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date: 17 October 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Experiencing positive emotion is often linked with greater psychological health and lower psychopathology. However, a growing body of research suggests a surprising paradoxical effect: in spite of the benefits of experiencing positive emotion, there may be important downsides to pursuing positive emotion. This chapter reviews current findings on the paradoxical effects of pursuing positive emotion (often focusing on the specific emotion of happiness), discusses possible mechanisms to explain these paradoxical effects, and suggests methods to avoid these effects. Specifically, the chapter outlines three key mechanisms for the paradoxical effects of pursuing happiness: First, as people pursue happiness, they tend to set high standards for their happiness which can result in disappointment. Second, when people are inaccurate about how to achieve happiness, they may engage in activities that are counterproductive for achieving happiness and psychological health. Third, as people pursue happiness, they may monitor their experience of happiness which can directly interfere with the experience of happiness. These processes, in turn, may create risk for psychopathology. Fortunately, these three mechanisms also suggest how to avoid paradoxical effects of pursuing happiness: by removing impossibly high standards, disappointment can be avoided; by engaging in productive happiness pursuits, people can attain more sustainable happiness; and by automatizing the process of pursuing happiness, the ill-effects of monitoring can be avoided. Although pursuing happiness can paradoxically lead to reduced happiness and greater psychopathology, by understanding the mechanisms underlying this paradox, we can obtain valuable insights into effective ways to achieve happiness and avoid psychopathology.

Keywords: psychopathology, happiness, paradoxical effects, goal-pursuit framework, psychological health

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