Most of us like to think of ourselves as happy people. In our society’s culture, people tend to seek out positive individuals for connection. We’ve all been told to, “look on the bright side” or that no one likes a “Debbie Downer.” However, there’s also a certain perception that exists regarding people who are “too happy.” Let’s face it, constantly cheerful folks can tend to be a bit annoying. A study by New York University, University of Pennsylvania and University of Chicago researchers shows that giving the appearance of being very happy can also lead others to believe a person is naive and that such a happy individual can be easily manipulated. Read on to discover the methods researchers employed in order to reach such conclusions and the implications the findings may have for certain types of vocational or leadership positions.
Very Happy Means You’re More Naive
The process of arriving at their conclusions involved performing six separate studies with the intention of discovering how the degree of expressed happiness can influence people’s perception and interpersonal behavior. In other words, they wanted to know if how happy a person appeared to those around them had any effect on they ways in which they were viewed or treated. Previous studies found that overly happy people leaned toward the suppression of negative thoughts and a tendency to be overly trusting of those around them.
In order to find out if participants were biased toward this type of thinking and did find very happy people to be naive, the researchers gave university students a made-up survey to evaluate. They were instructed to rate each person surveyed on their level of naiveté. As predicted, the students overwhelming determined the survey participants who were portrayed as very happy to also be more naive than those who were designed to appear only moderately happy.
Perceived Naiveté Increases Chances of Exploitation
Follow-up studies by these particular researchers also reinforced the findings of past accepted work showing that super happy folks remained so by not fully processing the information around them or by shielding themselves from negative information. In an experiment to test these findings, researchers asked participants to provide biased advice to others in an attempt to earn money at the other person’s expense.
Increasingly biased advice was given by test subjects to individuals whom they saw as very happy. This level of bias increase in these instances proved to be significant. The takeaway from this portion of the study was that participants chose very happy seeming people to be their negotiation partners specifically because these partners appeared easy targets for exploitation.
Implications of Study Findings
The findings of this particular study on how the extent of happiness influences others’ perceptions of naiveté and the resulting interpersonal behaviors can be quite useful in the world of work. It has relevant implications for anyone on the job, from entry level to the head honcho and across various professions.
For example, as the new guy at the office, it may benefit you not to appear overly exuberant at first. Showing up on your first day at work with a huge smile and happily agreeing to every request could potentially make you a target for less than scrupulous colleagues who are happy to find someone to pass the grunt work onto or to take the fall for their mistakes.
In a leadership position, appearing too jovial is also not wise, as such a demeanor may lead some subordinates to view you as ineffectual. Such individuals wouldn’t think twice before trying to pull one over on a boss they think might be a naive pushover. Finally, certain positions like car salespersons can suffer in their performance when customers or clients perceive them as too happy. Some jobs simply lend themselves to a more serious demeanor.
Some of the findings of this study may seem to be common sense. However, the information gleaned reinforces some beliefs regarding naiveté, but it also provides some new information. Of particular importance is the finding that happiness can, indeed, have a downside. The big takeaway may be that tempering your happiness at work may be the best approach if you want to avoid exploitation and negative perceptions from others.