The Science of Well-Being

Reset Your Reference Points


How do we get over the annoying feature of our mind that decides to judge ourselves against relative versus absolute reference points? Please read this post if you feel confused about reference points! Let’s talk about how to reset your reference points to help you become genuinely happier.

Reference Points

Quick reminder, this annoying feature of our mind is the one that compares ourselves, our successes, our dreams, against others and not against what we care about or seek internally. These reference points are affecting our happiness levels, without us even realizing it.

We use other people’s lives, social media, TV, salaries, homes, cars, placings in a sporting event, jobs, etc, to judge how we feel about ourselves.

Easy example on resetting your reference point:

You get a job at Google. The first few months you are super excited, free food, it is amazing. But a year into working at Google, “just” working at Google becomes your reference point. The new awesomeness of it and all of the perks have lost their spark. Google is just the place you now work. How do you get out of that way of thinking?


Go back and re-experience what your old reference point was like. Were you at a crappy job prior to Google? Literally go back to that place and remind yourself what that was like. Re-experience the bad thing. Use your imagination and feel that feeling. Your new reference point will switch back on and you will feel happiness again.

Take the things you have, the things you are taking for granted. Can you go back and really make yourself have a habit of re-experiencing the stuff or life as it was before? Before you had whatever those things you are now taking for granted.

Social Media

Social Media is a breeding ground for setting inaccurate reference points. There are a lot of ways we can stop this. One way is using some cognitive behavioral therapy techniques.

Stop Technique

Sometimes you can be mindful and catch yourself using inaccurate reference points. We need to give our brain a moment to be quiet. Tell it to shut up & stop.

You are scrolling along and see someone posting about their perfect life (Which is not perfect BTW) and you start to compare yourself. Literally say “Stop” out loud. This causes your brain to take a moment. To step out of it’s habitual pattern of comparison. You are catching your own evaluations being about what other people are doing as opposed to absolutely about your own worth, you force yourself to do a stop think. Sometimes that can have a powerful effect on breaking those kinds of connections. 

Gratitude, again

We talked about gratitude in our last post. Going into details about how gratitude can stop your happiness levels from adapting. Gratitude also works to reset your reference points.

Gratitude stops our social comparisons. If you are practicing gratitude then you don’t have room in your mind or attention span to think about someone’s things, life, and being envious. Gratitude is the killer of envy.

Be conscious

A third way to work on reseting you reference points is to be conscious. This comes into play most with the social comparisons or reference points we have no control of letting in. When watching TV or seeing advertisements. We cannot stop what comes on screen but we can be aware of what we are choosing to watch or read. Don’t pay attention to a Victoria’s Secret ad and pay more attention to the Dove Real Beauty Campaigns if you find yourself comparing your looks or body. Support companies that are trying to come up with reference points that are healthier.

Think to yourself and figure out. What are the reference points you are letting in all the time. Are they ones that will make you feel bad? Or are they ones that are accurate?


This strategy probably seems counterintuitive. It is something you wouldn’t want to do, but it turns out to have a powerful effect on resetting your reference point and inhibiting hedonic adaptation.

Interrupt your consumption. If you are enjoying something good. If you want the good times to roll and keep on rolling. You may actually benefit from an interruption in those good times. To stop and come back later. This allows your reference point to reset in a positive way.

Some studies were done on this. I will save you on boring details of the studies. But for example, listening to your favorite song over and over again without a break is worse for your overall happiness levels than if you were to listen with breaks. If you listen and listen and listen, you lose enjoyment with the song. But with a break, your happiness picks back up when the song comes back on. That song continues to be your favorite song. The breaks, the interruptions, stop your adaptation. Your reference point resets. So that when you listen to the song again, you are no longer used to or no longer have adapted to feeling happy while listening to it. You are also happy because listening to it feels way better than not listening to it.

Same concept goes with TV, food, etc. Anything that we tend to “consume” repeatedly. We will always enjoy more after we interrupt our consumption.

Final thoughts

How can you make the things around you, the things you are in contact with everyday, dynamic? How can you allow it to feel like it’s changed around a little? Enough to make your mind notice and get out of patterns and habits. To start to implement these strategies allow us to grow in happiness, happiness that comes from within us.

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