Suppose one day the phone rings: An excited voice tells you that you have just scooped the lottery jackpot – $10 million! How would you feel? And how long would you feel like that? A study on lottery winners discovered that the happiness effect fizzles out after a few months. So, a little while after you receive the big check, you will be as content or as discontent as you were before.
In terms of happiness, people who change or progress in their careers are right back where they started after around three months. The same goes for people who buy the latest Porsche. Science calls this effect the hedonic treadmill: We work hard, advance, and are able to afford more and nicer things, and yet this doesn’t make us any happier.
So how do negative events affect us – perhaps a spinal cord injury or the loss of a friend? Here, we also overestimate the duration and intensity of future emotions. For example, when a relationship ends, it feels like life will never be the same. The afflicted are completely convinced that they will never again experience joy, but after three or so months, they are back on the dating scene.
It would be nice if we knew exactly how happy a new car, career, or relationship would make us? Well, this is doable in part. Use these scientifically rubber-stamped pointers to make better, brighter decisions: (a) Avoid negative things that you cannot grow accustomed to. (b) Expect only short-term happiness from material things. (c) Aim for as much free time and autonomy as possible since long-lasting positive effects generally come from what you actively do.
So follow your passions even if you must forfeit a portion of your income for them. Invest in friendships. For most people, professional status achieves long-lasting happiness, as long as they don’t change peer groups at the same time. In other words, if you ascend to a CEO role and fraternize only with other executives, the effect will fizzle out.