FEATURE28 June 2021

The pursuit of happiness: Can you quantify what makes us happy?

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A recent paper suggests that the process of learning is more rewarding than a reward itself. Liam Kay reports.

Five emoticon faces ranging from unhappy to happy

Can money make you happy? For some, the answer is an obvious no, while others, perhaps, put more emphasis on material rewards.

The research team behind a recent smartphone app, The Happiness Project, set out to explore the circumstances in which humans are happy or unhappy. Bastien Blain, research associate at University College London’s Queen Square Institute of Neurology, who worked on the project, says that the recent focus has been on the impact of learning and reward on happiness.

An initial lab experiment carried out by Blain and his colleagues saw volunteers play a game in which they decided which of two cars would win in a race. In the ‘stable’ condition, one of the cars always had an 80% chance of winning. In the so-called ‘volatile’ condition, one car had an 80% chance of winning for the first 20 trials, switching to the other car for the next ...