavour that will lead you down a rabbit hole of unhappiness. Furthermore, the research currently points towards optimal happiness as being achievable through a focus on gaining a purpose in life through relationships, skill mastery and finding value in ones[grammar?] own happiness. Happiness has been shown to be a key emotion but, as with anything, too much of one thing can be detrimental and stop us from experiencing other important things. The idea of happiness, although initially just a philosophical concept, is quantifiable and able to be examined, deconstructed and subsequently, utilised for the improvement of life.

“Moderate in order to taste the joys of life in abundance.” Epicurus

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Adida, M., Clark, L., Pomietto, P., Kaladjian, A., Besnier, N., & Azorin, J. et al. (2008). Lack of insight may predict impaired decision making in manic patients. Bipolar Disorders, 10(7), 829-837. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-5618.2008.00618.x

Akinola, M., & Mendes, W. (2008). The Dark Side of Creativity: Biological Vulnerability and Negative Emotions Lead to Greater Artistic Creativity. Personality And Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(12), 1677-1686. doi: 10.1177/0146167208323933

Akinola, M., & Mendes, W. (2008). The Dark Side of Creativity: Biological Vulnerability and Negative Emotions Lead to Greater Artistic Creativity. Personality And Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(12), 1677-1686. doi: 10.1177/0146167208323933

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External links[edit | edit source]

  • Happy (Pharrell Williams, Youtube video)