The Problem of Marginal Value and Surveys
The pursuit of happiness can be lonely
Iris Mauss et al., Emotion, forthcoming
Abstract: 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.
Um....if everyone valued "happiness" equally, but if happiness has diminishing marginal utility, among other goals, then the most lonely people would report the greatest marginal utility from increased happiness. People who already have quite a bit of happiness would value it much less, at the margin.
And that's all this survey is getting at: marginal utility of happiness. So, it's not true that people who value happiness are more lonely. Instead, lonely people have little happiness, and so at the margin value it more.
(nod to Kevin Lewis)
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