Happiness Baseline Theory: Are We Doomed to be Unhappy?

The happiness baseline theory states that there is a natural emotional state of well-being to which we return regardless of what happens in their lives. As such, good and bad things can happen in our lives, but they will have only a temporary effect on our overall happiness level. In a long-term, our approximate level of happiness will be that of our happiness baseline and these is nothing we can do about it, or so we are told.

In this article, we will discuss whether the happiness baseline theory is really true and whether we can do something to permanently increase or decrease our level of happiness. We will start with studies of lottery winner, which is often used to show support to the happiness baseline theory, stating later evidence against the happiness baseline theory.

Happiness Baseline, a women won in a lottery

Why an Average Lottery Winner is Unhappy?

To win a lottery is a common dream, since we believe that by drastically increasing our financial well-being we will be able to acquire all these interesting goods and experiences that will increase our happiness.

However, studies that followed recent lottery winners confirm that on average people who won a large amount of money enjoy increased happiness levels for a limited time, a couple of years at most. Eventually and unavoidably, they return to their natural state of well-being, also know as happiness baselines, as if they never won this extraordinary amount of money.

This studies point out to the fact that money provides us with a temporary satisfaction at best, meaning that more money is not necessarily a solution to more happiness, and if we are to give a Lamborghini to a depressed person, we will now have a depressed person inside a Lamborghini.

Bad News Don’t Affect Happiness Baseline Either

Contrasting the lottery winners studies, there are paralyzed accident victim studies that looked at life satisfaction of people who experienced an extreme bad luck, such as they lost a limb. This people, too, suffered for the first few years, but unavoidably they return to their prior to accident happiness baseline, as if they never lost a limb.

Now, this sounds like a contradiction. After all, society promises us that we can progressively increase our state of well-being if we are able to do buy certain things, go to certain places, and enjoy certain life experiences. And yet, lottery winners and accident victims studies state that happiness if fixed and we can’t escape happiness baseline no matter how good or bad our life turns to be.

Happiness Baseline, an image of a sad man

Hedonistic Adaptation Supports Happiness Baseline

Imagine buying a car you always wanted. You will likely enjoy this new car for a few days or maximum few weeks before you start perceiving it as just another thing you own. This process is called a hedonistic adaptation, which scientists today believe it to be a relatively quick process that lasts for a maximum of a few weeks for significant events, like marriage or buying new houses.

Hedonic adaptation is another reason people believe us today to have a happiness baseline, which we can’t escape.

Happiness Baseline, a hand holding money

Why More Money Does Not Move Our Happiness Baseline?

Similarly, in a different study which looked at countries Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and correlated it to our general state of happiness concluded that since the 50th, we progressively got wealthier. Still, this new wealth didn’t reflect in a progressive increase in happiness. In other words, since the 50th, our happiness baseline has maintained relatively stably. 

One possible explanation, presented in the above study, is that most people who live in the developed western countries in the world already have enough money, possessions, and experiences to be happy. In other words, we already satisfied our basic needs and now we are focused on our wants, which are infinite, inconcrete, and don’t necessarily increase our happiness baseline.

Ultimately, this study suggests that a real solution for permanent, stable, and lasting happiness is found in the intangibles, such as how we think and how we lead our lives.

Happiness Baseline, a woman sitting on her bed

Escape Your Happiness Baseline

The problem with all of the above studies is that they measure the objective state of well-being (such as wealth, materialism, and money) and correlate it with our general state of happiness. However, more money can also lead to more problems, such as unreasonable working hours, never ending comparison game, and overall feeling that we don’t have enough, hence we are not enough.

The true solution for a permanent increase in our happiness baseline is found in learning how to control our subjective state of well-being also known as emotional intelligence. By doing so we learn to look at the world in different eyes. We stop looking for the negatives and start focusing on the positives, which automatically moves our happiness baseline.

In other words, we are not doomed to return to our happiness baseline. However, to do so we need to stop playing the money game and learn a new skill of emotional intelligence. Luckily, this whole website is dedicated to this topic.

Roman Russo

Roman Russo

Roman Russo is the visionary founder, senior happiness coach, and Chief Happiness Officer of Optimal Happiness. He has written the revolutionary Optimal Happiness: The Fastest and Surest Way to Reach Your Happiest Potential, a must-read book about achieving our happiest potential. After researching this field for over eight years, Roman is confident that anyone can become happy and invites us to undertake this transformation. Are you ready to start living the life you always meant to live?

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“The problem is that of optimization,” states Roman Russo, author of Optimal Happiness: The Fastest & Surest Way To Reach Your Happiest Potential. Most people will tell you how to be less unhappy or more happy, but no one is speaking about how to be the happiest we can be. And this is the difference that makes all the difference. By not looking at our happiest potential, we fall short of achieving it. After all, we all have hundreds of ideas on how to be happier or less sad, but most people still feel like they are not living their best lives. As such, Optimal Happiness explores the question of how to be the happiest we can be, regardless of who we are, where we are from, and what our life circumstances are. It proposes a complete formula for happiness and explains how to optimize the formula so we can be happy today and forever, breaking down what it really takes to become one of the happiest people alive (spoiler: it isn’t what most people think it is).

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