Happiness As A Hindrance How Happiness Acts As A Hindrance Peeling Back Pleasure Cultural Noise Happiness's Role In Anxiety, Depression, & Addiction Trap 1: Happiness We Chase Trap 2: Happiness We Settle For Trap 3: Happiness That Satisfies Overcoming Happiness As A Hindrance Happiness As A Hindrance Practice & Exercises Happiness As A Hindrance References & Resources

Welcome to the resources page for Happiness as a Hindrance. You’ll find a handful of things here.

  • A Glossary of Terms related to “Happiness as a Hindrance”
  • The Gist of the lemon and banana metaphor that is used throughout the topic
  • Collection of resources and avenues to explore the ways happiness acts as a hindrance to meaning


Definitions from across the Happiness as a Hindrance Section:

  • Happiness: positive emotions in the moment e.g. a “pleasant and contented mental state”
  • ‘Happiness’: the colloquial catch-all for good feelings, life-long satisfaction, and overall well-being e.g. “I want a life of happiness”
  • Joy: well-being stemming from meaning, purpose, and perspective. Happiness is an element of joy, but not synonymous with joy.
  • Elements of Well-Being: there four elements that make up well-being, each offering a unique type of goodness
    • Ephemeral Pleasures (Element 1 Well-Being): Fleeting sources of happiness. When the input stops, we stop getting pleasure from it i.e. a hot shower, chocolate cake, sex, television.
    • Engagement & Flow (Element 2 Well-Being): A happiness we can get lost in, from a runner’s high to gaming session.
    • Perspective (Element 3 Well-Being): A meta-happiness that is less dependent on external influences, we regulate our happiness internally.
    • Meaning (Element 4 Well-Being): what makes life feel whole.
  • Cornerstones of Meaning: the four foundational sources of meaning are love, service, discovery & exploration, and expression.
  • Hindrance: a thing that provides resistance, delay, or obstruction to something or someone. Happiness can be a hindrance to joy.

Rather watch and learn?
The following videos lay out terms and distinctions of happiness as a hindrance

The Lemon & Banana Metaphor: Gist

Metaphor Definitions

  • Lemon: Symbolizes something that contributes to meaning. When engaged with, produces juice.
  • Lemonade: Enough meaning juice makes lemonade, which can be thought of as making a life that is as satisfying and refreshing as a glass of lemonade on a hot day.
  • Banana: Symbolizes something that does not contribute to meaning. When we engage with bananas, we get mush. Bananas are not ‘bad’ just because they do not provide meaning.
  • Lemon/Banana Hybrids: Some things can be both a lemon and a banana. This can show up in a few ways.’
    • Large Scope – Elements of our life that are very prevalent or complex may be both lemon and banana when we look at it whole cloth. For example, our job likely has both lemons and bananas in it. When we cut these large elements down into small pieces, the distinctions become more useful to us. Instead of our job being a mess of yellow fruit, we can parse what elements of our job are lemons and bananas.
    • Situationally Different – Usually when something provides some meaning we would consider it to be a small lemon. We get a little juice, but it could be more. There are instances in life when something isn’t a full lemon, but it also isn’t necessarily a small lemon. Sex is a classic example. One night, sex may just be for the physical pleasure of it – a banana. The next it may have more emotional connection mixed in the physical part, which makes it a lemon. Or consider how a cozy boardgame night sometimes brings feelings of deep closeness and others it doesn’t go deeper than a pleasant time.

Life is complex, nuanced, and ever-changing. We can stand to assume that not everything will fit perfectly into lemon/banana binary. The metaphor is more useful as a handy visualization moreso than as a definitive auditing tool.

Want a more in-depth overview of the lemon and banana metaphor?

Tools for Exploring Happiness as a Hindrance

The following tools are a mix of printables to help you further explore happiness as a hindrance with while reading through some of the references and resources on this page, other pages on AMeaningOfLife.org, or in your own studies!

Looking for exercises to help you find out how happiness may be hindering your life?

Quick Fridge Sheet Printouts

To print any of the below fridge sheets, click to open the full version in a new tab. Then right-click and ‘Save As’ to download.

Fridge Sheet – Stepping Off The Hedonic Treadmill

This is designed to be printed out and hung up in a place where you can see it regularly (like a refrigerator). The tips laid out are intended to help you step off the hedonic treadmill. When we step off the hedonic treadmill, we aren’t eliminating pleasure from our life, rather, we aren’t looking for it to sustain our well-being i.e. we can enjoy life’s pleasures without being beholden to them

1 pages

Recommended Reading

Fridge Sheet: Happiness as a Hindrance Field Guide

This printable offers a brief overview of:

  • The Yellow Fruit Metaphor
    A visualization tool for sorting the elements in our life by how much they contribute to meaning.
  • The Three Forms of Happiness Traps
    Highlights the different ways that happiness can act as a hindrance to meaning in our life.

Ideas for usage

  • As a quick reference when reading through Happiness as a Hindrance.
  • Stick it to your fridge for a daily reminder of how happiness may be showing up as a hindrance in your life.

Mini-Printable: Happiness as a Hindrance Pocket Guides

This printable offers four mini guides that cover different subjects within Happiness as a Hindrance

  • Filling Your Glass
    Covers the yellow fruit metaphor in brief. Prompts reader to consider what they engage with (lemons/bananas/small lemons) and how their priorities impact deeper well-being
    Filling Your Stomach
    Covers the three forms of happiness trap. Prompts the reader to consider how the happiness they indulge in impacts their mental and emptional well-being
  • Meaning Quick-Check
    Offers a few quick questions for sorting the lemons, bananas, and small lemons in our life. Prompts the reader to consider the possibilities of deeper meaning.
  • Parsing Happiness
    This covers the many similar-sounding definitions and connotations associated with happiness.

Ideas for usage

  • Print, cut, fold, and laminate to create sturdy reference sheets
  • Use as a bookmark or tape to a television remote to reference where characters may be confronting happiness as a hindrance in their lives
  • Keep in a pocket, purse, or backpack as a reminder to yourself when out and about in the world

Fridge Sheet: Flow Chart Fridge Sheet

This printable offers a condensed version of the flow chart used in The Lemon & Banana Audit and a brief review of the many similar-sounding terms associated with happiness.

Ideas for usage

  • As a quick reference when reading through Happiness as a Hindrance. Examples of lemons/bananas/small lemons in your own life may help the material feel more personally relevant.
  • Stick it to your fridge for a daily pondering of how various elements in your life contribute to meaning.
  • Place a copy in a journal as use a debriefing tool when writing about your day.

Fridge Sheet: Happiness as a Hindrance Graphic

This printable offers a simple visual reminded of one of the main points of Happiness as a Hindrance.

Ideas for usage

  • Stick to a mirror, fridge, or desk – wherever you want to be prompted to think about the ways happiness may be acting as a hindrance in your life
  • Download and set a phone background (this may be especially useful if you frequently use your phone to seek out a quick boost of pleasure to the detriment of your time and energy)

Outside Tools for Exploring Happiness as a Hindrance

Many topics on AMeaningOfLife.org are distilled versions the strongest research out there, others, like this one, are more etherial. The concept of ‘happiness as a hindrance to meaning’ is not one easily found in scientific journals or agreed upon by experts on happiness. Happiness as a Hindrance, as presented here, is more of an exploration or framework – something that doesn’t have hard and fast boundaries. As such, the resources and rabbit holes to explore are a bit abstract as well.

Deepen your understanding of how happiness can show up as a hindrance to meaning in our lives by diving into some of the resources and references that shaped the way the topic is presented.
Print out one of the above tools for exploring and grab a thread to pull!

Note: The books, articles, and other resources are loosely organized by happiness trap, but there is often crossover between multiple traps or related to happiness as a hindrance to meaning in some other way.

Happiness We Chase

As with everything in life, happiness has its trade-offs. Pursuing happiness to the exclusion of other goals–known as psychological hedonism–is not only an exercise in futility. It may also give you a life that you find you don’t want, one in which you don’t reach your full potential, you’re reluctant to take risks, and you choose fleeting pleasures over challenging experiences that give life meaning. – Arthur Brooks


Amusing Ourselves To Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
What happens when media and politics become forms of entertainment? As our world begins to look more and more like Orwell’s 1984, Neil’s Postman’s essential guide to the modern media is more relevant than ever.

Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life
A groundbreaking exploration of why we want what we want, and a toolkit for freeing ourselves from chasing unfulfilling desires.
(This Twitter Thread is a quick summary!)

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
“Happiness is simply the absence of desire… Happiness is not about the achievement of pleasure (which is joy or satisfaction), but about the lack of desire. It arrives when you have no urge to feel differently. Happiness is the state you enter when you no longer want to change your state.”

Happiness can fill your life. Happiness can numb your life. But Happiness can not give you a full life.

Articles, Videos, & Podcasts

“The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” – John F Kennedy

Happiness We Chase in Action

The Social Dilemma

Some Kind of Heaven

When watching TV/movies, look for:

  • High value on ephemeral pleasures
  • Unstable/rocky friendships or high drama (reality TV!)
  • Short-term desires driving plot

Liking without wanting is heaven. Wanting without liking is hell.

Scientific Journals

The Hedonic Adaptation Prevention Model

Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2012). The Challenge of Staying Happier: Testing the Hedonic Adaptation Prevention Model. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(5), 670–680. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167212436400

Can Happiness Be Successfully Pursued?

Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2019). Revisiting the sustainable happiness model and pie chart: Can happiness be successfully pursued? The Journal of Positive Psychology, 16(2), 145–154. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2019.1689421

Happiness We Settle For

When I look back on my life nowadays, which I sometimes do, what strikes me most forcibly about it is that what seemed at the time most significant and seductive, seems now most futile and absurd. For instance, success in all of its various guises; being known and being praised; ostensible pleasures, like acquiring money or seducing women, or traveling, going to and fro in the world and up and down in it like Satan, explaining and experiencing whatever Vanity Fair has to offer. In retrospect, all these exercises in self-gratification seem pure fantasy, what Pascal called, “licking the earth.” – Malcolm Muggeridge

Books & Long Reads

The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level
Gay Hendricks demonstrates how to go beyond your internal limits, release outdated fears and learn a whole new set of powerful skills and habits to liberate your authentic greatness.

The Comfort Crisis: Embrace Discomfort to Reclaim Your Wild, Happy, Healthy Self
Discover the evolutionary mind and body benefits of living at the edges of your comfort zone and reconnecting with the wild.

How To Build a Life: a collection of articles on happiness from The Atlantic
Arthur Brooks is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and the host of the How to Build a Happy Life podcast.

Ultimately, although success and happiness are linked, the alchemy is mostly one-way—and not in the way that most people think. Working on your success to get happier is inefficient at best, and may blow up in your face and lead you to unhappiness. But working on your happiness gives you the best chance at getting both.– Arthur Brooks

Articles, Videos, & Podcasts

Happily ever after sounds good when you’re striving for it, but it’s oddly empty when actually experienced.” – Scott Young

Happiness That Satisfies

Deciding that your life is not worth the effort is how Happiness That Satisfies acts as a hindrance to meaning.

This is how a human being can change.
There is a worm
addicted to eating grape leaves.

Suddenly, he wakes up,
call it grace, whatever, something
wakes him, and he is no longer a worm.

He is the entire vineyard,
and the orchard too, the fruit, the trunks,
a growing wisdom and joy
that does not need to devour.

Happiness That Satisfies in Action

Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old
Happiness Is a Choice You Make weaves together the stories and wisdom of six New Yorkers who number among the “oldest old”―those eighty-five and up.

My Love – Ginger & David
Six longtime couples in different parts of the world share their decades-long love in these tender portraits filmed over the course of one year.

Married couple June and Oscar live a comfortable but predictable life in suburban California.  For years they’ve had the same conversations, eaten the same meals and taken pleasant vacations at the same rented lake house.

Humans of New York
(Recommend reading with the Pocket Guides)

Your Own Social Media!
Grab a printable resource guide and consider the lives being presented on your feed. This isn’t to ‘prove’ social media is fake or people are lying about their own well-being. Rather, investigate how your own perceptions of what a happy life looks like may be influenced by what you see on your social media feeds. On behalf of the smiling faces you see, ask “what else could be if this life saw more meaning?”

Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.
– Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

Happiness As A Hindrance How Happiness Acts As A Hindrance Peeling Back Pleasure Cultural Noise Happiness's Role In Anxiety, Depression, & Addiction Trap 1: Happiness We Chase Trap 2: Happiness We Settle For Trap 3: Happiness That Satisfies Overcoming Happiness As A Hindrance Happiness As A Hindrance Practice & Exercises Happiness As A Hindrance References & Resources