The Downside of Happiness

Beware of What You Wish For

Todd Kashdan & Robert Biswas-Diener
Magazine Issue
September/October 2014
An illustration of a man in a formal shirt and tie with wings flies towards the sun while another falls below

As psychologists who frequently travel for work, how we describe our careers to strangers in the airline seats next to us can determine the tone of the subsequent conversation for hours to come. For instance, the mere mention that we’re psychologists prompts some people to open a book, don headphones, or pretend to fall asleep. In other cases, our expertise in mental matters seems to encourage our seatmates to unburden themselves. We can spend hours listening to the details of a failing marriage or a pet theory of motivation. Even pretending to be asleep doesn’t seem to dissuade our seatmates from asking us to interpret their dreams. On the few occasions we actually risk the truth and own up to the fact that we’re not just general psychologists but that we actually study happiness for a living, we can be guaranteed a near-desperate response: “What can I do to be happier?” There’s a clear and nearly universal assumption that happiness is desirable and, being so metaphorically shiny, we should all be trying to stockpile it. As experts in the field, we know the surprising truth.

Let’s pause for a second and explain what we mean by this thing called happiness. When lay people are asked to define happiness, they often conflate potential causes of happiness with happiness itself. They say things like “happiness is family” or “happiness is being grateful.” Although family and gratitude are undoubtedly important, they’re fairly poor descriptions of what happiness itself actually is, what it feels like, and how we know we’re experiencing it. When pushed for a more exact definition of the psychological experience, scholars, water-cooler philosophers, and book-group members agree on some broad commonalities. To begin with, happiness—at some level—has to be a feeling. Whether you call it joy, enthusiasm, or contentment, the basic truth remains: happiness is, at least in part, emotional, and is therefore experienced subjectively by the individual. When we talk about a happy person, we’re describing someone who lives through frequent positive emotions and infrequent negative emotions.

Happiness also reflects a personal judgment about life. In 1965, Hadley Cantril, a pioneer in happiness studies, asked people to imagine being on a ladder with rungs numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you, and the bottom represents the worst. On which rung of the ladder would you say you’re standing at this time? On which rung do you think you’ll be standing five years from now? The answer to the first question requires a mental calculation of positive thoughts in the present, and the answer to the second is a gauge of optimism about the future. Both contribute to your sense of happiness.

Happiness is a state of mind and, as such, can be measured, studied, and enhanced. You do this informally every day when you notice something about your spouse and ask, “What’s wrong?” or when you ask your best friend, “How was your trip to Italy?” Scientists take this a step further by having people answer these same kinds of questions using a numbered scale. The astute reader might wonder whether such scales can truly be trusted. Researchers are trained not to rely on these self-reports alone, but also to ask friends and family members to rate target individuals. Occasionally, we also use memory measures, reaction-time computer tests, daily diaries, and even biological measures such as brain scans and saliva cortisol samples. Taken together, these methods—even just a few of them—paint a reasonable portrait of a person’s happiness.

The current fever for happiness is spurred on, in part, by a growing body of research suggesting that happiness doesn’t just feel good but actually does good things for you. In a review of 225 academic papers on happiness, for instance, psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and her colleagues found that feeling upbeat is linked to all sorts of real-life benefits. People who feel frequent positivity:

  • engage in healthier behaviors such as wearing seat belts,
  • make more money,
  • have happier marriages,
  • receive better customer and supervisor evaluations at work,
  • are more generous, and
  • end up being promoted more often by bosses.

Then there’s the most compelling data of all: happiness is causally related to health, meaning that being happy actually makes you healthier. In one dramatic demonstration of this point, Sheldon Cohen and his colleagues infected willing participants with the rhinovirus (the common cold) after first giving them a cheerfulness questionnaire. Over subsequent days, the research team quarantined the participants in a hotel in order to control their diet and the people with whom they came in contact. During this period, participants had their temperature taken, their blood pressure measured, and were even asked to supply samples of their mucus. In addition, they filled out surveys regarding various symptoms such as headache, stiffness, and aching. What researchers found was that whether you observed the mucus consistency and immunoglobulin levels via biological samples (objective data) or asked participants how they felt (subjective data), happier people were 50 percent less likely to develop a cold than their unhappy counterparts.

Thus, while happiness might not cure cancer, it does seem to promote better immune system function.

The research on the overall benefits of happiness is growing steadily. One common theory holds that happiness is humanity’s natural resting state. Happy people are more likely to be social, exploratory, inventive, and healthy. It’s a short logical jump from there to the idea that happiness provides an evolutionary advantage. It’s no wonder that happiness is often touted as a panacea. In fact, happiness seems so valuable that it’s sometimes difficult to imagine that it has any downsides.

One interesting red flag with regard to happiness comes from a recent study of the different ways in which Japanese people and Americans think about happiness. Yukiko Uchida, a researcher at Kyoto University, asked a question that would likely get her kicked out of an American happiness club (yes, there are happiness clubs you can join). She asked people native to both countries to rate happiness on how positive it is and how negative it is, respectively. The Americans awarded happiness a very rosy 5.4 of 7 total possible points. The Japanese participants, on the other hand, gave it a respectable—but significantly lower—score of 5.1. More interesting is that the Japanese people rated happiness a 4.7 of 7 for being negative. The Americans, by contrast, gave it a 4.25 of 7, which, in statistical terms, was significantly lower. You might be scratching your head and wondering how happiness could be negative. Isn’t it a good feeling? The two key negative aspects of happiness that Japanese people are sensitive to, and which Americans have a tendency to overlook, are social disruption (one person’s happiness can interfere with that of another) and avoiding reality (can’t happiness be a bit naive?).

Perhaps this is merely a cultural quirk, a prejudice of Japanese people, so let’s check their views against empirical research on happiness. We already know that happiness is widely beneficial. But are there downsides as well? One of the earliest published studies to identify a cost of positive emotion was published in 1991 by Ed Diener and his colleagues at the University of Illinois. They were interested in the uniquely American understanding of happiness: that intense jolt of enthusiasm you experience at a sporting event, the powerful rush of pride you feel when watching your child perform onstage, or the euphoria that comes with landing a new job. They wondered if all that cowboyish yee-haw might also make people just a bit saddle sore.

These researchers found several ways in which intense positive experiences can be costly. First is a contrast effect in which the experience of emotional highs makes other good events seem to shine less brightly. Winning a million dollars in the lottery, for instance, might make a subsequent win of one hundred dollars on an instant scratch ticket seem pretty ho-hum. Second is a carryover effect, in which people who mentally amplify their positive experiences also unwittingly amplify their negative experiences. For example, people who whoop it up in a big way after a win are also vulnerable to a crashing feeling of utter defeat after a loss. This study was an early and important cautionary note regarding happiness.

Has Happiness Been Taken Too Far?

The tendency is to overlook the fact that happiness itself is sometimes harmful. When most of us hear the phrase positive emotions, we think of mental states that feel pleasurable and attract other people. When we hear negative emotions, we think of unpleasant, unproductive states that repel other people. After all, who wants to eat lunch with a curmudgeon? But positive emotions and thoughts aren’t always useful. Here are several often overlooked research results about a happy mindset that sound a warning.

Your Happiness Can Interfere with Your Success. Psychologist Shigehiro Oishi and his international collaborators collected current dictionary definitions of happiness in 30 countries. They found that in 24 of those countries, happiness was deemed to be strongly related to fate, fortune, or luck. Notably, the United States ended up being part of the minority, a quirky country where happiness is viewed as a controllable, attainable state of mind. In fact, American collective views on happiness mirror our general attitudes about life: if only we plan well and work hard, we can achieve the health, body, spouse, work, money, and recreation we desire. These views on happiness mirror our general take on life so closely that we often conflate happiness with success. This makes the notion that happiness can interfere with success particularly jarring for Americans, and yet a growing body of research suggests that happiness has some quantifiable drawbacks.

Happy people are less persuasive. Interestingly, attention to detail is the type of thinking that characterizes unhappy moods. Happy people, by contrast, are more likely to overlook details in favor of the big picture—what we refer to as a superficial processing style. Extrapolating from this principle, unhappy people—with their tendency to pay more attention to and process concrete situational details—should generate more persuasive messages compared to the superficial, abstract approach of happy folks. Research shows this is exactly the case. When asked to construct persuasive arguments about issues that are germane to everyday life (using tax money to fund parks and playgrounds) and that are of the more philosophical variety (do soul mates exist?), unhappy people created stronger arguments than happy people. In three studies, judges rated the quality of unhappy people’s arguments as approximately 25 percent more impressive and 20 percent more concrete than those made by happy folks. These remarkable numbers were based on participant conversations with a friend whom they were trying to persuade. When participants produced arguments to persuade a stranger to change views on a public policy issue, unhappy people were twice as effective.

Happy people can be too trusting. Trust is difficult to establish with new people, given that there is no X-ray or CAT scan to gauge a person’s underlying motivations, or to accurately predict how someone will treat you in the future. We must rely instead on our hunches regarding the character and honesty of the people with whom we come in contact. Joseph Forgas and his fellow Australian researchers wanted to determine how accurate happy people—with their more superficial processing style—are at detecting deceit, which requires paying close attention to facial expressions, eye movements, and the specific language people use. Researchers asked study participants to enter a room one at a time. Inside they found a movie ticket in an envelope. Once they were alone in a dark room with the envelope, they were given the option to take the movie ticket for themselves or leave the envelope alone: the experimenter emphasized that they—the researchers—would never know the truth. The participants were then instructed to deny taking the ticket if they did in fact take it. What’s more, the participants were informed that there would be a reward later if they could convince everyone else in the research group that they hadn’t taken the ticket for themselves.

After this brief opportunity to grab the loot, the participants were interrogated: did you take the movie ticket? Videos captured people denying the act. Unbeknownst to the observers, half of these denials were deceitful and half were honest. Forgas and his colleagues found that when people are happy, they’re able to detect whether someone is lying only 49 percent of the time, slightly worse than chance. When people were experimentally put into an unhappy, sad mood before watching the videotapes, they ended up being much more successful, accurately detecting liars 62 percent of the time.

Think about this in the real world. Imagine being able to boost your ability to judge the honesty of job applicants by 13 percent. Imagine being able to help resolve conflicts between adversaries, with their competing versions of the truth, by 13 percent. This is what happens when we stop holding rigidly to the idea that positivity must prevail as often as possible. You might be asking, how does this work? Should I be trying to make myself sad before work? We’re not suggesting that you meditate on the suffering of victims of natural disasters to make yourself sad. We’re suggesting, instead, that you honor the emotions that arise in you naturally at key decision points. When people are unsure whether someone is telling the truth, concerned about somebody’s trustworthiness, or in the midst of evaluating someone, they’re rarely in a flat-out happy mood. During these decision points, people often feel somber, even emotionally conflicted until the decision-making is over. Just know that this state of mind is perfect for the task. Don’t focus on the short game by trying to boost your mood. Instead, focus on the long game and pay attention to making good decisions instead of just feeling good.

Happy people are lazy thinkers. If happy people rely on cursory, superficial strategies to collect information from the outside world, then they’re going to be more prone to using stereotypes and remembering fewer details than their unhappy peers. Researchers found support for both of these assumptions. After being given a list of 15 words on a similar theme, such as bed, rest, and tired, and asked to remember whether the word sleep had been on the list (it hadn’t), happy people were much more likely to take the bait and incorporate this misleading information into their memory. To get an idea of the extent of these false memories, happy people were 50 percent more likely to recall words they hadn’t seen.

Studies like these provide us with a new perspective on happiness. Although happiness can be beneficial, researchers have started to discover previously ignored drawbacks. When a task requires attention to detail, happy people are at a disadvantage compared with unhappy peers. When you’re happy, the “keep the good times rolling” attitude compromises your ability to detect deception, and you become highly susceptible to judgment errors. By contrast, a slight tilt toward negativity enhances performance in several contexts, such as discerning someone’s trustworthiness or when there’s a pressing need to pay attention to details in a crisis. Thanks to scientists challenging the status quo, we’ve discovered that there are precise situations when deviating from positivity to feel and think negatively unleashes our potential to perform at our best.

The Pursuit of Happiness Often Backfires, Ending in Unhappiness. For months, you’ve been awaiting the release of what promises to be a blockbuster cinema event, the latest film in the epic retelling of J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy classic The Hobbit. You read the book when you were a teenager, and even now you delight in mentions of elves and dwarves. In anticipation of the big event, you’ve kept yourself in a media blackout so that you can experience every delight and surprise the film has to offer. You just know that the movie will be an awesome experience. What’s more, you have an equally geeky friend who’s promised to see the film with you on opening night. She’s been following the production of the movie closely and knows that the director, Peter Jackson, split The Hobbit into three parts, each debuting at the theater one year apart. She also knows that Jackson will be drawing liberally from the book’s arcane appendices to fill out the subplots. Who do you think is going to enjoy the movie more? You or your friend? Do you think your desire to be pleased will lead to more enjoyment, or will her detailed understanding of the many aspects of the film trump that? According to the latest scientific research, your friend is probably going to derive more happiness from the experience, in part because unlike you, she’s not trying to use the film to produce happiness.

Researchers have found that when you enter into a situation with the goal of becoming happier, you actually make that less likely to occur. To test this, Jonathan Schooler, Dan Ariely, and George Loewenstein randomly gave participants one of four sets of instructions before listening to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring:

1. Try to make yourself as happy as possible when listening.

2. Listen as you normally do.

3. As you listen, move a dial to indicate how happy you feel and how your mood changes.

4. Try to make yourself as happy as possible and keep tabs on how your happiness ebbs and flows while listening (a combination of instructions 1 and 3).

Compared with adults using music as a tactic to become happier (instruction 1), adults instructed to just listen (instruction 2) ended up 4.5 times happier with Stravinsky’s pleasant violins, a 450 percent better return on their investment. Clearly, the strategy of trying to use music as a means to an end backfired. Even more dramatic, people who tried to use music to become happier while also tracking how well they met their happiness goal felt 7.5 times worse than people just listening to the music. This finding is important because conventional wisdom regarding the pursuit of happiness tells us that people should understand what brings them happiness, create goals that will help with this overarching aim to be happy, and then work toward these goals, tracking the effort put in and progress made. We now have scientific evidence suggesting that this single-minded pursuit of happiness is akin to trying to grab a bar of soap in the bathtub. The more you reach through the water, the more the soap slips away, and the more difficult it is to lay a hand on.

In another study, these same researchers gave adults a questionnaire asking how much importance they place on attaining happiness and about the amount of stress in their lives. The same paradox emerged. Each day over a two-week period, adults with the greatest desire to be happy felt lonelier, more depressed, and less purposeful, and had fewer positive emotions, lower progesterone levels, and reduced emotional intelligence. This makes sense because that single-minded aim to be happy above all else is a selfish pursuit. It’s about feeling good and having positive thoughts. The notion that other people matter is a secondary concern, which can interfere with the quality of one’s relationships. Think about love in romance, family, and friendships. If only one of you gets an upgrade to that buttery leather seat in first class with treats from the ice-cream sundae cart, you give it up; love is about being willing to sacrifice your happiness to ensure theirs gets a boost. When someone shares a funny story, you often relish the experience because you know that your partner or friend will crack up during the retelling. Love is about adopting another person’s perspective of the world, and when overvaluing your happiness gets in the way, it leads to unfortunate by-products such as loneliness.

Sometimes People Want to Feel Bad. Have you ever watched a person at the customer-service desk report a missing piece of luggage? Lost luggage, like broken merchandise and ill-fitting clothing, requires us to expend effort—often frustrating effort—and to advocate for ourselves. Despite the nearly universal feeling of hassle that comes with being separated from your suitcase, many people take the nice-guy approach: they offer the service representative a conspiratorial smile and a wink and say, “Hey, I know you didn’t lose my luggage. You just work here.” We are, after all, civilized. We can keep our cool and avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. Yet the people who “own” their feelings of frustration and can effectively communicate their anger about matters like lost luggage are often highly effective advocates. They persevere longer and are more likely to get customer service agents to use their position to override protocols and step up extra efforts to find the missing bags.

This isn’t hypothetical. One study shows that a little anger is a superior strategy when it comes to effectively returning a purchased item. The reasons for this probably change depending on who’s having the conversation and the amount of money and time involved. But you can bet that anger works because the other person feels your discomfort. Your anger gets them to focus in the here and now on what you have to say, and they recognize that a problem will be highly likely and costly (to their job standing and mental health) if they don’t act reason- ably with you. By contrast, others who express disappointment but not anger are easier to brush off as insignificant. When emotions can lead to a better outcome, it’s helpful to focus on what you want to accomplish rather than what you feel.

It turns out that people have an intuitive grasp of the function of negative emotions, and sometimes choose these psychological downstates over happiness to achieve a goal. Certain situations call for feelings and behaviors that deviate from the happiness repertoire. Happiness motivates people to be friendly, to be helpful, and to try to connect with other people. Sounds good, except that other people aren’t always on our side. When somebody tries to sabotage you at work, you might want to seek help, creating alliances at meetings to ensure that your ideas aren’t prematurely and unfairly shot down. This means convincing other people and figuring out strategies to neutralize adversaries. Expressions of sadness communicate to others that you’re in trouble and need help; expressions of happiness signal to others that everything is fine. Thus, if your goal is to gain assistance, this is the wrong time to feel happy, express happiness, and minimize the unpleasantness of sadness.

Someone Else’s Happiness Can Impair Your Performance. Psychologist Seth Kaplan asked a group of people to complete what can only be described as an incredibly boring simulation of what air-traffic controllers do every day. Research subjects were asked to sit in a chair and watch a radar screen carefully, and if they saw two planes en route to a collision they were to set off an alarm. What made this job so tiring were the high stakes involved and the tedium: 93 percent of the time the planes never came anywhere near each another. For 15 minutes, subjects watched circles representing airplanes creep ever so slowly around a screen. While they were doing so, Seth Kaplan had one person serve as leader of the group, staying in the room with the air-traffic controllers and adopting one of two management styles. In one group, the leader was a cheerleader, emphasizing how well each person was performing with a litany of appreciative statements (“You got this!”). In the other group, the leader commiserated, acknowledging how boring the task was but also emphasizing that together they would get through this painful ordeal.

In the research setting, staff with commiserating leaders not only performed better, but also rated the task as more enjoyable. The take-home lesson is simple: don’t create a culture based on the assumption that positivity must reign supreme. Instead, create a culture where everyone knows that it’s safe to be real, and that depending on the situation, it’s sometimes better to feel something other than happiness.

If Happiness Is So Great, Why Aren’t We Better at It?

If happiness is so beneficial, and if people frequently experience it (they report they do between 60 and 80 percent of the time), then why aren’t we all better at being happy? Why do we move to a bigger house with the huge lawn to play soccer with the kids and end up feeling less happy because it now requires an extra 20 minutes to visit our closest friends? Why do parents schedule their kids for afterschool theater practice and math tutoring, knowing that everyone will feel rushed, bicker, and argue more often? It turns out that we succumb to a variety of common biases that interfere with our ability to effectively choose what will make us happy. Even worse, these biases are often invisible to us.

Virtually all of our poor happiness choices hinge on a single psychological fact: we’re typically in a different state when making choices than we are when we experience the result of that choice. Imagine, for instance, that you show up to a fancy restaurant famished. When your server takes your order she informs you that if you want to order the chocolate soufflé for dessert, the order must be put in immediately because of the long baking time required. Your stomach casts its vote and you go ahead with the soufflé. At the end of dinner, however, when it arrives at your table, you’re full and you end up enjoying the rich dessert much less than you anticipated. The reason, of course, is that you did a poor job of predicting your future state, falling prey to what psychologists call projection bias.

A number of other biases lead us to make poor predictions of what will make us happy in the future, and the consequences can be much more dire than a half-eaten soufflé. But the single most toxic decision-making bias, where happiness is concerned, is the wanting/liking bias. When most people hear about this, they’re shocked that they have gone their entire lives without having clearly understood it. This bias is based on the distinction between wanting something and liking something. You might want a pet dog, for instance, far more than you’d actually like having a pet dog. Neuroscience research supports the idea that these are two separate psychological processes: wanting, which is an appetite, is associated with one region of the brain, whereas enjoying, or liking, is associated with another.

Craving something, whether it’s a new job, a new toy, or a jelly donut, is often psychologically, and sometimes physically, arousing. We tend to want things really badly. Once we get them, however, we stop revving so high, emotionally speaking. We like whatever it is well enough, but not nearly as much as we once wanted it. In fact, the long meetings, tough commute, and nasty office politics at the new job may not be likable at all, despite the intensity of the craving to be offered the job in the first place. In this way, we often function a little bit like drug addicts, making purchases and other life choices based on a strong desire, without the ability or motive to really see the long-term effects.

Where happiness is concerned, the distinction between wanting and liking is of utmost importance because we often assume that these two are the same. If I want something, the intuitive logic goes, then I will like it if I get it. Not true. Trips to Aruba, extramarital affairs, the regional manager position at work, a Rolex watch: we tend to want these things in the short term far more than we’ll actually like them in the long term. Everyone is prone to conflating these two experiences, and, as a result, we can make some really terrible decisions where happiness is concerned.

Taken together in the real world, these biases lead to billions of dollars annually in misspent money and impulsive decisions, none of which yield the happiness we expect. In psychology, we sometimes talk about an Icarus complex. According to Greek mythology, Icarus and his father, Daedalus, were imprisoned on the island of Crete. Daedalus fashioned two pairs of wings from wax and warned his son that as they flew away, he should be cautious not to venture too near to the sun. But, once aloft, Icarus was so delighted by the experience of flight that he flew higher and higher until his wings melted, and he plummeted to his death. Not everyone suffers from an Icarus complex, but we are all prone to seeing happiness as unqualifiedly good, and this is an example of its backfiring in a big way.

A Playbook for Mild Unhappiness

Don’t be mistaken, we are fully aware of the robust and widely confirmed findings on the benefits of positive emotions, positive thoughts, and happiness. In fact, we’ve contributed to the literature. But what’s largely untapped is the potential we can draw from the fact that under certain predictable circumstances, being mildly unhappy seems to be better than being happy. This includes tasks that require detail-oriented, systematic, or analytical thinking, which counts for much of what we do at home (think of budgeting and designing weekend plans) and work (think of completing administrative paperwork and trying to determine trends and patterns from mounds of information). The key word is mildly, for serious unhappiness, in the form of chronic loneliness and emotional disorders, impairs our ability to function, and in the worst-case scenario leads to thoughts of death and suicidal acts. Here, we’re not talking about emotional problems and disorders as hidden gifts.

The information-processing styles linked to mild unhappiness and happiness are not in competition: one is neither better nor worse than the other; each has its advantages in the right context. We all fall into the trap of using the terms positive emotions and negative emotions. This language, this labeling, keeps us from being whole and able to function optimally, and fully.

The Takeaways

First, when we’re happy, our comfort with the status quo interferes with our ability to carefully attend to detail, and as a result we end up a bit more gullible, a bit less persuasive, and a little further from success.

Second, although happiness is widely beneficial, organizing one’s life around it can lead to a great deal of effort and time being spent unwisely. Trying too hard to be happy interferes with the pleasure, engagement, and meaning we could otherwise find in the world.

Third, happiness agendas backfire. Short-term and long-term goals are connected to each other, and we often need to sacrifice short-term happiness to accomplish meaningful long-term outcomes. People want to feel bad from time to time, especially when these “negative” psychological states are seen as instrumental to achieving a particular goal, such as preparing for a confrontation or persuading other people to alter their opinions.

Fourth, when a task is boring or requires detail-oriented or analytical skills, happy leaders can inadvertently squelch motivation and impair performance. The best leaders tailor their expression of emotions to what their followers are going through and what will inspire the best outcome.

Last, if you want to be surrounded by productive, creative, satisfied people, create an environment where diverse feelings and behaviors are honored.

Peter Drucker once quipped, “Never mind your happiness; do your duty.” Based on the latest science, we offer a similar recommendation: that happy thoughts and feelings be viewed as a thermostat, a metric that offers insight into how things are going. When moving the thermostat becomes the objective of life, activities lose their intrinsic appeal and performance is compromised. If you want to be happy, get out of your head and into your life. Trying desperately to seek the positive and avoid the negative is not only a wasteful errand, it will also lead you to fail at what you desire most. The situationally aware person is ready to take advantage of fortuitous opportunities when they arise and prepared to tilt the expression of their thoughts and feelings toward happiness or unhappiness as appropriate. To claim the benefits of unhappy states described here, you must find, tolerate, and appreciate them.

From The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self—Not Just Your “Good” Self—Drives Success and Fulfillment by Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener. Reprinted by arrangement with Hudson Street Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC. Copyright © Todd Kashdan, PhD, and Robert Biswas-Diener, Dr. Philos., 2014.

Todd Kashdan, PhD, is professor of psychology and senior scientist at the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being at George Mason University. He’s published more than 150 scholarly articles, and his research has been featured in several media outlets, including the New York Times and The Washington Post. These contributions have been recognized through distinguished career awards from the American Psychological Association (2013), the International Society for the Quality of Life (2012), and the Association for the Advancement of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (2006).

Robert Biswas-Diener, Dr. Philos., has published more than 40 scholarly articles and has trained thousands of professionals on six continents. He’s conducted research with groups typically overlooked by psychologists, including Amish farmers, sex workers in Kolkata, Maasai tribespeople, and seal hunters in a remote corner of Greenland.


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