Why Natural Selection Means We'll Never Be Happy

We didn't evolve to be happy all the time.

By William Von Hippel|Wednesday, February 20, 2019

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to win the lottery and suddenly have more money than I could ever reasonably spend. I won’t win because I don’t play, but of course most people who play don’t win, either.

This is not such a bad thing. As hard as it is to believe, lottery winners are usually no happier than they were before they won, and a few of them are a lot less happy. Not the day after they win — that’s a pretty good day. But by a year or two later, most of the winners have adapted to their new normal, and their happiness has returned to where it was before they drew the winning ticket. They may be driving a nicer car, but their mind is focused on the fact that they’re still sitting in traffic.

Worse yet, some are focused on all the problems that their windfall has brought them, as friends and family come out of the woodwork, expecting to share in the good fortune. As Sandra Hayes put it in 2006 after winning the $224 million Missouri lottery, people she loved were “turning into vampires, trying to suck the life out of me.”


The full text of this article is available to Discover Magazine subscribers only.

Subscribe and get 10 issues packed with:
  • The latest news, theories and developments in the world of science
  • Compelling stories and breakthroughs in health, medicine and the mind
  • Environmental issues and their relevance to daily life
  • Cutting-edge technology and its impact on our future
Already a subscriber? Register now!
Registration is FREE and takes only a few seconds to complete. If you are already registered on DiscoverMagazine.com, please log in.