Health & Wellness

Caution: Don't be too happy at work! Why overt bliss can backfire

If you’re happy and you know it, express it with care.

New research finds people who seem very happy are perceived to be more naïve and gullible than their less-blissful counterparts. Overly cheerful individuals are also more likely to be exploited, receive bad advice and get taken advantage of.

Those may be counter-intuitive findings in an era when bookstores are bulging with guides on how to find and project happiness. But there are downsides to happiness that people haven’t carefully thought about, said Maurice Schweitzer, a co-author of the study and professor of operations, information and decisions at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

“I think we’ve gotten a little carried away with the idea that we’re supposed to express happiness,” Schweitzer told TODAY. “What happens when people are too happy and what signals do we send with that?”

RELATED: Seeking happiness at work? Try these simple practices

The signals may be that, in order to stay so joyful, very happy individuals are sheltering themselves from all the bad stuff happening in the world and they don't think about things very deeply, which convinces people around them that they are naïve, according to the research.

Moderate happiness is expected and normal in North American cultures, Schweitzer noted. It’s those very high levels of expressed happiness that can trigger opportunistic behavior in others. That can be particularly dangerous in a work or business setting: Very giddy workers may seem unprepared to handle customer complaints, while managers may be seen “as easily persuaded, unknowledgeable, exploitable, or broadly ineffective,” the study notes.

RELATED: 12 life lessons to increase your happiness

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The pursuit of happiness is celebrated on TODAY: See the best tips

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The pursuit of happiness is celebrated on TODAY: See the best tips

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How do you tell the difference between someone who is moderately and very happy?

When asked how he’s doing, a moderately happy person might answer “Good” and greet you with a friendly grin. A very happy person might always enthusiastically exclaim “Great!” and beam with an ear-to-ear smile. That extremely cheerful reaction may come with social costs.

“If you’re looking to exploit somebody, you’re more likely to take advantage of a person who appears to be very happy. We think that person is not thinking very critically,” Schweitzer noted.

As you interact with people, get used to the notion that you're being watched. We pay lots of attention to the emotional expressions of colleagues and others, both consciously and unconsciously, because those expressions provide many clues.

“We’re constantly scanning our environment, we’re constantly making inferences about the people around us, we’re trying to navigate our social world,” he said. “We’re looking around to make judgments about people and try to forecast what they’re thinking and what they’re likely to do.”

RELATED: 8 steps to make this a happier day

Here are the main lessons from the study:

1. Be aware

Know that the emotions you express are influencing how people think of you. There are norms regarding happiness and moderate expression of joy seems to be just fine, Schweitzer. Just don’t go overboard.

2. Let others know you

If you are expressing very high levels of happiness all the time, be aware that you can create the impression of being naïve. You may have to take extra steps to convince people that you do think carefully and critically and you’re not going to be easily exploited.

3. Take it easy

If you are naturally very cheerful, you may want to tamp that reflex down a bit, particularly when you’re meeting people for the first time.

4. Happy reactions aren't always appropriate

In a business setting, think of the context: No one wants surly co-workers or service, but happiness may not be appropriate in all situations. Someone calling to complain about a bad experience doesn’t want a really upbeat, chipper person. He simply wants someone sympathetic.

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