Fabien Dézèque

Thesis title: Can we ever be satisfied? Well-being treadmills and the evolution of happiness

Start year: 2019

Contact: 18094241@brookes.ac.uk

Supervisor(s): Dr Stephen Boulter, Dr Helen De Cruz

Research topic

The 21st century has displayed massive relative dematerialization: it takes million times less matter to produce a bit of data on a modern computer than on the Apollo 11 guidance system (1969), cars’ and airplanes’ engines have seen their gram to power ratio cut by several orders of magnitude, nowadays smartphones can perform various tasks which previously required hundreds of specialized devices. For almost any identical given service we are now more efficient resources-wise and energy-wise than any time since the beginning of mankind. However, despite the massive success of relative dematerializing, absolute dematerialization did not happen. Per capita consumption in developed countries has been steadily rising and since the 1950s wealth have more than tripled in rich countries such as the UK. However, subjective well-being such as measured by psychologists and economists alike remained unaffected. Therefore, the situation of the past fifty years is of biblical but paradoxical simplicity: we have unsustainably, increasingly and more efficiently than ever exploited our environment but for no tangible well-being benefits. How can we account for that?

This is the question my research is trying to tackle. In order to do so I try to account for our constant dissatisfaction and need for more through the hedonic treadmill phenomenon. Hedonic treadmill refers to the fact that people’s well-being tends to remain extremely stable over time no matter what happens to them. Contemporary research partly concurs with those findings, suggesting that bad and good events tend to be short-lived when it comes to their impact on our well-being.

My contribution to this topic consists in sorting out the different kind of well-being treadmills (affective, cognitive, relative) which emerge from different literatures (mostly economics and psychology) but more importantly to think about a plausible evolutionary explanation for these treadmills. Getting a solid evolutionary explanation for those treadmills will help us understand the failure of dematerialization and understand the paradox of our desire for ever-increasing consumption despite the lack of substantial well-being benefits.

There has been a long philosophical tradition of frugality in both Western and Eastern philosophy, pretending that modest wealth is enough for a happy life. In a world of both limited energy-dense sources and limited resources, degrowth seems a more and more likely path. But how desirable is such a path, and whether we can still envision an exciting future through reasonable consumption, are inquiries I would very much like to contribute to.


Philosophy, Psychology, Cognitive Science, Well-being, Happiness, Evolution, Evolutionary psychology, Easterlin Paradox, Hedonic Treadmill, Satisfaction, Ethics, Environment, Developmental ethics

General research interests

Hedonic Treadmill, Evolutionary psychology, Happiness, Well-Being, Subjective Well-being, Cognitive Science, Positive Psychology, Environmental Philosophy, Developmental ethics.

Academic school / department

School of Education, Humanities and Languages


Work in progress

  • Well-Being entry
  • ACTE lab guide: understanding extrinsic, intrinsic and moral motivation to promote environmentally friendly behaviors

Teaching experience

  • Highschool philosophy teacher for 3 years
  • French lecturer

Further details

Academic and professional training

  • M1 Master of cognitive science (Cogmaster, Paris)
  • MA Philosophy (University of Rennes 1)

Scholarships and prizes

  • Merit scholarship (Master, Philosophy)
  • CREPUQ exchange grant (Licence, Philosophy)