Our Misguided View of Happiness


The saying goes that in life only death and taxes are assured. However I would add in the basic human need to be happy. We all seek it and we all have our own wildly different views on how to achieve happiness.

So often the notion of happiness is tied in with success and money. Hit my targets and I’ll be happy, if I get more money I can afford the extra holiday, the nicer things, the bigger house and I’ll be happy.

The reality is that there is no quantifiable difference in the level of peoples happiness based on money. More money is scientifically proven to NOT equal more happiness. The caveat to that is that money does remove suffering up to the point of no longer being in poverty, or debt. As such lack of money does breed misery, but that is different to saying that money equals happiness. The absence of misery is not happiness.


Taken even further there was a study looking at those who won millions on the lottery Vs those who lost a limb. As you would expect, as the two events occurred their happiness levels went in starkly different directions, however over time those happiness levels began to return to their normal levels. 12 months on from these two life altering events and there was no discernable difference in the levels of happiness between the two groups.

Sounds absurd, however the fact remains that we all have a base line level of happiness, and we all return there and that when it comes down to the crux of it, money and even limbs are not the main influences on that happiness. In fact only 10% of our happiness levels are determined by external stimuli, 50% is inbuilt and 40% we can work on, we can change, although doing so is far harder than any of us would desire.


As Shawn Achor so brilliantly put, we have the happiness equation the wrong way round. Hit that target and I’ll be happy, buy the house, get a job and I’ll be happy etc. We have created the equation of happiness following achievement, the flaw in this particular plan being that once we have hit the target we automatically move the goal posts and set our eyes on something else to achieve happiness rather than enjoying the success. Our target goes up, we want a bigger house, better job etc and with this we never achieve happiness, it always remains just out of reach. Happiness needs to be attained in the now, not mortgaged on the future.


Given all humans since the dawn of time have wanted some level of happiness, fullfillment, sense of meaning, it is astonishing that we as a species are so poor at achieving it. We base happiness on targets that we move, added to that, the targets we choose, are more often than not, the wrong ones.

As someone who suffers from depression it may be a bit rich of me to suggest the correct route to happiness, but almost all of the studies show that human connection is central to happiness. Now as an introvert who struggles with social anxiety and depression this isn’t the best news, but knowing the correct target is better than no target at all!



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