Happy people are suckers — well, at least, they look like suckers, a University of Chicago researcher has found.
Despite conventional wisdom — and the advice of countless self-help books — being exceptionally happy might cost you, says Emma Levine, a behavioral psychologist at U. of C.’s Booth School of Business and co-author of a new study.
As it turns out, people assume that their more joyful peers are naive, and less-happy people consistently try to take advantage of that naivete, Levine says.
“If you appear to be always happy, you are more likely to get taken advantage of,” she says.
Levine and co-authors Alixandra Barasch and Maurice Schweitzer surveyed people on their perception of their own happiness and others. They also set up an experiment in which participants were asked to advise others as they tried to estimate the amount of money in a jar— with the adviser knowing they’d get a bonus if the other person guessed a figure higher than the actual amount.
When those being advised were rated “very happy,” their advisers tended to oversell the amount of cash in the jar — more than when they were dealing with partners who were rated less happy.
The reason appears to be that people assume that very happy people are missing out on something, according to Levine. When people are exceedingly happy, even in the face of depressing circumstances, their less-happy peers seem to believe they just can’t comprehend saddening information.
“People I’ve talked with say, ‘Man, I know that [relentlessly happy] person, and they always annoy me, and now I know why,” Barasch says.
The good news — and you know who you are if you were waiting for good news — is that stereotypes of joyful people apply only to those with perpetually sunny dispositions. And Levine suggests that making it clear to others you’re aware of the downside of issues and aren’t avoiding or failing to comprehend them can reassure folks that you’re not a rube to be taken to the cleaners.