Several researchers in happiness studies have called for an increased sociopolitical interest in indicators of societal happiness. However, recent evidence for the proposed paradoxical effects of valuing happiness suggest that an increase in society’s perceived value of happiness may exert a detrimental, inverse influence on well-being. This notion is based on previous research demonstrating that manipulating participants to value happiness causes them to experience less positive emotions, compared to controls, when viewing positive film clips. Following the humanistic notion that the maximization of societal happiness is an advantageous sociopolitical endeavor, the proposed paradoxical effects of valuing happiness present a psychological barrier that researchers must strive to understand and, ideally, overcome. Previous experimental research on the paradoxical effects of valuing happiness has focused on participants’ emotionality as an operational definition of happiness. However, drawing from the Subjective Well-Being construct, emotionality is only one of several components of happiness. Building from this Subjective-Well Being framework, this study expands upon previous research by investigating whether a valuing happiness manipulation influences participants’ emotionality while they contemplate their own happiness. To examine this, nineteen participants were divided into two groups, one which received a valuing happiness manipulation (n=9) and the others served as a control group (n=10), and instructed to contemplate their personal happiness for 45 seconds. To measure participants’ emotions during this task, facial electromyography data were collected from the corrugator supercilii and the zygomaticus major facial muscles, a measure that previous research suggests is sensitive to the emotional value of thought. Results indicated that participants manipulated to value happiness did not experience significant differences in facial electromyography activation compared to controls. However, although non-significant, the correlation between facial electromyography activation and participants’ rating of happiness differed substantially for participants manipulated to value happiness (average r=.41 for corrugator, average r=-.09 for zygomaticus) and controls (average r=.-.29 for corrugator, average r=.14 for zygomaticus). The counterintuitive correlations for participants led to value happiness, despite not experiencing significant difference in the emotional value of the happiness contemplation task, provide preliminary evidence that these participants utilize the information retrieved from the contemplative stage in a qualitatively different way than controls when judging their own happiness. More specifically, the correlations for participants led to value happiness trend in the opposite direction of controls, demonstrating that increases in positive emotion during happiness contemplation actually are associated with lower scores on a self-report of happiness. This study suggests that the paradoxical effects of valuing happiness does not influence the retrieval of information when contemplating ones’ happiness, but may influence (in an apparently detrimental fashion) how this information is utilized when judging one’s happiness. Although the between-condition differences in correlations failed to reach statistical significance (more specifically, p=.09 for corrugator), this study provides preliminary evidence for the existence of a new dynamic of the proposed paradoxical effects of valuing happiness that is novel to the happiness studies discourse. Limitations, implications, and future directions are discussed.


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Thesis Completion





Sims, Valerie


Bachelor of Science (B.S.)


Office of Undergraduate Studies


Interdisciplinary Studies

Degree Program

Interdisciplinary Studies


Dissertations, Academic -- Office of Undergraduate Studies; Office of Undergraduate Studies -- Dissertations, Academic







Access Status

Open Access

Length of Campus-only Access


Document Type

Honors in the Major Thesis

Included in

Psychology Commons