As many people do throughout their lives, I have often thought about happiness, life satisfaction and how to adjust my average upward.

Over twenty years ago, I acquired a concept I call “Problem Quotient”. I can’t remember if I read it some place, or if I conjured it up on my own.

Basically, it says: people have a certain number of problems they harbor. If their life circumstances change, either for better or worse, the intensity of their problems change to keep the same number of problems, just of more or less concern as the circumstances warrant.

I have recently come across several similar concepts, from different sources. (confirmation bias at work!)

  1. PREVALENCE INDUCED CONCEPT CHANGE– You find what you are looking for: If the number of occurrences of a trait we are looking for (good, bad, or not moral) is reduced or increased, we tend to change our definition of the trait to keep a similar number in the class. Therefore, as life gets better, we change our definition of what constitutes a good life, thereby not acknowledging our progress. This trait is particularly bothersome when the number of occurrences is reduced. Laboratory experiments have shown this tendency to be very difficult to change.


  1. HEDONIC ADAPTION or HEDONIC TREADMILL- as life’s situation improves, such as more money, life’s expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent increase in happiness.


  1. MEAN REVERSION– This is a concept I am adapting from statistics. Here is how it goes: Imagine for a moment there is a device that can measure your average happiness for the previous 24 hours and give it a score ranging from 1 to 100. A score of 53 would mean the same thing for everyone. If you were to take for example, a 50 day moving average of this score, the theory of mean reversion would state your next score would be closer, on average, to the mean than your current score. You would always be trending towards your average. An example would be purchasing a new car (new to you). It feels good for a while, but after a month or two, it’s just transportation, just as your previous car was.


I recently read about a study in Germany where over 3000 people were studied for over 15 years. They were asked to rate their level of life satisfaction each year on a scale of 1-10. Individual ratings over time were very “sticky”, and the higher an individual rated themselves, the less variability there was in the rating. The study didn’t introduce anything to evaluate possible change.

This all indicates life isn’t going to change of its own volition. We need to take positive action.

I have several proposed ways to improve the somewhat dismal picture painted by these concepts. There is no “one size fits all” solution to this or life for that matter. I will be exploring solutions in upcoming posts.


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