THE ILLUSION OF HAPPINESS

Hedonic Threadmill

I am going to succinctly expatiate on 2 thesis:

Un, Happiness is a salutary evolutionary gadget

Deux, unfortunately, the very same gadget exemplifies an illusion (like chasing a ghost but believing it to be a ‘non-ghost’)

Let me introduce you to my 2 friends – Gray and Dr. Jon – and their so called ‘goals’

Gray. Wants to hit the million dollar status.

Dr. Jon (My most intellectual friend) After a medical degree and a PhD in Physics, he lamented “I feel my understanding of Physics is being limited by my knowledge in Philosophy. A PhD in Philosophy will just be apt”

There seems to be no overlap between these goals, but you need to be close to them (like me) to find out there is one. Only one. They claimed that they will be one of the happiest persons in the world if they hit the jackpot.

Both  guys are really intense and knew their onions. Soon enough they hit the jackpot.

But this is what they sounded like after settling into their new elevated status.

Gray: “Have you heard about the status syndrome? I heard billionaires live longer …”

Dr. Jon: “I met a dude last night he had like 4 PhDs. Very vast! After speaking with him, I felt disappointed about what I don’t know, that I don’t know (i.e the unknown unknowns). I think …”

You don’t have to be an augur to portend their next happiness goals.

In my opinion, life will be sterile (in fact, non-existent could be the right word to use) if we are not galvanized to achieve our goals. However, several systems have been put in place to preempt such sterility, and it turns out that happiness – among others – is responsible for the ‘non-sterility’ of life.

As we can see from the lessons of my 2 jolly friends. Happiness (or expected happiness) is an immense motivational factor.

Hence, the logic is clear, the evolutionary-gadget just has to be an illusion (unless if you have the puissance to hack the system.)

I got this simple equation from Drs Burnham and Phelan’s book, Mean genes.

Satisfaction = Performance – expectation

It explains so many things clearly. (Including our fleeting happiness) Here is what a revised happiness version could look like.

Absolute Happiness = Actual Happiness – Expected Happiness.

Let’s say you hit your jackpot today. Actual Happiness will be = Expected Happiness (for the most part).

However, the moment you settle into your new status (just like my 2 friends) actual happiness decreases. And because expected happiness remains constant, (unless if you can go back in time and change your expectation) you end up with a negative absolute happiness. Thus, the illusion sets in and the cycle goes on and on.

This is called the hedonic treadmill.

“The observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive […] events […]”

So, what’s the damn solution?

[After a short mental-cum-internet-search for a concrete solution, I was far from satisfied with my results. I thought they all lack the vigorous and staunch pragmatism I sought.

So I decided to ask my roommate. And he gave me an unexpected answer: “is it a problem?”

Immediately I had a re-think and found out that I could have been caught up in a very subtle bias.

I deleted my prior conclusion and I think this will be more ‘befitting’]:

The obvious ‘solution’ is to jump off the hedonic treadmill (for example showing gratitude; living in the present). Not only that, knowing when to jump off the treadmill [I think] is far more important. I am typing this on my blog and getting it across to tonsof people via the internet because [I could argue that] the Tim Barner-Lee(s) and Edison(s) of this world achieved their goals by running on the very same treadmill.

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