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The paradox of happiness

The paradox of happiness

If you make happiness your primary goal, you might miss out on the challenges that give life meaning.

Pursuing happiness to the exclusion of other goals -known as psychological hedonism - is not only an exercise in futility. It may also give you a life that you find you don't want, one in which you don't reach your full potential, you're reluctant to take risks, and you choose fleeting pleasures over challenging experiences.


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A little unhappiness is beneficial

Researchers found that the "most happy" college students had the best social lives but performed worse in school than those who were merely "happy."

Another study found that the "most cheerful" were not the highest earners. It again went to the second-highest groups, which rated their cheerfulness as above average, but not the "most cheerful."

The way to understand the studies is not to discount happiness, but to remember that a little bit of unhappiness has benefits.


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Some unhappiness can increase meaning

Some unhappiness can increase meaning

Research found that some gloom can lead us to pay appropriate attention to problems and find solutions. In other words, when we are sad about something, we are more likely to try and fix it.

Too many good feelings can lead us to disregard problems. A study found that the fear of failure is positively correlated with meaning derived from romance, friendship, and family.

Bringing good things into your life, such as love or career success usually involves risk. Risk doesn't make us happy and can often bring disappointment. But it can also bring better rewards than if we played it safe.


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The desire for happiness is natural

We should not shun good feelings or think it's foolish for wanting to be happy. However, it should not be a goal to chase after positive feelings and fight against negative ones.

Happiness would lose its meaning if we were unable to contrast it with some measure of sadness. Although suffering should never be anyone's goal, we can strive for a rich life where we pursue the sunshine but fully experience the rain that inevitably will fall.


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