Anyone who has looked forward to special days like birthdays, vacations, holidays, or, say, “hotvax summers,” knows these anticipated delights can be a letdown. The happiness, pleasure, and fun we expect to have doesn’t measure up to reality. This phenomenon has a name: the paradox of hedonism, or, sometimes, the paradox of happiness. It’s the strange but persistent observation that pleasure often vanishes when you try to pursue it directly. Simply put, if you try too hard at happiness, the result is unhappiness.
“Happiness is something that generally tends to creep up on us when we’re not thinking about it,” said George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University. “When we focus on being happy and we start measuring our happiness, it’s a form of self-consciousness that is self-defeating.”