Social environment

Wanting to Be Happy Can Make You Unhappy—Here’s What To Do Instead

A recent study in Depression and Anxiety found that social pressure to be happy can lead to increased levels of depression.

“We’re really starting to see that the culture and the social environment we’re living in is important for determining our level of depression and how we respond to negative events,” said Brock Bastian, associate professor of psychology at the University of Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences.

Depression is more common in Western countries like the United States than it is in the East, where people are more likely to recognize the relationship between positive and negative emotions. People aren’t happier in the East, per se, but they are less depressed.

“Depression is an epidemic,” Bastian said. “If it’s more prevalent in some cultures than others, we have to look outside individual biology to understand how these cultural factors can be feeding into making us depressed.”

Conducted by Bastian and other researchers, the study examined the relationship between social expectations of happiness and depressive symptoms. It found that the more someone felt pressured to be happy, the more depressive symptoms they experienced.

Another study by Bastian showed that people who felt social pressure to be happy also experienced more rumination after failure. Moving past failure is important because ruminating too much can lead depression.

“There has been a shift to differentially valuing positive and negative emotions,” Bastian said. “We tend to value positive emotions much more. We see negative emotion as not much use to us.”

Luckily, there are many ways that we can change our perceptions to focus less on trying to be happy.

Be Aware of Social Influences

“We don’t often realize how much happiness is being pushed down our throats,” Bastian said. “Anytime you see an advertisement, you see people who are happy. Advertisers don’t sell their product with negative faces. They push a message that if we work harder and earn more and buy more stuff, we’re going to be as happy as the people in the advertisements.” By acknowledging these influences, we can better control how we respond to them.

When using social media, it’s also important to remember that other people tend to present an idealized picture of their lives rather than representing the whole story. “We’re surrounded…