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Hari Karlekar

April 5th, 2022

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

0 comments | 4 shares

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Hari Karlekar

April 5th, 2022

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

0 comments | 4 shares

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Hari Karlekar explores the question: can we ever truly be satisfied? This post was originally written as part of PB101: Foundations of Psychological Science, a compulsory course on the BSc Psychological and Behavioural Science undergraduate programme at LSE. It has been published with the permission of the author.

Have you ever found yourself feeling dissatisfied and wanting more? You may recognise the title as a famous Rolling Stones song. While it’s possible that Mick Jagger may have been referring to sleeping with women when he said he ‘can’t get no satisfaction’, he still presents an interesting, and I argue, fairly accurate reflection on the human condition. Satisfaction is defined as ‘fulfilment of one’s wishes, expectations or needs, or the pleasure derived from this’ (Sydney et al., 2015).

We all know the feeling. You’ve been working towards a goal, and you finally succeed. You get an instant hit of elation after doing great in a test, receiving a compliment, or finally getting that job offer; all these experiences have something in common. You feel amazing, invincible, like you’re on the top of the world…. but its short-lived. Unfortunately, soon enough we return to the base level of happiness we were at before we reached our goal. This is known as our ‘hedonic set point’ (Lykken & Tellegen, 1996), and often we can literally feel our mood travelling back down from the peak it was on just moments ago.

The whole situation turns into a bit of an anti-climax, and we are often left feeling deflated as we automatically begin to search for the next goal to set our minds to. This begs the question – can we ever be truly satisfied?

The Happiness Rollercoaster

The ‘Hedonic Treadmill’ is a concept that refers to our happiness constantly returning to a set level after significant positive or negative life events (Brickman & Campbell, 1971). Recent experiments demonstrate this idea. When analysing life satisfaction reports in a sample over 17 years, researchers concluded that for most people, happiness hovers around a set point and does not change dramatically (Fujita & Diener, 2005).

Pennock, 2016.

The concept essentially suggests that our attempts to increase our happiness in the long term are doomed to fail (Diener et al., 2006). Not exactly uplifting, I’ll admit.

Let’s take an example. Jack has finally been promoted at work after years of climbing the ladder. He’s feeling pretty good about himself, and he’s got a spring in his step. He’s a manager now, and a big corner office to prove it. Happy days. A month later, still pretty happy. Six months later however, not so much. The brand-new office with a view has become normal, and the chair doesn’t seem as comfortable as when he first sat on it.  Jack is experiencing ‘habituation’, defined as a ‘behavioural response decrement that results from repeated stimulation’ (Rankin et al., 2009). In plain English, Jack’s now used to being a manager, and doesn’t think it’s so great anymore.

‘I can’t wait, it’s going to be amazing’

The effects of expectation on happiness shed some light on why the hedonic treadmill exists. We often have high expectations of how happy we will feel after we’ve achieved our ambitions. It may be of no surprise that these expectations affect how good we feel after we’ve reached our goals.

Neurological studies have shown that level of happiness can be largely attributed to participants’ expectations (Rutledge et al., 2014). Having overly high expectations reduces overall happiness even after positive outcomes, while lower expectations were shown to increase satisfaction. There’s a reason that you didn’t end up having a great time at the party you’ve been looking forward to all week. The same reason meant that you ended up having a good time at the club you’d heard was awful. Expectations whether high or low are powerful things.

Expectation is largely caused by ‘focusing effects’ (Dolan, 2015). Imagine how happy you would feel once you’ve finally submitted that dreaded assignment, or if you could finally afford that expensive jacket you’ve been saving up for. Dolan argues that the outcomes of these events always matter to us a great deal more during the anticipation phase compared to our actual experience of the event. We enjoy the journey more than the destination.

He demonstrates this in research which involved surveying football fans before and after a cup final (Dolan & Metcalfe, 2010). One group of fans were asked about their happiness levels both before and after the event (based on the match result), while the second group of fans were asked to rate their happiness only after the match result. The findings supported the idea of focusing effects. They found that those interviewed only after the event were on average much happier than those interviewed both before and after.

Want to feel happier? Have high hopes and realistic expectations

Look around you. Do you remember when this was what you wanted? We often take for granted the things we have achieved in life; our fixation on being happier causes us to move on to the next pursuit, and then the next without being grateful for what we already have. It’s something that we’re all guilty of.

Rather counterintuitively, our constant pursuit of happiness impedes it in the process (Schooler et al., 2003), and the more we value feeling happy, the more dissatisfied we actually feel (Mauss et al., 2011). If we concentrate on living in the present, we tend to feel increased levels of satisfaction and happiness. If on the other hand, we constantly think about how happy something will make us, I’m afraid to say there is often only one result. Dissatisfaction and disappointment. So, the next time you are looking forward to something- stop thinking about it and enjoy the moment. Unlike Mick Jagger, you might actually get some satisfaction.


  • This post expresses the views of the author and not the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science nor LSE.
  • This post was originally written as part of PB101: Foundations of Psychological Science, a compulsory course on the BSc Psychological and Behavioural Science undergraduate programme. The post has been published with the author’s permission.
  • Banner image created using Canva.



Brickman, P., & Campbell, D. (1971). Hedonic relativism and planning the good society. New York: Academic Press, 287–302.

Diener, E., Lucas, R. E., & Scollon, C. N. (2006). Beyond the hedonic treadmill: Revising the adaptation theory of well-being. American Psychologist, 61(4), 305–314.

Dolan, P. (2015). Happiness by design : finding pleasure and purpose in everday life. Penguin Books.

Dolan, P., & Metcalfe, R. (2010). “Oops…I did it again”: Repeated focusing effects in reports of happiness. Journal of Economic Psychology, 31(4), 732–737.

Fujita, F., & Diener, E. (2005). Life Satisfaction Set Point: Stability and Change. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88(1), 158–164.

Lykken, D., & Tellegen, A. (1996). Happiness Is a Stochastic Phenomenon. Psychological Science, 7(3), 186–189.

Mauss, I. B., Tamir, M., Anderson, C. L., & Savino, N. S. (2011). Can seeking happiness make people unhappy? Paradoxical effects of valuing happiness. Emotion, 11(4), 807–815.

Pennock, S. (2016, September 5). The Hedonic Treadmill – Are We Forever Chasing Rainbows?

Rankin, C. H., Abrams, T., Barry, R. J., Bhatnagar, S., Clayton, D. F., Colombo, J., Coppola, G., Geyer, M. A., Glanzman, D. L., Marsland, S., McSweeney, F. K., Wilson, D. A., Wu, C.-F., & Thompson, R. F. (2009). Habituation revisited: An updated and revised description of the behavioral characteristics of habituation. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 92(2), 135–138.

Rutledge, R. B., Skandali, N., Dayan, P., & Dolan, R. J. (2014). A computational and neural model of momentary subjective well-being. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(33), 12252–12257.

Sydney, A., Deuter, M., Bradbery, J., & Turnbull, J. (2015). Oxford advanced learner’s dictionary of current English. Oxford University Press.

Schooler, J., Ariely, D., & Loewenstein, G. (2003). The explicit pursuit and assessment of happiness can be self-defeating. The Psychology of Economic Decisions: Rationality and Wellbeing, 1, 41–72.

About the author

Hari Karlekar

I’m a first year Psychological and Behavioural Science student from the UK. From a young age I’ve been really interested in the psychology of emotions and the pivotal roles that happiness and sadness play in our lives, as well as the many connections between these two emotions.

Posted In: BSc Psychological and Behavioural Science | PB101 Foundations of Psychological Science | Well-being

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