The pursuit of happiness can be lonely

Emotion. 2012 Oct;12(5):908-12. doi: 10.1037/a0025299. Epub 2011 Sep 12.


Few things seem more natural and functional than wanting to be happy. We suggest that, counter to this intuition, valuing happiness may have some surprising negative consequences. Specifically, because striving for personal gains can damage connections with others and because happiness is usually defined in terms of personal positive feelings (a personal gain) in western contexts, striving for happiness might damage people's connections with others and make them lonely. In 2 studies, we provide support for this hypothesis. Study 1 suggests that the more people value happiness, the lonelier they feel on a daily basis (assessed over 2 weeks with diaries). Study 2 provides an experimental manipulation of valuing happiness and demonstrates that inducing people to value happiness leads to relatively greater loneliness, as measured by self-reports and a hormonal index (progesterone). In each study, key potential confounds, such as positive and negative affect, were ruled out. These findings suggest that wanting to be happy can make people lonely.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Goals*
  • Happiness*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis
  • Loneliness*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Progesterone / analysis
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Self Report


  • Progesterone
  • Hydrocortisone