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Western culture has become obsessed with happiness, while treating negative emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety as pathological and nonnormative. These salient cultural norms communicate social expectations that people should feel “happy” and not “sad.” Previous research has shown that these “social expectancies” can increase feelings of sadness and reduce well-being. In this study, we examined whether these perceived social pressures might also lead people to feel socially disconnected—lonely—when they do experience negative emotions? Drawing on a large stratified sample prescreened for depressive symptoms and utilizing both trait measures and moment-to-moment “experience sampling” over a 7-day period, we found that people who felt more negative emotions and also believe that others in society disapprove of these emotions reported more loneliness. Our data suggest that social pressures to be happy and not sad can make people feel more socially isolated when they do feel sad.

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Journal Article

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