The Hamburger Theory and the Happiness Archetype

The Hamburger Theory and the Happiness Archetype

Learning & Development

Pramod Veturi

Pramod Veturi

97 week ago — 4 min read

Tal ben-Shahar is a professor at the Harvard University teaching a top-rated course on Happiness.

He has postulated the Hamburger Theory to metaphorically represent four different archetypes of people who approach life differently. The model looks like this.

Hamburger happiness model

Image Source - Happier By Tal Ben-Shahar; Image Credit - Advaith Veturi

Type 1: The Tasty Junk-Food Hamburger - Hedonism Archetype

Eating a greasy but tasty junk food hamburger would give you enjoyment, i.e., provide present benefit and inevitable detriment. Because after consuming it, you will not feel well.

This type of hamburger represents the hedonism archetype. Hedonists live by the maxim “seek pleasure and avoid pain,” where they focus on enjoying the present but completely ignore the potential negative consequences of their actions.

Type 2: The Tasteless Healthy Hamburger - Rat Race Archetype

With all kinds of healthful ingredients, this is the tasteless burger that promises you some future benefit of feeling good and healthy but is utterly devoid of any pleasure in the present. It feels like an ordeal to eat this kind of hamburger.

This tasteless but healthy hamburger represents the Rat Race Archetype. Someone who is a rat racer subordinates the present for the future. He is someone who is constantly on the grinding wheel suffering now for the purpose of some anticipated gain.

Type 3: The Worst Hamburger - Nihilism Archetype

This type of hamburger is the worst of both worlds, neither healthy nor tasty. Therefore, in eating such a hamburger, you would experience present detriment in that it tastes horrible and also suffer future detriment, in that it is entirely unhealthy.

Such a hamburger is a metaphor for the Nihilism Archetype. Someone who is leading a pretty meaningless existence. Someone who neither enjoys the moment nor has any sense of future purpose.

Type 4: The Ideal Hamburger - Happiness Archetype

This hamburger would be a culinary delight, one that tastes great and is also healthy to eat, one that delivers present and future benefits.

Such a healthy-tasty hamburger exemplifies the Happiness Archetype. A happy person is secure in the knowledge that the activities that bring him/her enjoyment in the present will also lead to a fulfilling future.

To a varying degree, we all have in us the characteristics of the four archetypes.

Definition of happiness

Happiness is about enjoying the present, experiencing pleasure in the here and now, and doing something with a future purpose. Something that we find meaningful in the long run.

Let me illustrate this from the perspective of an ideal relationship and an ideal workplace.

Notwithstanding all the ups and downs that every relationship has, the ideal relationship would be one in which we enjoy spending time together in the present, deriving pleasure from one another, and we are also building a meaningful life together. In addition, there is a shared future purpose that both sides in the relationship share. 

Similarly, what would constitute an ideal workplace? One where we love going to work every day, deriving enjoyment in what we do. But at that same time, it’s also a place where we experience a sense of meaning and a sense of future purpose.

Happiness is about finding that metaphorical 'good hamburger' in our life. One the gives us both present and future benefits combined. This is what we all seek in our lives, in our workplaces, in our relationships. This is being the happiness archetype.


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Pramod Veturi

Global leader with experience managing core banking functions with proven track record of delivering business transformation and growth.