Happiness Will Forever Be Just One More Major Life Achievement Away

Photo: Jonathan Griffith

Well. Are you happy now? That thing you’ve been wanting and chasing after for months, it is now – finally, blessedly – yours, and so, one would think, is the bliss that goes with it.

Alas, a rather unfortunate thing about human nature is that this happiness will fade with time, and perhaps will leave you more quickly than you expect. People have a way of getting used to things, a psychological phenomenon known as hedonic adaptation. Research in social science has suggested, for example, that after people lose weight, earn a raise, or even win the lottery, that initial joy that accompanies the achievement will wear off.

The typical advice for this sort of thing is to learn how to be content, and find peace and happiness with what you already have. Not a bad idea. But an intriguing post over at Quartz this week suggests an alternative: What if, instead of trying to avoid the hedonic treadmill, you started working with it, accepting it as a normal facet of human psychology?

Research in positive psychology has, for example, found that people tend to be happier when they feel like they’re making progress on their goals. Momentary happiness comes from actually achieving that goal, true. But there is a surprising amount of joy to be found in the pursuit itself. As Quartz writer Olivia Goldhill phrases it, “There will never be an end to the to-do list, future goals and plans, the things we want to achieve and see. But the fact that we don’t have everything we want is exactly what makes life so fulfilling.”

Happiness Is Always One Life Achievement Away