“I’m so full”, I said as I stuffed my face with more pizza on Dec 30th 2017.

I guess last year’s resolution of “stop eating when I’m full” wasn’t really working out for me.

But you know, new year, new plans, and last but definitely never the least – NEW LISTS.

Oh, I love making lists.


  1. Be more independent

This needs to be #1. If there’s one thing I want to continuously improve on this year, it’ll be to be more independent. Last year, I told myself that I need to be nicer to myself. It’s clear that even last year, I knew that this problem existed – the self-judgment, the imposter syndrome (thinking I’m a fraud), the impulse to satisfy others, and the uncontrollable need to keep everyone happy.

My fiancé will sometimes say, “always put yourself first, not as the second”, and I’d be thinking “second?” I don’t put myself second. Or third. Or even 15th. In fact, I’m not quite sure I’m even on my list of people to satisfy. This past year has shown me that I don’t know how to put myself first and it comes extremely unnaturally to me. Why this is the case may or may not be important for future learning, but the more important thing is to improve on this.

I learned that it is not easy for me to remember that I should put myself first. And whenever I am cognizant that I should do that, my first thought is that I’m being an asshole to others. I don’t want to become mean and selfish. I don’t want to become someone I am not, act rudely, and then lose my friends, and then my life will be a disaster (etc. etc.)

This resolution goes against all the “New Year Resolution rules” that I’ve written about using behavioral science. It’s not concrete. It’s not measurable. It’s not a goal with quantity (like going to the gym 3 times a week, or losing 5 pounds). I guess there’s the goal, and then there’s the execution of the goal.

Here’s my vague thoughts on executing the goal of being more independent, organized into three categories:

*spend some time physically away from fiancé*

  • Continue with daily meditation and attend weekend retreats
  • Have weekend trips or extended trips with my girl friends
  • Go to a WWOOF (its like farming Airbnb) to be close to nature and learn something

*do things I used to normally do but have stopped because of this relationship* (note: important)

  • Schedule calls with my friends independent of what my fiancé will be or might be doing. Should not just wait for him to make his schedule and them schedule my own to fit his.
  • Go workout regardless of whether he’s going with you.
  • Find the time to read more books, listen to TED talks, actively learn about something (and not only watch YouTube videos that he plays…)
  • Schedule dinners with friends and acquaintances, people who I haven’t connected with for a while
  • Attend events

*just general good things to improve on…*

  • Ask for what I want (tell my fiancé what I want and then he can just say no if it doesn’t work for him)
  • Try new things even though you might think it’s a shock to people (I have a tendency to not pivot because I think people around me are used to me doing something and that if I do something crazy and out of the blue then it’s weird and I’ll have to explain myself. don’t do that. people can just adjust to what you do.)

Well, I already feel like a mean person writing those executions. People can just adjust to you? I don’t know about that…but maybe that’s a good barometer to measure myself by. If I’m feeling uncomfortable about it and think that it’s a mean or rude thing to do, it means I’m stepping out of my comfort zone. I even bought myself a nice keychain that says “didn’t please everyone” as a daily reminder to celebrate that. (friends, please give me an intervention if you think I’m changing for the worse…and really becoming a rude and awful person…)

That’s it then! Here’s to 2018 – a year full of challenges, probably with more ups and downs than last year, potentially more extreme emotions that I need to balance, and more adulting struggles coming my way. I know for a fact that I’ll learn so much this year – about myself, at home, and in school. I think I’m going into this year a bit more centered than I was last year. Finally, I’m very excited for the year of wedding planning (and future planning), prepping for PhD applications, and putting myself first.




Well, then. How do I sum up this year? …Long.

Please don’t over-interpret when I say “it was long”. I don’t mean that it was a bad year (aspects of it are far from it). But I know people always say “this year flew by!” “Can’t believe 2017 is over already” and I honestly don’t feel that way this year.

This year was long in the sense that a lot has happened – a lot more than I want to write in this one post. Aspects of it are extremely tiring. I bet many of you in the US share this feeling too. Recounting that Trump’s presidential inauguration was January 20th of THIS YEAR blows my mind. The thought tires me out, shocks me, and scares me simultaneously. I mean, has it really only been ONE year? and three more years till one presidential term is over? I’m not sure how much more turbulence I can handle. It’s not only the bills and orders from the government, but also natural disasters – hurricanes in Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico, natural fires that burn on seemingly forever, many pictures of dying polar bears from warming weather, and other depressing and demotivating events – mass shootings, terrorist attacks, opioid crisis, etc.

At the end of the year (and almost every day throughout the year), I’m tired of seeing our entire society riding on an emotional roller coaster. A roller coast with Donald Trump as the driver and the news media as the operators. I’m tired seeing our society getting thrown into whirlwinds of emotions whenever there is a press release from the White House or wake up to a tweet from Trump. Knowing a fair amount of psychology from my studies and work, I’m tired of seeing the ways in which he uses techniques to pull and trigger people’s psychologies. Part of me feels helpless that I cannot do anything about it. Reactions to emotional words and actions are so immediate. It sets off a chain of reactions that are hard to be aware of, hard to stop, and hard to fight back. But the helplessness is overpowered by the endless continuity of it. After a few weeks of feeling helpless, I started to dread the continuous drag of it – just months after months of this roller coaster without any rest.

Perhaps to minimize the helplessness, I felt the need to do something about it. I set out to work on a project with the goal of improving the wide chasm between people. The 2016 election seemed to reveal that the US is more divided than we thought. Those within my social circle are surprised that we’ve left so many people behind – so many voices unheard. While this might be true, I also think that we are more similar than we think. We create, in our heads, a chasm that separate ourselves with others. But beneath it all, I believe we all share similar feelings and things can improve with better communication. In the coming months, I created events called Feeling the Polarization. The premise is to discuss emotions toward political topics. It’s not to talk about thoughts or arguments about a particular investigation or a policy proposal, but about feelings towards them and other political events. For example, “How does it make you feel knowing that the election was one year ago?” or “What were your main emotions when political topics come up among your families or friends?”

Admittedly, I haven’t moved forward with these events as much as I could have. Other things in life got in the way – moving cities, health issues, and a fast-moving relationship. More than anything, though, I think was a self-imposing barrier to push forward with this. I’m not sure why, but I am a little scared thinking about fully pushing these events, promoting them, or whatever. I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but maybe it’s my introverted nature (semi-introverted), maybe it’s my upbringing as a female – whatever the reason might be, I am not at my 100% potential when I try to work on this event. Especially when it comes down to things that people have not done before, I get a little nervous, maybe a little lost. I get very affected by people’s comments on what I’m doing. When its good feedback (especially when people are surprised by how they feel or what they learned after attending the events), its great. But when people tell me it wouldn’t work? No, I don’t particularly feel like “oh, I’m on to something” as I hear many times founders feel when they hit on something that’s special. I know this is special. I know I have a better shot at helping this society than many other people out there. I know this will work. Psychology always does. But my voice is tiny right now. I can only muster enough courage to run events at several locations, with groups I’m familiar with. I hope in 2018, I can do better. To find out what is stopping myself and to “unleash my own potential”, to be cliché.

Speaking of being cliché, (yeah, if you’re my friend you’ve been waiting for this section), I’m ENGAGED!! On Christmas Eve (cliché), to the most perfect man for me (also cliché) after dating for less than a year (not cliché and maybe a little uneasy). I mean wow this is not what I expected to happen when we first started dating earlier this year! I still remember our phone call last December 31st/January 1st (he was in US, I was in HK). We were already so familiar with each other. We felt like we knew each other so well; that he was my best friend. Oh gosh – I’m gonna cry. I can’t pinpoint the moment when I knew I wanted to grow old with him…some time way early on (he says he knew in September…rationalizing that boys are dumber and realize these things slower than girls :P) but I did not expect it to happen so soon. We kind of discussed the idea of marriage – as a social construct and a life “to-do” that we don’t feel like we need to make a ceremony out of if we just want to be together, to love and to support each other. I guess he changed his mind, and I changed mine (after a bit of freak out). I’m a little out of whack right now since all I can think about these few days is how much I love him and how happy I am. (I’m glad I’m happy since I wasn’t sure how I would feel after saying yes haha). I guess the actual proposal story can be written somewhere else, but lets just say it was quite the emotional ride for him.

Things happened quickly with us. After our first meeting in mid-2016, we started “officially dating” a few days after 2017 started. We were in a long distance relationship for a large part of the year, making the effort to see each other in our respective coasts. We met each other’s friends, then family members, then parents. We traveled together and learned a lot about each other during long drives. We have incredible chemistry and extremely fun conversations. You’d be the third wheel who says “aww”, rolls your eyes, and want to punch us (sorry friends who have endured us this year…). We’ve been there for each other through back pains, neck pains, more back pains, to several doctor appointments and sleepless nights. (I’m not dying yet…I don’t want to scare my mom and dad lol). While this year might not have been all happy and jolly, I would not change any of it for the world. I certainly could not think of a better person to have spent this year with. In good times and bad; in sickness and health; and yaaadeee yadddee yadaaa stuff that I can actually understand when the priest announces.

So, yes, better stop here before I get all sappy and continue about my love life and feelings for another 10 pages. 2017 was great (it ended well, and according to my favorite peak-end theory, this predicts that I will remember 2017 as a good year). It was long and tiring, when I think of it in terms of news and politics and the world, but exciting and fulfilling, when I think of it in terms of my life – love and work-wise. I look forward to seeing what 2018 might bring!


How to surprise a friend this holiday season

One easy thing to do to surprise a friend: write them a holiday card.

Not the e-cards. Not an e-mail. A physical card! Some of you are probably thinking…who still writes physical letters these days? It’s all on the internet. But I still remember the joy of writing and receiving physical letters and cards. It made me feel important. It made me feel loved and special. Something different from the type-type-click-send routine on the internet.

So, in the last few years after college graduation, I’ve started to write physical cards or postcards to friends and family. A good opportunity to send a postcard is when you’re visiting a new city (whether its for vacation or not), or best of all, HOLIDAY SEASON!! aka, RIGHT NOW!!

It’s a simple act and if you have never done this or do it very infrequently, I am very certain your friends and family will love it ❤

For 1 card, you’ll need:

1 card


Find them at Papyrus or Paper Source (google one close by)
Or you can go to pharmacy stores such as Walgreens or CVS
Or post office…since you need stamps anyway

1 stamp


If you’re sending within the US, you’ll need to get a “Forever Stamp”.
Find them at post offices (google USPS close by)
Or pharmacy stores such as Walgreens or CVS – for this you need to ask at the cashier
If you’re sending internationally, you need to buy stamps at the post office.

Friend’s address
In the US, your friend’s address will need (1) street name [(2) apartment number] (3) city (4) state (5) zip code



  1. Write card
  2. The front of the envelope:letter.png
  3. Post it at mailboxes or at the post office


That’s it! I hope you go out today and buy a card and stamp to send to your loved ones! It usually takes 2-3 days to arrive, so you still have time for New Years if you go now!!

Merry Christmas everyone!
❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤


How to make Brussels sprouts

Wow – Thanksgiving break feels like such a long time ago and all eyes (and ears) are on Christmas now. My Christmas lights have been up since October, so I’m very super excited for this! But you’re still not ready for another gigantic-I’ll-ate-so-much-i-can’t-move meal yet, I totally understand. So, instead of making some heavy meal, how about we try something healthier?

Brussels Sprouts trivial: Where are Brussels Sprouts from?

*drum roll*…Brussels, in Belgium. ITS IN THE NAME! I totally had my mind blown; never thought about BRUSSELS sprouts that way before, but apparently you need to capitalize the B since its for Brussels, the city/region. Now you can never read it the same way again! Check it out the next time you go to the grocery store, I bet they have Brussels capitalized. Remember to grab some on the way out! Because they’re really easy to make.


(1) Brussels Sprouts / (2) Olive Oil / (3) Pan


(1) Chop each of the sprout into half
***Please, please be careful with this. These sprouts are like tiny cabbages, and its easy to roll around. Don’t chop your finger off!


(2) Put some olive oil in the pan


(3) After the pan is hot, put Brussels sprouts into pan


(4) Cook for 4-8 minutes


(5) You’re Done! Add salt & pepper and enjoy.

Fancy it up

version 1: add herbs such as Sage, and cook with the sprouts

version 2: you can bake it instead of using a pan (e.g. http://allrecipes.com/recipe/67952/roasted-brussels-sprouts/)

Honestly, despite all the many recipes on the web, these are the only variations I’ve tried because the simple version is already so damn awesome!


Illustrated by Marko Mille (@marko_mille).


Thanksgiving Edition: Feeling the Polarization

Happy Thanksgiving week! As everyone is getting ready for the huge thanksgiving (or friendsgiving) dinner, here’s an exercise to help you get through tough political conversations that might inevitable arise in the next few days (link).

While it might be a good idea to avoid talking politics for the entire trip home, it could also be a good idea if we can turn political conversations with family into a bonding experience instead…but How, you ask?

I created an exercise/game session called Feeling the Polarization. The first screen is below, so if you’re interested, host one with your family over thanksgiving!

top-pic-polarizationbottom pic-polarization

Looks like something your family needs? Click here to start!

and Share it with your family and friends.


How to cook pasta

Dear millennials, adulting is difficult. As a result, I’m going to cover here the things that I’ve slowly learned over the last few years. Tiny steps that I’ve made towards being an adult that I am actually pretty proud of. As a heads up, they’re mostly going to be recipes that surprised me as actually pretty easy to make.

Whenever I open Instagram (which is more often than I would like), there are basically two types posts: dogs and food. My response to dogs = awwww! and food = oooo yummm! But whenever I read the recipes from professional food bloggers, I’m always intimidated by how many ingredients there are (endless), how beautifully it is put together (even filters can’t save me from that), and the fact that it is always portioned for 4-8 people (I’m either 1, at most 2. maaayybe 4 if we do leftovers, 8 if I end up hating my leftovers). As much as I love the food pictures I’m scrolling through, I never imagine myself making it. Everything about it seemed so perfect, and as an extension, so daunting.

For dinner tonight, how about I just stick to my boiled pasta + canned sauce instead?

So here’s my first post on #adulting. Let’s start with making pasta at home:

You’ll need:

                   Pasta                   Pasta Sauce                Salt + Olive Oil                    Potingredients



  1. boil water
  2. put pasta in a pot, along with the hot water (add a bit of salt and olive oil to improve taste) and leave it to boil for 13-15 minutes
  3. separate the pasta from the water using a strainer (or however you can separate them, even with a fork or spatula)
  4. pour sauce over the cooked pasta
  5. Enjoy!

Need help with the ingredients?
Pasta: you can buy a box from your grocery store. Anything you like – long ones, short ones, fat ones, tiny ones…[forget the fancy Italian names if that’s too much for you – the pappardelle, fettucine, rigatoni…], you can always stick with spaghetti, that’s Italian!
Pasta sauce: also from the store, choose whatever you like. they’re usually right next to the pasta boxes

Special shout out to Marko Mille for illustrating. Check out her other work on instagram @marko_mille.


Fine or No Fine

While the Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake is baking in the oven, I’m finally writing this long-due post. A good friend of mine was visiting San Francisco back in Feb and I thought about writing this post, but one thing led to another and my well-planned “so-my-friend-visited-from-Israel-last-week” intro was no longer appropriate. That is, until he surprise visited last week again! So here we go again…taking action before it’s too late this time, because its a very fitting introduction to the study I want to talk about which was done in Haifa, the city where he’s from.

I’ve read this research a while back. It’s a great example of how the traditional economic incentives of giving people money or making people pay for something not leading to the action/behavior you want.

So, here’s the problem. Parents are often late to pick up their child or children from daycare in Israel. It’s not really a problem that my friends and I have to think about at our stage in life, but walk with me. Parents are supposed to pick up their kid from daycare at 4pm, but probably because of work and other commitments (or because they’re Israelis?…they can be late sometimes), they’re often running late. They came up with a solution: lets add a small fine to nudge parents to be on time. The fine will be 10 Israeli Shekel, which is around $3 USD, if the parents are more than 10 minutes late.

They ran an experiment with 10 daycare centers around Haifa – 6 of them were randomized to introduce the fine, the rest were not to introduce the fine. And then the researchers observed for 10 weeks – what happened?

There were more parents who came late after the introduction of the fine, than at daycares without the introduction of the fine.

What? The fine was supposed to reduce the number of lateness, but it surprisingly went the other way and increased it.

Alright, well, that’s not great. Lets reverse it then. We don’t want to increase lateness, so lets put it back to normal. On the 17th week of the experiment, they removed the fines so that all the 10 daycares had no fine again. They found that the effects persisted – meaning that parents who were late with the fines remained late after the fines were removed! There were more parents arriving late to the daycares that previously had the fines even after the fine period was over…ahhhh!


Why did this happen?

The researchers hypothesize that it’s because parents and the daycare had an “incomplete contract” when it came to being late for pick-ups. This means that the exact consequences of arriving late were not specified. Without an explicit rule, some parents might feel that they shouldn’t be late too many times, and they’re not sure how the school will handle these situations. However, with the introduction of the fine, parents are now thinking “I’m paying for it, so its okay I’m a few minutes late! They’re taking care of my child.”

That’s just one possible explanation. In reality, the researchers were so surprised by the results that they wrote, “the possibility of an increase in the behavior being punished was not even considered” in the existing literature. And thus lies the importance of running experiments and testing whether your hypotheses are right or wrong, because we could sometimes surprise ourselves.

Much of this could be culture specific (having worked with an Israeli, I can attest to significant cross-cultural (uh, hiccups?) differences) or it could be because the punishment is not severe enough. Either way, this study humbles us to be fascinated by behavioral research because you can implement some change, hoping for one result and have it go completely the opposite way! Maybe similar to me putting rhubarb, sugar, butter, flour, into the oven hoping for a rhubarb cake and then have it turn out…hm. I guess someone might hope for chocolate cake instead.

See you again soon my friend!


follow me on instagram (@brainandthewind) to see the pictures of the rhubarb upside-down cake!

Source for study: Gneezy, Uri, and Aldo Rustichini. “A fine is a price.” The Journal of Legal Studies 29.1 (2000): 1-17.

Here’s the graph with the main result: fine is a price graph

It’s a Fresh Start

A friend of mine from Penn, HengChen Dai, have been writing and publishing papers about this phenomenon called the “Fresh Start Effect”, which I find particularly relevant as I board my flight to San Francisco. Her and her collaborators found that people are more likely to make aspirational changes such as exercising more or quitting smoking whenever there’s a new start. Remember two weeks ago when everyone was crafting their New Year Resolutions? That’s because of the fresh start effect too. When the calendar turned to a new year, you feel a little detached from the 2016 “I-spent-too-much-time-on-the-couch” self and more connected to the 2017 “I-am-determined-to-exercise” self. At these fresh start moments, you’re more empowered that you’ll be able to accomplish these goals.

These researchers looked at Google searches and found that searches for keywords towards aspirational goals such as “diet” increased by 82.1% on Jan 1st compared to the searches of an average day! This effect is not limited to New Years, but also applies to a new month, a new semester at school, a new city, a new job, etc. I’m excited to be starting a new role as a research associate and also moving to a new city – so, double up the fresh start effect! It’s definitely a time for me to set goals, both professional and personal ones, and use this fresh start as an opportunity to make positive changes or at least experiment with different things.

For those nudgers out there, you might want to take advantage of the fresh start effect when you’re thinking of a good time for behavioral interventions. Phrasing and implementing the intervention as a fresh start will give the effect an extra boost!


Source: Dai, Hengchen, Katherine L. Milkman, and Jason Riis. “The fresh start effect: Temporal landmarks motivate aspirational behavior.” Management Science 60.10 (2014): 2563-2582.

New Year Resolution for 2017

Can’t believe it’s been a whole year since my last post! Somehow it feels way shorter than that – I still remember writing the post on people stealing my laptop at the coffeeshop like it was yesterday. It reminds me of my time at MIT and Boston, and also the many amazing things that have happened afterwards in 2016. What a year it has been – the ups and downs, the old and new, the things I’ve learned about myself, about people around me, and about the world are simply too much to recount in this one post. They have undoubtedly shaped how I view and approach things in life, so I’m sure their influences will be seen in my upcoming posts. In other news, I’m going to start writing this blog again! Still focusing on applying psychology/behavioral economics research into daily lives. 

In the last 5 months, I’ve deliberately tried to be less type-A about things. So in an effort to continue doing that, I’m going to refrain from making a list of things I’ve accomplished and learned in 2016. I also debated as to whether I should make New Year Resolutions at all this year because it also sounds quite type-A to me. However, I think of it more as “Improvements I want to make”, which can really be implemented at any point in time within a year, but complementing it with the Fresh Start Effect (Jan 1st is a good boost in motivation), makes January 1st a great day to implement changes you want in your life. Two years ago, I wrote about how to set NYR without actually posting about them, which means I didn’t really follow my own advice of telling others about your resolutions. So, I’m going to do that this year.

The biggest resolution of this year is to be kinder to myself.

This is broken down into the following 3 actionable items – 

#1 talk to my heart kiddo every day
One of the most eye-opening thought I heard last year was that “you can go to sleep to rest, but your heart never stops beating for you and it never gets to sleep and rest”. Isn’t that amazing? I’ve never really thought about my heart this way, or thought about my heart at all…unless something went wrong with it. So this year, I want to be more grateful for my heart and be nicer to it. I’ve also found it easier to be nice, soft, friendly, and understanding to people other than to myself. So I’ve created this “kiddo”, a little baby girl character (think: Inside Out), that represents my heart. Someone who I can talk to in my imagination and be naturally softer to because it’s a tiny human (and you don’t want to be mean to tiny humans because they’re fragile). It’s like talking to another person, even if it is still me. This coming year, I’ll have a brief conversation (my plan is to say good morning to her) with this kiddo every day. 

#2 one alone day a month
Two years ago, I set a resolution of doing an alone day/”me-day” once a month. The idea was that I won’t talk to anyone that day and also do things that I want to do for myself. It’s a day dedicated to me. Little did I know it was a preview to my 10-day silent meditation retreat this past November, from which I’ve learned and gained a tremendous amount, including resolution #1 above. The retreat helped me refine the definition of alone days. In addition to not talking to my closest friends that day, which in effect only meant I spent the day checking emails, writing blog posts, going to a coffee shop, and being equally busy and thinking equally as much, I want to stay away from all communications (phones, computers, conversations, etc.) on my alone day. By getting rid of distractions, I’ll spend this day doing nothing and thinking about nothing, which I’ve found to be incredibly difficult. Let me know if you want to join in on this one!

#3 stop eating when i say “i’m full”
This resolution is also recycling from previous resolutions, not because I failed on them previously, like you’d imagine the cliche “lose weight” and “exercise more” resolutions to turn out (again see how to set resolutions), but because they’ve been so successful that I want to keep them top of mind and continue to work on them. This one was refined in collaboration with my younger sister, Sharon, from the previous “stop eating when full” to “stop eating when I utter the words I’m full” –  a subtle difference that not only seemed to keep her happy but is also quite profound. The advantage of this subtle improvement is that pinpointing when I said the words “I’m full” is much more concrete than just saying i’ll stop when i’m full, which leaves a lot of room (no pun intended) for negotiations. When am I full? One can easily convince themselves that they’re not that full and can still eat another bite of that fish tacos even when they’re stuffed to the brim. With the current resolution, once we’ve said the words “I’m full”, we have to stop eating. [confession: we ate grapes after saying i’m full during our Jan 1st dinner :3]

So that’s it! My 3 new year resolutions for this year. They all feed into being kinder to my body and my mind, which both honestly need a little bit more love from me. My prediction is that 2017 will be a year of understanding, letting go, rebuilding, accepting, exploring, risk taking, and more. Very (very) looking forward to this coming year – for the new job, new city, new relationship – and if one thing can be certain, it is that I don’t know what this year will bring, which in itself sounds exciting to me.

What are your resolutions? Share them in the comments below.

With Love,

On Happiness

In honor of one of my new year resolution in 2015 to write a new blog post every week, this will be my last weekly post of 2015. It still does not feel like the end of the year came and went. Ever since my friend asked me about my reflections this past year (which I admit I have completely forgotten to reflect on), I have been doing more thinking and formulating my new year resolution for 2016. No doubt, I will be revisiting the post I wrote last year for some guidelines.

But today, I want to write about happiness. It always amazes and sometimes confuses me how researchers can study this topic. Inherently a subjective matter, happiness is a fluctuating, hard-to-verify measurement unlike other more steady cousins, such as income or GDP. This disadvantage has led some major fields, including Economics, to stay away from tackling this so-called “fluffy” measurement. At the same time, it has intrigued many Psychologists and prompted subfields such as positive psychology.

Lottery Winners and Accident Victims 

In a study by Philip Brickman, Dan Coates, and Ronnie Janoff-Bulman, they asked a bunch of lottery winners and paraplegics about their happiness levels. The hypothesis is that those who had won the lottery will be much happier than others, while those who had lost a limb will be unhappier than others. Not a crazy hypothesis.

People were asked to rate their happiness on a scale of 0 to 5 (a 6 point scale) of how positive or negative the event (lottery/accident) was. Surprisingly, the ratings of happiness between the two groups, lottery winners and accident victims, were not that different from each other. Don’t get me wrong – in statistics terms, they were significant, but not by much, considering their difference in magnitude. The average happiness rating for lottery winners was 3.78, while for accident victims it was 1.28 (reminder: this was on a 6-point scale).

Now, the measure used in this experiment is a pretty bad one using only one question and a self-reported survey. People are pretty bad at defining something as broad as “happiness”, everyone interprets the word differently, and self-reported measures are not always honest. So, it is better to compare within subjects, meaning we get the same person to answer the questions so that it’s at least a comparable definition of “happiness”. With this, they found another interesting fact: the happiness level did not increase or decrease after winning the lottery OR after being paralyzed from below the waist.

Wait what? what happened? This is because people adapt to situations extremely quickly. Before we win the lottery, we think that our lives will change dramatically afterwards and we will be super happy. However, a few things happen after you really win the lottery. The usual activities you used to do are less enjoyable now; fun things now feel boring. Secondly, habituation occurs and having lottery cash becomes your new baseline. The same effect goes for paraplegics in the opposite direction.

This paper is one of the more famous experiments showing that happiness is all relative to our baseline. To me, it also remarkably shows how easy we adapt to new environments. For example, you might be convinced that working towards that huge promotion next year will make you happier, but you’ll quickly adjust to it – so don’t spend your whole life in the office and enjoy life! You might think that breaking up with your loved one means you’ll never be happy again, but you’ll adjust to a new norm and soon be happy again.

2016 looks like a year of changes and uncertainty for me, but I’m certain with humans superb adapting ability, it will be a happy year regardless. I wish you all great happiness in 2016! HAPPY NEW YEAR 🙂

With love,


Source: Brickman, P., Coates, D., & Janoff-Bulman, R. (1978). Lottery winners and accident victims: Is happiness relative?. Journal of personality and social psychology, 36(8), 917.