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Too Happy???

by Phyllis Pollack
April 2012

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

Phyllis  Pollack

Science never ceases to amaze me. Now there is a study that finds that being too happy is not a good thing. According to an article in the April 2, 2012 edition of The Washington Post entitled “Too much happiness can make you unhappy, studies show”, one can be less happy by being so happy. Sounds oxymoronic to me!

Evidently, according to June Gruber, a professor of psychology at Yale University, we should experience positive moods (like everything else in life) in moderation. According to psychologist Edward Diener, too much happiness can hamper your career; he found from a study of 16,000 people around the world that those who had high job satisfaction early on in their lives, reported that later in their careers they earned a lower income than their less satisfied comrades. Another study of American college freshmen found that years later, these very happy freshmen ended up earning $3,500 less a year than their not so happy peers.

Another study found that students participating as jurors in a mock trial reached different verdicts depending on how happy or unhappy they were; the “happy “jurors , being in a positive mood, were more likely to find the “defendant” guilty while those who were in a neutral mood were equally divided or, in legal parlance, constituted a “hung” jury.

Further, another study found that those jurors who were in a happy mood were less likely to detect that the defendant was lying about committing the crime. In a study involving 117 students at the University of New South Wales in Australia, Professor Joe Forgas showed specially selected video clips to these students to induce them to become either happy (i.e., a positive mood) or not so happy (i.e., a negative mood).The students then watched an interrogation of different “defendants” who allegedly stole a movie theater ticket. Some of these “defendants” had actually stolen the movie ticket but lied about it by denying the theft while others had not stolen the ticket and so were telling the truth when they denied the theft. Professor Forgas found that the “happy” students could detect the guilt only on a 50-50 basis; i.e., simply by mere chance. The not so happy students were able to detect the “guilty” defendant more than 50% of the time.

The article goes on to note that evidently “[f]eeling good makes people more selfish…and worse at defending their opinions…[and] less creative…” (Id.) The more happy someone strives to be, the more likely she will end up feeling less happy and disappointed.

So, what does this have to do with mediation and settling disputes? A lot. If the other party is TOO happy, chances are the matter may not settle. So, along with all the other tools in my toolbox, I must now have one that measures the “happiness” quotient of the parties. Isn’t life interesting!

… Just something to think about!


Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as well as their own needs better than any mediator or arbitrator. She does not impose her views or make decisions for the parties. Rather, Phyllis assists the parties in creating options that meet the needs and desires of both sides.  When appropriate, visual aids are used in preparing discussions and illustrating possible solutions. On the other hand, she is not averse to being proactive and offering a generous dose of reality, particularly when the process may have stalled due to unrealistic expectations of attorney or client, a failure to focus on needs rather than demands, or when one or more parties need to be reminded of the potential consequences of their failure to reach an agreement.

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