Why Is Happiness So Hard To Maintain? Sometimes, life can feel like being stuck on a treadmill. No matter how hard you try to get happier, you end up back where you started. What's going on here? We kick off our annual You 2.0 summer series with happiness researcher Elizabeth Dunn, who explains how to fight the treadmill feeling.
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You 2.0: Our Pursuit of Happiness

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You 2.0: Our Pursuit of Happiness

You 2.0: Our Pursuit of Happiness

You 2.0: Our Pursuit of Happiness

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/897673162/898703126" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Malte Mueller/Getty Images/fStop
We start our episode with a story about a road trip that changed psychologist Elizabeth Dunn's life.
Malte Mueller/Getty Images/fStop

Psychologist Elizabeth Dunn studies happiness. She says at the heart of her research is a sad idea.

"Whatever we have, we tend to get used to it. So no matter how awesome our lives might be, or what wonderful things come into our lives, we tend to get used to them over time, and the pleasure that they provide gradually diminishes."

This idea has sometimes been called the hedonic treadmill.

"It conveys this idea that we're sort of stuck. No matter how hard we try to get happier, we can't."

This week on Hidden Brain, we kick off You 2.0 — our annual summer series about how to approach life's chaos with wisdom — with ways to understand and step off of the hedonic treadmill.

Additional Resources:

Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, 2013.

"To Do or to Have? That is the Question" by Leaf Van Boven and Thomas Gilovich, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2003.

"Prosocial Spending and Happiness: Using Money to Benefit Others Pays Off" by Elizabeth Dunn, Lara Aknin, and Michael Norton in Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2014.