What is hedonic adaptation?
According to Wikipedia:
“The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.”
In less fancy terms, what this term means is that “no matter what happens to you in your life, you’ll very quickly get used to it”. Hedonic Adaptation is a feature built right into your Human DNA that allows you to function efficiently in a wide variety of environments, even very harsh ones.
I would argue that most of us have fallen victim to hedonic adaption.
In terms of happiness we think that if we could just make a little more money then we will be happy.
If we could win the lottery, then we would for sure be happy.
If we could have a nice car or a bigger house or a better job, our happiness level will soar!
Well it turns out that this just isn’t true.
Sure our level of happiness may increase for a short time but hedonic adaptation says that over the course of a few months our level of happiness returns to where it was before.
The Happiness Treadmill
Now the cravings for new stuff that we think is going to make us happier are real. And we know that the adrenaline rush that comes with a new purchase is also real. But we must also realize that this rush is short lived.
We are on the Happiness Treadmill. Always chasing for the next surge of endorphins. We need that high!
It can be hard to resist. The temptation is real.
In this crazy age of constant marketing we are inundated with images of “Buy This, Be Happy!”
It is all smoke and mirrors. It is all bullshit.
In his book Happier, Harvard lecturer Tal Ben-Shahar defines the “arrival fallacy,” which is a corollary to the concept of hedonic adaptation. He describes the arrival fallacy as: “The false belief that reaching a valued destination can sustain happiness.”
So we chase happiness, only to return back to our original emotional baseline after getting what we want. We run on a happiness treadmill, and get nowhere, despite exerting massive effort along the way.
The key for me is not denying the existence of the craving or the short term rush. It’s zooming out and reminding myself, “Dude, the scientists have already figured this out for you. You can buy the new car or the bigger house, and get a short term rush, or you can put that same energy and money into doing something that creates far more lasting happiness.”
And that’s the golden nugget for you. You only have a limited lifespan, and you’ve got a real chance to go get yourself some lasting happiness. Are you going to spend that time chasing the scientifically-proven-to-be-ineffective short adrenaline rushes that you get from buying yourself some more shit?
When you really assess what makes us happy isn’t it the little things?
Right now the sun is streaming in the window and I am enjoying my coffee. It feels pretty damn good. The silence is golden.
I think of the time i spend with my close friends laughing and telling the same stories we always tell.
I think of the traveling I have done and it brings a smile to my face every time.
I honestly believe that having more stuff leads to a more complicated life. Living a simple, uncluttered life just makes things so much easier.
There is less to look after and try and organize. You have more time and you should have more money. Maybe you will be able to lower your levels of debt. And let’s make no mistake- debt is a form of slavery.
It’s the simple things that matter most. Make happiness a habit that is within your control, rather than seeking it from external sources. Life is nothing but a series of moments, both big and small, and the key to lasting happiness, joy and contentment lies is living each moment with purpose and intention.