Templeton.org is in English. Only a few pages are translated into other languages.


Usted está viendo Templeton.org en español. Tenga en cuenta que solamente hemos traducido algunas páginas a su idioma. El resto permanecen en inglés.


Você está vendo Templeton.org em Português. Apenas algumas páginas do site são traduzidas para o seu idioma. As páginas restantes são apenas em Inglês.


أنت تشاهد Templeton.org باللغة العربية. تتم ترجمة بعض صفحات الموقع فقط إلى لغتك. الصفحات المتبقية هي باللغة الإنجليزية فقط.

Skip to main content
Back to Templeton Ideas

Why is it so hard to be happy? 

In this video for The Well, Yale psychology professor Laurie Santos explains a surprising truth: even though happiness feels like something we should naturally possess, our brains prioritize survival, not joy.

Santos begins by explaining what she describes as the “annoying features” of the mind – those that hinder us from being happy:

  1. Intuitions
  2. Reference points
  3. Hedonic adaptation
  4. Impact bias

What strikes me is this concept of hedonic adaptation. It’s the idea that no matter what changes take place in our lives, both positive and negative, humans tend to eventually return to a relatively stable level of happiness.

It’s as if we keep running, but we stay in the same place. That’s why Philip Brickman and Donald T. Campbell coined the term “hedonic treadmill”. 

So, how do we ditch the hedonic treadmill and create lasting happiness? 

Luckily, Dr. Santos knows a thing or two about this. (She runs Yale’s most popular course on the subject.) She explains that while humans have a tendency toward hedonic adaptation, we also have the agency to change our behaviors and perspectives.

She describes 5 practices or “rewirements” that will help us cultivate joy in our lives:  

  1. Social connections
  2. Other-orientedness
  3. Gratitude
  4. Savoring

Ready to hop off the hedonic treadmill? Wait until you hear #5 – you might change your mind!

This post draws upon a series of videos produced by The Well, a publication and video channel produced by the John Templeton Foundation and BigThink.