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What is The Happiness Trap?

Updated: May 17, 2021

So, let's take a look at the happiness trap and what it is. Do you believe that one day you will achieve your dream and be happy?

I've got news for you. This is highly unlikely.

And that's because for a few months, maybe we will be happy, with the new house that we have or with the new car that we have, or with the watch that we wanted, or the holiday that we wanted to go on.

What happens is that our brain gets used to that. So, we become conditioned with new circumstances and new experiences. Then our survival brain kicks in that we have to go look, seek and hunt or to find something else. Therefore, we move on to wanting the next thing. Think about how many times you have done this. It's called hedonic adaption.

It makes me think of a song we used to sing in school. “The farmer wants a wife, the farmer wants a wife eee i di i deee o, the farmer wants a wife.” Next thing, “the farmer wants a cow.” He would have all these things in this game, and he would never be satisfied because the farmer always wanted something else. And that is us, as human beings. Unless we start to look at life in a different way, this hedonic adaption and the external quest for validation or wanting, or needing, starts to accumulate and impact what we're happy about. This affects our dopamine and serotonin levels.

So, as I said, this phenomenon that happens is called hedonic adaption. It's also partly the reason we are becoming more addicted to our social media. If we can identify with it, we can try to resolve it and try to remove ourselves from the happiness trap. Be mindful when you get used to having that ‘new thing’ and the buzz starts to wear off. It takes around about three months for us to become satisfied again or move back into balance. This hedonic adaption happens in all situations in our life.

There was a great book called The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky. In this book, it shows the happiness breakdown detailing what we are made happy by, which shows it’s 50% genetic, 40% internal and 10% is external.

So, if we're always looking for these external factors to make us happy, or these external events, ie. ‘Once I get,…’ Or ‘I'll be happy once I achieve...’, it's not going to work because we have to be happy now, because happiness is a state of mind. It absolutely is a state of mind.

You may be asking 'how can we be happy in the present with what we have?'

Well, once we master that, anything external is a bonus.

For further reference, I suggest that you check out the TED talk by Dan Gilbert and the Surprising Science of Happiness because he ran a study where it didn't matter if you won the lottery, or were in an extremely bad accident (where you were disabled as a consequence of that) and looked at their happiness levels.

He studied their happiness level before these events happened, winning the lottery or being in an accident, and then looked at their happiness level’s a year later.

Can you guess what it showed? Many people, would say, well, the person that won the lottery was going to be happier.

No. Both of them had the same level of happiness prior to the experience and after the experience by a year. And that's because of this hedonic adaption. So, check out the Ted talk. I highly recommend it.

So, how do we become happier with what I have? I suggest writing a gratitude list of everything that you are thankful for and reading it regularly. It is a start and helps us to appreciate what we already have. It will also help your bank balance too, to ask yourself “do I really need this new thing?” that you are about to purchase.


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