Unraveling the Happiness Enigma: The Science Behind Human Joy

When we picture the epitome of human existence, most often we envision happiness. Yet, as science digs deeper into understanding the very nature of our joy, what’s revealed isn’t always what we’d expect. In this piece, we’re diving deep into the intricacies of happiness, why humans aren’t naturally built for constant joy, and how we can realign our paths to seek genuine happiness.

Are Humans Naturally Wired for Happiness?

Our instinctive answer might be a resounding “yes”. However, the picture is more complex than it seems. Laurie Santos, an acclaimed professor of psychology from Yale University and the voice behind “The Happiness Lab” podcast, points out a fascinating conundrum. Evolutionary processes and natural selection, rather than focusing on our happiness, prioritize our survival and reproduction. The shocking reality? The levels of happiness reported, especially among young adults, indicate a serious decline in overall well-being.

The Misconceptions of Joy: Unmasking ‘Miswanting’

Miswanting, a term championed by psychologists like Dan Gilbert and Tim Wilson, refers to the process wherein:

  • We strive for things assuming they’ll bring happiness.
  • We are met with disappointment when they don’t fulfill our expectations.

The root of this phenomenon can be traced back to the misleading intuitions that our minds often harbor about happiness. For example:

Money & Happiness: The Complex Relationship

Despite popular belief, once our basic needs are met, accumulating wealth doesn’t necessarily bring more happiness. The same goes for job promotions, material acquisitions, and even personal milestones like marriage.

The Comparison Trap

We live in a world of constant comparison, always measuring our lives against some external benchmark or reference point. Whether it’s our paycheck, physical appearance, or even our personal relationships, this endless comparison often leaves us feeling inadequate, regardless of how well we might be doing objectively.

The Phenomenon of ‘Hedonic Adaptation’

Over time, we adapt to experiences, causing their impact on our happiness to wane. This process can lead us to underestimate the actual joy derived from positive experiences (the ‘impact bias’).

Redefining Happiness: A Journey of ‘Rewirements’

While our brains may be naturally prone to miswanting, Santos suggests an array of practices termed ‘rewirements’ that can guide us towards true happiness. Here’s a closer look:

The Power of Social Connection

  • Fact: Every study on happiness emphasizes the importance of being social.
  • Action Step: Prioritize real-time interactions over virtual ones. Call a friend, have a chat, and treasure the moments you share.

Reorienting to Others

  • Fact: Real happiness often lies outside of oneself.
  • Action Step: Engage in acts of kindness. Donate to charities, volunteer, and share compliments.

Shifting Thought Patterns

  • Fact: Your focus defines your emotional state.
  • Action Step: Develop a gratitude practice. Jotting down just three things you’re thankful for daily can significantly boost well-being in a mere two weeks.

Engaging in Savoring

  • Fact: Savoring moments enhances joy.
  • Action Step: Be present. Instead of mindlessly going through activities, immerse yourself in them. Relish that coffee, cherish that song, and bask in the moment.

Moving to Improve

  • Fact: Physical movement is intrinsically tied to emotional well-being.
  • Action Step: Incorporate regular exercise into your routine. Even a 20-minute daily walk can work wonders.


1. Are humans naturally inclined to be happy?
No, from an evolutionary perspective, humans are wired more for survival and reproduction than for constant happiness.

2. What is ‘miswanting’?
Miswanting is the phenomenon where we chase things believing they’ll make us happy, but they don’t necessarily fulfill that expectation.

3. How can social connections influence happiness?
Studies suggest that individuals who prioritize social connections and spend more time with loved ones report higher levels of happiness.

4. How does the act of savoring impact our well-being?
Savoring, or mindfully indulging in moments, helps in amplifying the joy derived from positive experiences.

5. Are rewirements a substitute for professional mental health interventions?
No, while rewirements can help in improving overall well-being, they aren’t a replacement for professional care in serious mental health scenarios.


Happiness, rather than being a default setting, is a continuous journey. It requires us to combat inherent biases, adjust our intuitions, and adopt practices that truly resonate with well-being. By understanding the science behind human joy and actively implementing the strategies discussed, we can pave a path towards a more fulfilled and contented life.

Unraveling the Happiness Enigma provides an insightful guide to understanding the intricate maze of human emotions and offers actionable steps to enhance our joy. The pursuit of happiness, as it turns out, requires a little science, a touch of introspection, and a lot of practice.

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