“Since these conveniences by becoming habitual had almost entirely ceased to be enjoyable, and at the same time degenerated into true needs, it became much more cruel to be deprived of them than to possess them was sweet, and men were unhappy to lose them without being happy to possess them.”
The phrase hedonic adaptation, or more commonly, hedonic "treadmill" captures a sad reality of the human experience. The more we have of something, the less we tend to appreciate it. We can all relate to this phenomenon, yet it remains a huge disruption to our feelings of happiness and satisfaction. We try to work harder and run faster in order to get happier, but it never does any good, because we end up back where we started. No matter what happens to us, good or bad, we always adapt to apathy, and seek the next thing.
Disney with it's vault *, and McDonalds with its McRib, are very familiar with the hedonic adaptation. By strategically depriving consumers of some of their products, they ensure it remains in great favor so that they continue to sell big when "released" again, and provides endless marketing opportunities. Let's get into it!
Covid19 may have taken things away, like our regular routines, experiences, and other opportunities, but there may be silver lining in our intentionality about our approach to happiness!
*does Disney's vault still exist, with the Disney+ streaming service?? I'm not sure...
Hedonic adaptation can be graphed as a function of perceived happiness and time (see above). It suggests that, If not kept in check, the good experiences (peaks) and bad experiences (valleys) that happen in life are temporary, and always tend to revert back to steady state of happiness- no matter what happens. But notice the flip side! The adaptation also works to our advantage during tough or challenging times. "Time heals".
Consider typical life "peaks": first getting a drivers license, graduation, buying a house, big promotion. Typical valleys? Loss of a loved one, a bad breakup, demotion or loss of job. Take a moment to think of your own peaks and valleys. Do you get the same excitement and feeling when you step into your car as you did when you first bought it? Do you value your independence now like you did when you first got your drivers license? Chances are, both of those former peaks do not provide the same jolt of contentment they once did.
OK, you get the idea. So what are some ways we can use this to prevent making the pursuit of happiness like chasing rainbows, while also using it to our advantage during the "valleys"?? Let's take a look at happiness first
Is it time to redefine happiness?
Happiness is an electrifying state, as depicted in the GIFs above. Yet, happiness seems to remain extremely elusive! Philosophers, theologians, psychologists, and even economists have struggled to define it. There is an entire branch of psychology --positive psychology— dedicated to exploring what it means to be happy. More than simply positive mood, happiness is a state of well-being that encompasses living a good life, one with a sense of meaning and deep contentment.
We tend to think of happiness is something that happens as a result of a future occurrence like a promotion or a new car. Or that, maybe if we surround ourselves non-stop with all of the things that make us happy all the time, that we will indeed BE HAPPY ALL OF THE TIME. But hedonic adaptation strongly suggests otherwise.
Easy ways to step off of the hedonic treadmill
Instead, happiness should be an intense and INTENTIONAL focus on the present, while carefully choosing our pursuits based on that experience. Here are some intentional hacks to help us break that cycle.
Practice intentional daily mindfulness. Think back to a few of the peaks in you have experienced. Try to relive those moments and let them renew your gratitude. For example, remember the new independence and excitement from getting your drivers license. Or think back to the day you met your spouse. Develop a gratitude habit
During the "valleys", or times of scarcity, adapt by cutting out all things, all at once, rather than gradually. This can help to usher in the adaption upward sooner, and helps adapt towards "neutral" sooner rather than dragging things out
Develop "engineered scarcity". Since contentment for something grows with absence, it would make sense that giving something up or going with less of something we value should foster some level of happiness. Start with little things, like eating out, restricting dessert or alcohol, or whatever makes sense for you. Ideally, the object of this "dopamine fast" will start with something that will result in better physical and mental health.
Choose VARIETY, wherever possible. If there is variety in routines, skills, or food, it is much harder to adapt and become complacent and adapting to the status quo! Variety is the spice of life
Modify your goals/aspirations. Try to gauge whether your goals are oriented around a huge perceived "peak", like buying a brand new car, or a peak that is closer to "neutral", like buying used. That BIG peak, may turn into a BIGGER valley. After the excitement of the new car wears off, you realize the bigger payment, higher maintenance costs, and insurance were way more than that car is actually worth to you, and contentment/satisfaction takes a drop that is out of proportion to it's peak. The used car would've produced a smaller peak, but may not have fallen, leaving you with more freed up capital for other ventures!
Value experiences over material things! Experiences carry a memory, a tangible story, and a chance for learning. They take on this property of uniqueness that makes it MUCH harder to adapt to.
We should all be more like this guy on any metaphorical treadmill in our lives, (not real ones. You'll hurt yourself. Badly). Notice how he steps off for a bit, just enough so he can keep the good vibes going! You do the same!
Until next time...
Broad Scope Narrow Focus Blog
Welcome to the Broad Scope Narrow Focus Blog! I hope you find a lot of useful and applicable information as we explore the broad world of Wellness together. Check in often, as there will be new posts weekly! Enjoy