The Loneliness Trap

How expectation of happiness can increase feelings of loneliness

How expectation of happiness can increase feelings of loneliness

Despite increasing recognition and acceptance of mental health issues, Western cultures remain obsessed with the pursuit of happiness. Negative emotions such as depression and anxiety can still leave people marginalised.

Previous research has shown that social expectations to feel and act in a positive manner can actually increase feelings of sadness and reduce well-being.

New research recently published in the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science aimed to examine this further:

In this study, we examined whether the perceived social pressure not to experience or express negative emotion is linked to feelings of loneliness among people who experience higher levels of negative emotion

The researchers aimed to recruit 200 participants and were asked to complete questionnaires considering current depressive symptoms as well as several cognitive tasks.

Participants were then asked to consider particular emotions in relation to their expectations:

Participants were asked to focus on four specific emotions (sadness, depression, stress, and anxiety) and then to indicate their personal and social expectancies regarding these negative emotions.

The study was able to identify several correlations between the information that they had collected:

we examined whether social expectancies to avoid negative emotions, when combined with the experience of high levels of negative emotion, may be associated with feelings of loneliness. We found support for this prediction

That is to say that individuals already feeling negative emotions and feeling under pressure to be happy would see an increase in loneliness.

The authors concluded that ultimately this cycle of withholding negative emotional states may lead to social disconnection that would decrease peoples level of well-being.