Miswanting: why we’re wrong about what will make us happy

Jeff Valdivia
6 min readOct 4, 2019

And what to do about it

Photo by Fernando Brasil on Unsplash

I learned an awesome word last week: miswanting.

I love the way it sounds. It’s so mysterious! But, what does it mean?

Miswanting refers to our poor ability to accurately predict the future states of our minds. In other words, we tend to be wrong about the intensity and duration of our good and bad feelings.

So, what does this mean for us?

It means that many of the things we think will make us happy — more money, that promotion, the perfect partner, that exotic vacation — won’t make us any happier than we are today, or if they do make us happier, that extra happiness won’t last for long.

On the flip side, it means we also poorly predict the impact that bad things will have on us. We fear our business failing, our marriage breaking apart, our pitch to investors going side-ways, that public-speaking event coming up. Yet, we’re typically wrong about the impact those things will have on us, too — they don’t turn out nearly as badly as we imagined they would.

Why does this matter? It matters because what we want ultimately depends on our predicted future state of mind. We want that promotion because we think we’ll be happier when we get it.

But, what if we’re wrong about all that? What if we won’t be happier with that promotion? What if, after a brief burst of excitement, everything returns to precisely the way it was?

There is a lot at stake here. The truth of miswanting means that all those goals we’ve set for ourselves might not be in our best interest — achieving them might not make us any happier than we are today.

That’s very concerning.

So, what does make us happy? Good question! But, it might be useful to start by exploring what doesn’t make us happy.

What doesn’t make us happy

If you’ve paid any attention to life whatsoever, you will have noticed that happiness never lasts.

This is obvious for more trivial events.

The happiness you felt when eating the delicious five-course meal at that swanky restaurant? Gone. The happiness you…

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Jeff Valdivia

Following my curiosity and hoping it will lead me to wisdom. I write about psychology, meditation, self-development, and spirituality.