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J Soc Clin Psychol. 2014;33(10):890-905.

DESPERATELY SEEKING HAPPINESS: VALUING HAPPINESS IS ASSOCIATED WITH SYMPTOMS AND DIAGNOSIS OF DEPRESSION.

Author information

1
University of California, Berkeley.
2
New York University, School of Medicine.
3
Tufts University.
4
University of Colorado Boulder.

Abstract

Culture shapes the emotions people feel and want to feel. In Western cultures, happiness is an emotion that many people want to feel. Although experiencing happiness is associated with increased well-being and psychological health, recent evidence suggests wanting to feel happy to an extreme degree, or, highly valuing happiness, leads to decreased well-being. To examine whether these effects of valuing happiness might extend to clinical outcomes, we examined the hypothesis that depression is associated with highly valuing happiness. To do so, we examined the relationship between valuing happiness and depression in two U.S. samples. As hypothesized, valuing happiness was associated with increased depressive symptoms in a community sample with remitted major depressive disorder (MDD), even when controlling for social desirability and neuroticism (Study 1). Furthermore, valuing happiness was elevated in a remitted MDD sample (vs. healthy controls), even when controlling for current depressive symptoms, general affect valuation, and extreme goal pursuit (Study 2). Taken together, these findings suggest that the culturally-pervasive value placed on attaining happiness can represent a risk factor for symptoms and a diagnosis of depression. More broadly, they indicate that a cultural approach can meaningfully extend our understanding of clinical phenomena.

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