The other night I was watching an episode of Pewdiepie on Sushant Singh Rajput, a tribute to the Indian actor who was giving a speech about happiness. Pewdiepie usually makes funny review video’s but this episode was actually quite serious, nevertheless really nice. As he was commenting on the speech of Sushant, I was also commenting on both of them. This came from the fact that the last class of the Yale course I’m following, The Science of Well-being was exactly just about why our brains want more in order to be happy and are actually never satisfied.  

Firstly, I would like to emphasize how much our brains are wrong on what we think will make us happy but actually don’t. No surprise here: these involve a good job, a good salary, having awesome stuff, a good relationship and having a great body. BUT, probably also no surprise here, even though our intuition says otherwise: there are several studies* that proves that we will actually never become as happy in the future as we expect it in the Now, especially from the above mentioned things (by the way, also true to the opposite: we will never actually get as upset about future things that may go wrong as we expect at the moment. Keep in mind before you start worrying about something in the future!). 

So recently we think that money = success = happiness. And this is the problem. We always want to earn more, have a bigger house, have a better body, have a better relationship, etc. The problem is that once we do have them, after a while, we do get used to them. This is called the hedonic adaptation of the mind**. Our minds are simply built to get used to things. 

The other reason why we tend not to be satisfied about what we have is because our minds judge relative to reference points***. For instance; I see that my neighbour has a bigger, better and newer car than I do. Since we live in the same neighbourhood, I assume that we have about the same living standards. But my car is waaaay older than his so what am I doing wrong?

My mind then will think: as long as I don’t have at the least the same car as my neighbour, I’m not successful (=happy) in my standard of living. 

Of course, this may seem a very unlogical reference point – when you think rationally and consciously. But our minds don’t. We tend to measure our happiness to others: our neighbours; TV or our current state. This last one is the reason why once we get used to our glamour (hedonic adaptation), we are unhappy again. Our reference point will be reset to our current state and we want more than we already have.

That’s why television and social media are so dangerous to mental health and self-esteem these days. We see these glamorous, rich lives of others and we tend to compare our state to theirs. Vogel did a study in 2014 where he established: the more we’re on social media, the less self-esteem we have. In the light of the above, it’s also logical. We receive very distorted reference points from the Internet and we start comparing our happiness to those who post so much about themselves while experiencing awesome stuff. 

But the ones who are truly happy, are silent. They are content with what they have without having to share it online or at all having to prove it to everyone else. You shouldn’t make your happiness dependent on something else. You should be happy just because you can.  

P.s.: I know it’s easier said than done, so the next post will give some practical tips on how to overcome ouw hedonic adaptation and reset our reference points to feel happy(-ier) again. 


*Studies from Gilbert 1998; David Myers: The American paradox; Nickerson 2003; Lucas 2003; Von Soest 2011.

**Hedonic adaptation: becoming accustomed to a positive or negative stimulus such that the emotional effects of that stimulus are attenuated over time. [ Sonja Lyubomirsky, 2010 ]

*** Reference point: a salient standard against which we compare things.

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