Interesting study. Find some fresh lottery winners. You know, the kind of people are just buying their new cars and homes after having quit their jobs and run out into the world smiles-a-blazing. Ask them how happy they are on a good old rating scale of 1 to 10. Maybe they say 9, maybe 10. Then ask how happy they were before winning the lottery.
Now, wait 3-6 months. Find those same people and ask them the same question. How happy are the now? And how happy were they before they won the lottery?
For the majority of winners – general happiness will much the same as it was before they won the lottery.
It all has to do with human’s incredible ability to adapt to our circumstances. In Adaptation level theory, the concept is referred to as habituation.
The other interesting side of this is that the exact same (opposite?) effect happens with accident victims. The same type of habituation occurs, except it goes from a low happiness post accident and reverts backwards.
The study abstract can be seen here, there are numerous similar studies. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/690806
There are many more interesting nuances of these effects. But I think the biggest idea here is how much people generally use “If, then” logic to attempt to gain happiness. I used to always think, “If I just get this, that’s when I’ll be set and happy.” And I think we use this logic all the time.
When I just get that new pair of jeans or new coffee maker or new condo. Then I’ll be happy.
But the above studies show that this is completely wrong. Once we get that new pair of jeans, we’ll just start focusing on the next temporary high.
This is not to say that a certain standard of living isn’t important (Daniel Kahneman’s work on this is fantastic: meta studies showing that the magic number is $65k, that cash takes care of your basic food and shelter needs and any more doesn’t increase your happiness). But it means that you have to choose to be happy now and appreciate THAT you’re on the path to achieving more. Achieving more should just be the carrot at the end of the path. It’s the path that you need to construct such that it makes you happy.
This means finding the things in life that make you happy in a consistent and enduring fashion. Not just happy for a few months or weeks while you haven’t adjusted to your new jeans.