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Can people be too happy?

According to recent research extreme happiness has its downsides - and people really can be too happy. The study finds that people who score very high (10 on a one to ten point scale) are less successful in education, income and political participation than those who score moderately happy (7 or 8 on a ten point scale) . This paper questions whether it is sensible for a society to encourage already happy people to aspire to even higher levels of happiness.

The researchers warn that focusing too much on people?s happiness could result in negative consequences and this argument is very much akin to that concerning self-esteem posed by academics such as Twenge and Baumeister (see here). People naturally report high levels of happiness and so boosting these levels may be unwarranted, and may even undermine happiness.

There are exceptions to this argument though, as the researchers found that very high levels of happiness do lead to successful relationships and volunteer work.  And although it is true that very happy people tend to do worse off, than moderately happy people, they still report being more successful than those who score low on measures of happiness.  

What may be more important, suggest the authors, is very high levels of meaning and purpose might be beneficial for all kinds of success, whereas very high levels of pleasant affect (or happiness) especially intense or aroused ones, may have mixed effects.

The research is based on large data sets such as the World Values Survey http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/ and  longitudinal studies from American, Australian, British and German populations. To get access to the article click here.
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