You might want to throw out those self-help books claiming to provide a route to happiness.
Scientists say that we’re making ourselves miserable by trying to be content with life.
They claim that looking for happiness makes us too focused on how much time we have to achieve it, and this paradoxically makes us feel unhappy.
Scroll down for video
The more we strive for happiness the more miserable we are, scientists claim. This is because people who pursue happiness often do not feel like they have enough time in the day and this paradoxically makes them feel unhappy (stock image)
The research was conducted by Aekyoung Kim of Rutgers University and Sam Maglio of the University of Toronto Scarborough.
They carried out four studies to look at how pursuing happiness as well as the state of being happy influenced people’s perception of time.
Participants either listed things that would make them happy or tried to make themselves feel happy while watching a dull movie about building bridges.
The aim of this was to make them think of happiness as something that was a goal.
The other participants came to think of happiness as a goal that they had already accomplished.
They did this by watching a slapstick comedy or listing items showing that they are already happy.
Afterwards, all participants reported how much free time they felt they had.
Those who said they had attained their goal of being happy did not feel time was as scarce, researchers found.
‘Time seems to vanish amid the pursuit of happiness, but only when seen as a goal requiring continued pursuit,’ researchers wrote in their paper.
‘This finding adds depth to the growing body of work suggesting that the pursuit of happiness can ironically undermine well-being.’
If someone believes they have achieved happiness, they are left with the time to appreciate this, for instance by keeping a gratitude journal.
The research also shows that people have different concepts about happiness, which in turn may well influence how they perceive the time they have to achieve happiness.
People who maintained they had already achieved their goal of being happy felt they had much more time to actually enjoy themselves, researchers found (stock image)
DOES GENEROSITY BRING HAPPINESS?
Being generous really does make people happier, according to research from an international team of experts.
Neurons in an area of the brain associated with generosity activate neurons in the ventral striatum, which are associated with happiness, the study found.
A group of 50 volunteers in Switzerland took part in a spending experiment, with each given 25 Swiss Francs (£20/$25) per week for four weeks.
As part of the experiment, participants performed an independent decision-making task, in which they could behave more or less generously while brain activity was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
They were asked to choose to give between three and 25 francs of their money as a present to a recipient different from those previously chosen.
The researchers found that participants who had committed to spending their endowment on others behaved more generously in the decision-making task.
They also discovered greater self-reported increases in happiness as compared to the control group.
The full results were published in the journal Nature Communications.
‘Because engaging in experiences and savouring the associated feelings requires more time compared with merely, for instance, buying material goods, feeling a lack of time also leads people to prefer material possessions rather than enjoying leisure experiences,’ the researchers wrote.
They say feeling pressed for time often also makes people less willing to spend time helping others or volunteering.
‘By encouraging people to worry less about pursuing happiness as a never-ending goal, successful interventions might just end up giving them more time and, in turn, more happiness.’
Earlier this month, researchers claimed that money really can buy happiness – but only up to a point.
Researchers from Purdue University found an annual income of between £43,000 ($60,000) and £54,000 ($75,000) is the ideal amount for emotional well-being.
They also discovered an income of £68,000 ($95,000) is the maximum amount people should earn to be completely satisfied with life.
Earning any more than this can cause people to be miserable because they become too focused on material goods, researchers claimed.