Happiness, for women, comes best without trying

By Shayna Brouker • Published: August 30th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

It’s said that you find love when you least expect it… and it seems the same holds true for happiness among women. New research shows that trying to be happy, ironically, can make you less so.

Scientists at the University of Denver first surveyed fifty-nine women who had experienced a stressful event in their lives in the past six months, such as a divorce, death or injury of a loved one, or unemployment. The women noted their stress levels and how happy they felt.

The researchers found that women with lower stress levels and a goal for glee actually reported being less happy … in fact, they showed an average of seventeen symptoms of depression.

On the contrary, the women with less stress who didn’t put so much stake in bliss had only four symptoms of depression. Regardless of how much they hailed happiness, the women with high stress showed no major differences in their happiness levels.

But which comes first… stress or sadness? Does one cause the other or vice versa? Scientists put this question to the test with a second study, this time sorting sixty-nine college-age women into two groups: One read about how valuing happiness can enhance relationships, careers and health, while the other group read that looking at things objectively could incur the same perks.

The subjects then watched a happy or sad video. Those not primed to treasure contentment felt sunnier after watching the happy film. Surprisingly, those who read about cherishing cheer reported gloomy feelings similar to those who had watched the sad clip.

Women who focus on felicity may set higher goals for themselves and neglect others in pursuit of their personal well-being. Since happiness is intangible, social scientists say it might be better to aim for attainable, concrete goals.

After all, there’s nothing like crossing off items on a to-do list to put a smile on your face.