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People who had an unhappy childhood are more likely to be afraid of happiness, according to a multinational study

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A recent study measured a construct called conversion to happiness among a cross-cultural sample. The results published in the journal motivation and emotionrevealed that the main predictors of belief were an unhappy childhood, perfectionism, loneliness, and belief in black magic and karma.

Happiness is a coveted emotion around which many of us build our lives. But research in psychology suggests that people may fear happiness, a concept called happiness aversion. Author of the study Mohsen Joshanloo describes it as “the belief that experiencing or expressing happiness can cause bad things”.

In 2013, Joshanloo developed a Fear of Happiness Scale to measure this emotional belief. In a more recent study, he tested the scale in various countries while examining potential predictors of happiness aversion.

Happiness is generally considered the ultimate goal in life that everyone seeks (or should seek). But about a decade ago, I came to believe that wasn’t true for everyone,” said Joshanloo, associate professor at Keimyung University and honorary senior fellow at the University of Melbourne.

“I have noticed that some people and cultures prioritize other goals and values ​​(e.g. hard work, religion, justice, morality, excellence, and prestige) over happiness. More so, i have noticed that some people question the value of happiness or believe that happiness can be useless or harmful.i started a series of studies on fear of happiness or aversion to happiness in different cultures to disprove the common misconception that everyone is constantly pursuing happiness and prioritizing happiness above all else.

“Today I can say that the empirical research that other researchers and I have carried out has borne fruit and that there is greater awareness in the social sciences of the diversity of secular conceptions of happiness. “

In the new study, a final sample of 871 adults completed an online survey. The participants came from ten different regions of the world: the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Brazil, Vietnam, the Philippines, India and Romania. The questionnaires included the 5-point Fear of Happiness Scale, where participants rated their agreement with items such as “I prefer not to be too happy, because usually joy is followed by sadness.” The surveys also included measures of nine potential predictor variables.

First, Joshanloo tested for measurement invariance – the extent to which the fear of happiness scale measured the same construct across countries. These tests, conducted in five countries with samples larger than 50, revealed almost complete measurement invariance. Notably, a previous study found measurement invariance for the Fear of Happiness Scale among college students from 14 countries. These two results suggest that the scale can be reliably used to measure happiness aversion across countries.

The researcher then tested the predictive power of the nine variables evaluated. The results revealed that all predictors were significant, except gender and religiosity. Aversion to happiness beliefs was stronger in younger, lonelier, and more perfectionist people. They were also more common in people who believed in collective happiness, believed in black magic or karma, and remembered an unhappy childhood.

“The results show that people from collectivistic cultures are more likely to show an aversion to happiness than people from individualistic cultures,” Joshanloo told PsyPost. “At the individual level, perfectionist tendencies, loneliness, a perceived unhappy childhood, belief in paranormal phenomena, and a collectivist understanding of happiness are positively associated with happiness aversion.”

Importantly, reporting an unhappy childhood predicted happiness aversion even after controlling for current loneliness. As Joshanloo explains, “This suggests that traumatic experiences in childhood can have a lasting impact on a person’s perceived happiness, independent of the individual’s satisfaction with current relationships at age. adult.”

The author discusses what the other significant predictors might mean. The fact that belief in karma and black magic were significant predictors suggests that some people view supernatural forces as responsible for the negative consequences of happiness. When it comes to perfectionism, people with perfectionist tendencies may be overly focused on avoiding failure, causing them to down-regulate their happy feelings and even view happiness as an obstacle to their accomplishments. .

Believing in a collective concept of happiness (e.g., “A person cannot be happy, if his family or friends are not happy”) can lead people to devalue manifestations of happiness to prioritize group happiness and maintain social harmony. Consistent with this idea, study participants from collectivist countries (India and the Philippines) had a stronger aversion to beliefs about happiness.

“We have different genes, different fingerprints, different personality traits, and different ideas about happiness,” Joshanloo said. Our attitude towards happiness is not just a matter of personal choice. This attitude is determined to some extent by cultural factors, our psychological traits (for example, the degree of perfectionism) and the quality of our relationships with others throughout life.

However, the sample sizes for each country were small and unrepresentative. The questionnaire also used single-item measures for almost all variables, so the results will need to be replicated with further study.

“Although individuals from 10 countries participated in the survey, the sample size in some of these countries is very small and no firm conclusions can be drawn about these countries,” Joshanloo explained. “For future research, we need larger samples from more countries. Future studies should also use longer measures to assess different dimensions of the predictors. For example, perfectionism has multiple dimensions (eg, fear of making mistakes, high personal standards, perceived high parental expectations, and doubt about the quality of one’s actions). These dimensions may have different relationships with happiness aversion, which can be explored in future research.

“It should be noted that happiness can be defined in different ways,” added the researcher. “People are much more likely to oppose emotional definitions of happiness (based on pleasure, enjoyment, and positive feelings) than virtue-based definitions (based on the search for meaning in life and the flourishing).”

The study,Happiness aversion predictors: new insights from a multinational study. »was written by Mohsen Joshanloo.