Does a Culture of Happiness Increase Rumination Over Failure?

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Abstract

Promoting happiness within society is good for health, but could the overpromotion of happiness have a downside? Across 2 studies, we investigate 2 emotion norms associated with an emphasis on happiness—the importance of (a) seeking positive emotion, and (b) avoiding negative emotion—and whether these norms have implications for how people respond to, and seek to regulate, their negative emotional experiences. In Study 1, we used an experimental design to show that emphasizing the importance of happiness increased rumination in response to failure. In Study 2, we drew on cross-sectional evidence to investigate the other side of this equation, finding that emphasizing the importance of not experiencing negative emotional states (e.g., depression and anxiety) was also associated with increased rumination, and that this had downstream consequences for well-being. Together, the findings suggest that the overpromotion of happiness, and, in turn, the felt social pressure not to experience negative emotional states, has implications for maladaptive responses to negative emotional experiences.

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