We all have some goal or thing that we are working towards. Something that we think might make us happy.

“If only I had X, my life would be so much better.”

But the truth is, most likely, you won’t be any happier once you get it. You might have a brief honeymoon period where you feel happy, but eventually you’ll just move on to desiring the next thing, and nothing will have changed.

Assuming you’re privileged enough to not be seeking basic necessities like food, warmth, or shelter, then very few of the things that we desire for will have any lasting power over our happiness.

I first encountered this idea in a book called “Growing Up With Lucy: How to Build an Android in Twenty Easy Steps” by Steve Grand. Grand was experimenting with artificial intelligence, and peppered throughout the book are some of his thoughts about how the human brain works. This comment was part of that:

“Whenever we achieve something that we think will make us deliriously happy, we change in such a way that we become unhappy again and seek something else. Such is the dance of life.”
Growing Up With Lucy by Steve Grand, page 121

I read this book more than eight years ago, and that sentiment has been rattling around in my head for close to a decade. Sadly, it’s the only thing from the book that left a lasting impact on me, which is a shame, but that one off-hand comment has changed how I think about what I want in life.

Edit from the future: 2020/08/22

I managed to find and purchase a copy of the book, so have edited my paraphrased quotation to read the actual quotation. I am now reprinting my paraphrased copy below, because I found it interesting to see the bits I remembered, and the bits I did not.

I originally paraphrased Grand thusly:

“We have a goal that we think will make us deliriously happy, but by the time we reach it, our desires change and our attention shifts to desiring something else, leaving us forever pursuing unattainable happiness.”

The context of the quote is that Grand was using a metaphor for cognition where the brain has internal representation of a ‘target state’ for many parameters. A creature is ‘happy’ when it’s external sensory input shows that the ‘actual states’ (ie, the real world) match exactly with the target states. Problems (desires, goals, etc) arise because the states differs in some ways. The difference in these two states causes the brain to act, changing the external world to try to bring the states into alignment. The problem is that the parameters will never match exactly (and that our internal parameters shift too!), so we always seek something else.

I haven’t re-read to book yet - I just skimmed for this quote - but I’m looking forward to doing so. I think that I would understand it and enjoy it much more now, compared to when I read it as a teenager!

P.S. I'm late to the party, but I recently got a twitter account that you can follow here.