Is Happiness Really the Meaning of Life?

This One Simple Test Will Reveal Whether You‘re a Hedonist or Not

Matt Gangloff
3 min readJan 24, 2022


Photo by Aleksandra Sapozhnikova on Unsplash

If you could design your life for maximum pleasure, to live out the rest of your days in a state of absolute bliss, if you could have whatever would make you truly happy, what would that look like?

Imagine that you wake up tomorrow and you turn on the news and the lead story is about this Dutch genius who has invented this sort of pod, a space capsule-looking thing, he calls the Experience Machine.

Through a tangled net of electrodes attached to your cranium, it can make your dream life come true. All you have to do is lie down in the pod and press that big, red START button.

You would never again feel pain. This dream life would be indistinguishable from reality. You would never know it was all just a complex-computer program. You could live out the rest of your days in a state of absolute bliss.

You could be the richest man on the planet, a famous actor, astronaut, and save humanity all in one lifetime, or a weekend for that matter. And you’d never suspect anything was awry. You’d never stub your toe, wait in line at the DMV or sit through a commercial for blood pressure medication again.

All pleasure, no pain, all the time, for the rest of your life.

Do you push the button?

I wouldn’t.

Most people wouldn’t.

This was a thought experiment posed by the Philosopher Robert Nozick in his 1974 book, Anarchy, State, and Utopia. The point of this argument was to refute the central claim of Hedonism, the philosophical school of thought that supposes that the meaning of human existence is the maximization of pleasure and the minimization of pain. Nothing else. The fact that most people wouldn’t get in the machine was irrefutable evidence to Nozick that Hedonism couldn’t be true.

If you answered no, that you wouldn’t press the button, why did you answer that way?

There’s something about the Experience Machine that people don’t like. The most common argument is, “What if something goes wrong?” But let’s assume that’s impossible. The next argument is usually, “Well, I would but I…



Matt Gangloff

I teach the how-to’s of Post-Traumatic Growth: How to heal and grow, find a new mission, become your best self and build a meaningful life.