Pursuing happiness ‘ironically’ sabotages well-being, study finds


Scientists say that when one pursues happiness, it often leads to unhappiness. A paradox is formed when trying to achieve such a goal. One may experience distress because of the realization that they are running out of time.

For one to achieve his or her goals, time management should be a priority. Setting plans can help one to successfully reach his or her desired goal.

A recent study titled “Vanishing time in the pursuit of happiness” shows that pursuing happiness causes a decrease in feelings of time availability. In other words, when one attempts to achieve their desired state of bliss, they realize that they are running out of time and enter a dismal state of mind.

Four studies were conducted to see whether seeking happiness influenced time scarcity. In the first study, 113 participants, recruited from Amazon’s online panel site Mechanical Turk, were given a personality questionnaire that measured two variables: trait-level happiness seeking and perceptions of time scarcity.

The results of this study showed that there was a positive relationship between the two. Participants with traits associated with greater happiness seeking also felt that time was slipping away from them.

In the second study, 117 undergraduates were given a survey about TV programming. Participants were split into two groups; in one group, participants were told to attempt being happy while watching a movie and in the other, participants were told to act normally. The results paralleled the results of the first study. However, the second group of participants showed that as time scarcity increased, the effects of seeking happiness remained constant.

In the third study, 300 participants recruited from Mechanical Turk were given three conditions at random that supposedly increased or decreased the demand for happiness: high-time, low-time or control. The high-time group read an article with the headline “happiness takes quite a lot of time,” the low-time group read an article with the headline “happiness takes very little time” and the control group was used as a benchmark. The results of this study showed that participants in the low-time condition felt that time was less scarce in contrast to the other two conditions.

In the fourth study, 100 participants recruited from the aforementioned online panel site were randomly assigned to a seeking happiness group and a non-seeking happiness group. Participants in the seeking happiness group were told to list 10 things that could improve their emotional states. Participants in the non-seeking happiness group were told to list 10 things that proved they were happy. Next, both groups executed the same steps as in the third study. The results of this study once again show that time scarcity is an impediment to one’s desired state of happiness.

Mark Roitburd, a freshman at Baruch College who is an intended accounting major, gave his own account on the study: “Specifically, it is the strong positive correlation between the two variables that surprises me since it may imply that one should prioritize time as a prerequisite for happiness. One thing to agree on is the perspective on happiness — that happiness should be view[ed] for its intrinsic value so that it negates any negative consequences related to one’s lack of time. Hopefully, future studies will reveal more about magnitudes of happiness in order to understand how it affects productivity levels, for example.”

As a side note, perceptions of happiness vary and may alter the results of future studies. Researchers stated that instead of worrying about happiness and treating it like a goal, it should come naturally. As the famous French philosopher Albert Camus once said, “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”