Article submitted to the Reader’s Digest in 1981, but not published:

For a long time I lived in a world that didn’t make sense. Some people would say that things were better long ago, or in another town or country or job. Others would say that they were worse. I would find that people I admired were disliked by others. Or I would see a film that I had seen before, and find it either much better or much worse than when I saw it the first time.

Then, one day, I found the answer: the range of pleasant and unpleasant experiences that make up life is unaffected in the long term by changes in circumstances. The only difference between good and bad times is that in good times people complain about less important things.

I used to drive taxis for 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, so I was doing the same thing all the time, yet I found that I had the same range of feelings as when I was doing different things at different times.

It is widely believed that the function of the Government is to bring the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people. But this is nonsense, because there is nothing that the Government or anyone else can do to increase the average happiness of the people.

The story of the man in a donkey cart dangling a carrot in front of the donkey is a familiar one, yet I see the whole of human experience in that story. Everyone is busy making the world a better place, and it’s not getting any better.

It’s true that a person who gets married or wins the football pools is more likely to be happy at the time than someone else. The point is that if he hadn’t won the pools or got married he would have experienced the same happiness at another time for another reason. The same is true about unhappiness.

Here are some more things that are explained by the theory.

Why are some people afraid of spiders?

Because there aren’t any lions or crocodiles around.

Why do people sometimes make a fuss about nothing?

Because there’s nothing to make a fuss about.

What does the crime rate go down in war time?

Because the evil is channelled off into the war.

Why do people in love lose their appetite?

Because their love of food and everything else is channelled off into the love of a person.

Why do other people have opinions that are different from mine, when mine are the only opinions that make sense?

Because it is in the nature of people to have different opinions from other people.

The hardest thing for me to accept was that the way people who disagreed with me experienced their opinions – the way the felt when they were expressing them – was exactly the same as the way I experienced my opinions; but once I had accepted that, then the principle that is the basis of this article, and all its implications, followed naturally.

I used to wonder what it would be like to be a film star or a tramp, or to live in the 13th century. Now I know: it would be no different from being myself.

When I wrote earlier that there was no way of making the world a better place. I meant that people would not be made happier by passing more laws or inventing more gadgets, but there is a way in which things could be improved.

It is well known that people’s moods can be affected by the concentration of adrenalin in the blood. Is it not reasonable to assume that the whole range of feelings and moods is controlled by chemicals?

Many discoveries have made in the past century or so that were undreamed of before. It seems likely to me that in the near future a way will be found of reducing the concentration of chemicals that make people lazy, irritable and bored, and increasing the concentrations of chemicals that make people contented, creative and industrious.

From that time onwards, everybody will be at their best all the time. I hope I am still around when it happens.