Why Continuously Consistent Success Won’t Make You Continuously Happy

I am a huge fan of Nirvana. Definitely not as big a fan as I used to be, but still an avid listener. I suppose one of the reasons my interest in Nirvana has dwindled slightly since my teenage years is that the music doesn’t speak to me as directly as it once did. When you’re a teenager you have this weird “fuck the world” type mentality for a while despite the fact that the world may not have done a great deal to you. The pain filled music of Kurt Cobain lends itself very nicely to the ears of teenage angst.

However, on maturer reflection I now look back at some of Cobain’s diary entries and lyrics that I once read with great admiration as very distressing pieces of work. I always get a bit sad when I watch this interview of him in particular. He begins to talk about how when he achieved all his great success in music it only made him happy for a while and not fully satisfied. While I found this sad to hear it did provide a great example of a psychological law of perception known as the Weber-Fechner law.

The Weber-Fechner law is defined as follows;

“Simple differential sensitivity is inversely proportional to the size of the components of the difference.” – Fechner and Theodor, 1966

In basic language this essentially means that our ability to perceive something is relative to how much that thing has changed from the way it was normally. In the example of Cobain this can be seen when he states that he only derived happiness from his initial success and then returned to his depressed state. This process would make sense if we thought about it in the following way.

If you are a struggling musician and all of a sudden you sell 100,000 albums you’ll be very happy. Then you go onto sell a further 50,000 that same year, you’ll still derive a certain amount of satisfaction from that yes; but not as much as the initial big shock. Then next year you sell 150,000 albums, you’ll still be satisfied but not as ecstatic as you were initially. It would seem that we adjust to our circumstances very quickly and this is why we seem to perceive change more so when it is significantly bigger than the base level we are  normally accustomed to.

By Daragh O’Leary

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