The Disadvantages of Looking Very Happy

There is abundant evidence that being or appearing to be happy gives many advantages in life, health, relationships and work. On the other hand, however, Ana Swanson points to the  work of Barasch et al . showing that very happy people are more likely to be stolen.

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  • We examine how the magnitude of happiness expressed influences social perception.
  • Very happy people are perceived as more naive than moderately happy individuals.
  • It is believed that very happy people are sheltered from negative information.
  • Very happy people are exploited in conflicts of interest and in distributive negotiations.
  • We challenge previous work, identifying a disadvantage of expressing happiness.


“In six studies, we examined how the magnitude of expressed happiness influences social perception and interpersonal behavior . We think that happiness evokes different judgments when expressed at high levels than when expressed at moderate levels, and that these judgments influence opportunistic behavior.

Specifically, people perceive very happy individuals as more naive than moderately happy individuals. These perceptions reflect the belief that very happy people protect themselves from negative information about the world.

As a result of these inferences, very happy people , compared to moderately happy people, are more likely to receive biased advice from consultants in a conflict of interest and are more likely to be chosen as negotiating partners when the opportunity for exploration is salient.

Our findings challenge existing assumptions in behavioral and organizational psychology, identifying a significant disadvantage in expressing happiness , and underlining the importance of examining emotional expressions in different magnitudes. We invite future work to explore how the same emotion, experienced or expressed at different levels, influences judgment and behavior.

by Abdullah Sam
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