The Happiness Conundrum

23 Pages Posted: 2 Mar 2016

See all articles by Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries

Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries

INSEAD - Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise

Date Written: March 1, 2016


Based on a case example of a deeply unhappy person, this article examines the elusive topic of happiness, paying special attention to the Big Five theory of personality, the interface between health, resilience, and happiness, and the importance of social networks, the workplace, and other variables in the happiness conundrum.

I discuss the concept of the pursuit of happiness, introduce the notions of the hedonic treadmill and the “set point” of happiness, and explore the idea that we are able to “synthesize” happiness, using a variety of defensive mechanisms.

I also look at the social and environmental factors that influence happiness, using data from the World Happiness Report, particularly the causes and effects of materialism and the significance of social comparisons. The article ends with suggestions about daily actions that can be performed to increase our level of happiness.

Keywords: Happiness, Hedonic treadmill, Set point of Happiness, Synthesized Happiness, World Happiness Report, Mental Health, Materialism, Social Comparisons, Workplace

Suggested Citation

Kets de Vries, Manfred F.R., The Happiness Conundrum (March 1, 2016). INSEAD Working Paper No. 2016/11/EFE, Available at SSRN: or

Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries (Contact Author)

INSEAD - Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise ( email )

Fontainebleau Cedex, F-77305

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