These findings have now been replicated many times, with many more experiments revealing a dark side to the pursuit of happiness. As well as reducing everyday contentment, the constant desire to feel happier can make people feel more lonely. We become so absorbed in our own wellbeing, we forget the people around us – and may even resent them for inadvertently bringing down our mood or distracting us from more “important” goals.
The pursuit of happiness can even have strange effects on our perceptions of time, as the constant “fear of missing out” reminds us just how short our lives are and how much time we must spend on less than thrilling activities. In 2018, researchers at the University of Toronto found that simply encouraging people to feel happier while watching a relatively boring film meant that they were more likely to endorse the statement “time is slipping away from me”. The same was true when the participants were asked to list 10 activities that might contribute to their happiness: the reminder of all that they could be doing to improve their wellbeing placed them in a kind of panic, as they recognised how little time they had to achieve it all.
Perhaps most important, paying constant attention to our mood can stop us from enjoying everyday pleasures.