Few disciplines of behavioral science, if any, have gathered more attention in recent years than positive psychology. The volume of happiness research that’s poured from the labs of scientists such as APS Fellow Ed Diener and APS James McKeen Cattell and William James Fellow Martin Seligman has sparked enormous public interest and inspired countless popular books. Some of the appeal is no doubt the power of the work. Researchers have linked positive emotions with all sorts of social, cognitive, and physical health benefits. But some of it may just be that given a choice between feeling happy or not, most of us prefer the former.
What the positive psychology movement often fails to describe, however, are the boundaries of these benefits. It’s great to feel good; it’s less great to feel manic or to feel good when you’re supposed to feel fear or anger or to make the pursuit of happiness your only goal in life. In a 2011 issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, a group of researchers led by June Gruber of Yale University surveyed what they call the “dark side” of happiness: a grey line of literature that exposed the times, ways, and degrees to which the emotion stops being useful and starts being harmful.