Founding a hardware startup, I made my biggest dream come true. I’m building real things to make our world a better place. When I envisioned this future years ago, I couldn’t be happier.
So, shouldn’t I be 10/10 happy all the time now?
A permanent state of 10/10 happiness doesn’t exist. It’s an illusion. Something that cannot be achieved.
I’ve no single reason to complain about my life. But 10/10 happy feeling all day long isn’t possible.
Positive psychology – the science behind well-being and happiness – found the reason for this: Hedonic adaptation.
Hedonic adaptation is why achieving a lifelong goal brings only temporary happiness.
No matter what in life, we humans accustom to it: A perfect job, 3-star food, handsome and caring spouse, gigantic house, perfect children, your dream job…
And once we get used to it, the 10/10 happiness falls back to baseline happiness.
Hedonic adaptation results mainly from 3 factors:
- Evolution: Our ability to adjust to new situations has been crucial for our survival. As we experience changes in our lives, our brains and emotions adapt to these new circumstances, whether they are positive or negative. This emotional adjustment allows continuous effective functioning.
- (Neuro-)biology: According to Set Point Theory, each of us has a genetically determined baseline level of happiness. This set point is influenced by a combination of genetic factors, upbringing, and life experiences. While life events can cause temporary fluctuations in happiness, we tend to gravitate back towards our individual set point over time.
- Habituation: Repeated exposure to stimuli, whether positive or negative, often leads to a decrease in emotional intensity over time. This process, known as habituation, can cause the emotional impact of both positive and negative events to diminish as we become accustomed to them.
Science of well-being
I knew that hedonic adaptation will kick in.
About 2 years ago, I did an online course on positive psychology called “The Science of Well-Being”. It puts the together the latest and greatest research on “How to become a happy human being” and provides the tools to make use of it.
My own experience, scientific research, and people writing about their experience (e.g., multi-millionaire Steven Bartlett in Happy Sexy Millionaire) – they all point in one direction: awesome stuff won’t make you happy.
I knew the founding my own startup is “awesome stuff”. It’s an event. It’s no real experience.
I knew the happiness that comes from…
- making the decision
- quitting my job, and
- incorporating the legal entity
… will wear off.
However, being an entrepreneur, the journey of the next years is different. It’s not an event. It’s not a goal, it’s not static. It’s more a way of living.
Pursuit of goals not the achievement of goals
Based on the course on positive psychology and all my learnings, I decided to stop deriving my happiness from the achievement of goals.
Yes, goals are paramount to happiness. But it’s the pursuit of goals not the achievement of goals that maximizes happiness.
Not founding a startup but building a startup is what I want to make me happy.
It’s not the success of a startup but the pursuit of maximum positive impact.
It’s not the hire of a talented and motivated employee but the day-to-day collaboration with them.
It’s not the finalization of a term sheet but the relationship building with various investors who share the same vision.
Best time of my life
Whenever there’s something I don’t like doing, I utilize this question: “How can I make this feel like the best time of my life?”
In my role as a CEO, I have an unprecedented degree of freedom. So, I can design my life around my needs.
This gives me a huge chunk of happiness every day. And helps me to deal with the challenges of being a founder.
By focusing on the pursuit of goals rather than their achievement, I can create a life that feels like the best time of my life.
So, dear friend, remember that happiness isn’t a destination, but a journey. Embrace the process, and find joy in the ups and downs of your own adventure.