Why Progress = Happiness The Science

Why Progress = Happiness | The Science

In this post, we’ll unpack the science behind why progress creates happiness and use it as a way to create the conditions necessary to create lasting happiness

The Trap

Have you ever desired something so badly ― a new outfit, phone, job, car, house or even romantic partner ― that you did everything you could to get it, only to realise that when you did get it, the excitement wore off pretty quickly. It felt like a bit of an anti-climax and you weren’t as satisfied as you thought you’d be ― maybe you were even disappointed?

The likelihood is that we’ve all fallen into this trap. So why does it happen? Why do we love the chase of getting something we desire more than actually having what we desire?

Why Progress = Happiness

When you set a goal, your brain perceives it as a potential for a “reward” ― defined as anything that enhances your survival ― and so it triggers the release dopamine ― a pleasure hormone ― that motivates you to pursue the reward.

As you make progress towards your goal, your brain continues to release dopamine in order to continue motivating you to pursue the reward. However, Once you have achieved your goal, your brain stops releasing dopamine and so you no longer experience feelings of pleasure.

We can conclude then that happiness doesn’t come from the goal itself, but rather the progress you make towards it. In other words, Progress = Happiness. Thus, if progress equals happiness, then always having goals that we can move towards is the key to lasting happiness.

“Happiness comes from the process of the pursuit, not the product.”


When we set a goal, the brain perceives it as a potential for a reward and so it triggers the release of dopamine which elicits feelings of pleasure that motivates us to pursue the goal. As soon as we reach our goal, the brain ceases to release dopamine and so we no longer experience the feelings of pleasure.

Therefore, by always having goals we can aim for, we ensure we constantly have something to progress towards, thus creating the conditions necessary for a constant and sustainable supply of dopamine and ultimately lasting happiness.