Only 33% of Americans report they were happy. And new research is reaffirming the reasons that have been known for some time: We are focusing too much on trying to be happy.


The research, published in the journal Emotion, found that overemphasizing happiness can make people more likely to obsess over failure and negative emotions when they inevitably do happen, bringing them more stress in the long run.

“Happiness is a good thing, but setting it up as something to be achieved tends to fail,” explains co-author Brock Bastian, a social psychologist at the University of Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences in Australia, in an email to TIME. “Our work shows that it changes how people respond to their negative emotions and experiences, leading them to feel worse about these and to ruminate on them more.”


“When people place a great deal of pressure on themselves to feel happy, or think that others around them do, they are more likely to see their negative emotions and experiences as signals of failure,” Bastian says. “This will only drive more unhappiness.”

Bastian says the study isn’t a condemnation of trying to be happy; rather, it underscores the importance of knowing and accepting that feeling unhappy sometimes is just as normal and healthy.

Happiness happens as a byproduct of living a healthy and balanced life — of living better.