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The Lottery Winner and the Paraplegic

The things that we think will make us happy or unhappy can have, in many cases, very little impact on our overall happiness. Oliver Burkeman explores the hedonic treadmill.

In episode 3 of Oliver Burkeman's series The Power of Negative Thinking, the psychology writer asks where happiness comes from, and whether we look for it in the wrong places. We hear from someone who won over £13 million on the Euromillions lottery, as well as someone who will live the rest of her life as a wheelchair-user after a serious illness affected her spine. In each case, are they happier or unhappier than before the incident that changed their lives? According to psychology studies, the answer is neither. Even the most life-changing events, after an initial adjustment period, have little impact on our overall happiness levels. Understanding this may calm our pursuit for the presumed external trappings of happiness. By the same token, can it help us to stop neurotically avoiding, or being terrorised by, sad or negative experiences?

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15 minutes