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Saving Money by Circumventing the Hedonic Treadmill

treadmill.pngI first encountered the concept of the hedonic treadmill on Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project blog. She writes:

One of the most significant factors in happiness is the hedonic treadmill, or hedonic adaptation.

People are adaptable. We quickly adjust to a new life circumstance-for better or worse-and consider it normal. Although this helps us when our situation worsens, it means that when circumstances improve, we soon become hardened to new comforts or privileges. Scoring air-conditioning, a bigger house, or a fancy title gives us only a brief boost in happiness before we start to take it for granted. As Aldous Huxley wrote, “Habit converts luxurious enjoyments into dull and daily necessities.” That’s the hedonic treadmill.

One reason money doesn’t make us happy in the end is that we adapt. Now there are a number of ways we can handle it.

We could do it simply by avoiding new purchases and not expecting any pleasure from our stuff.

We could do it by buying more and more stuff to keep getting that thrill. But most of us don’t have the money and you can only get so much debt. Plus, the debt hurts the thrill and shortens the amount of time we can actually enjoy the object.

Or we can do it by acknowledging hedonic adaptation and working around it.

For example, I had to buy a small business wardrobe in August, since my job at the time sort-of required business attire. (I dressed at a similar level as my boss, figured that was the best way to go. Could have gotten away with less formal clothes.) But since we didn’t have much money and I didn’t actually need new clothes, I began to get tired of it 6 months later. Felt like the same old thing all the time.

However, I had changed jobs. The hospital one still requires fairly professional attire (though there’s more leeway) but the library doesn’t. I still want to look well-groomed, professional, etc. But professional public librarians look very different from most business professionals.

So I was able to vastly spice-up my life by rediscovering a whole section of my wardrobe which was nicer than I wanted to wear every day (I’m a jeans and cute shirt girl) but not professional either.

Makes me feel great now, like I went out and purchased a whole new wardrobe. My coworkers haven’t seen the outfits before, either, so for all they know it is new. I care less about how they see it but more about how I feel in it.

There are a lot of things in our life—clothes, books, movies, etc—that we’ve completely adapted to. But instead of running forward on the never-ending treadmill, we can rediscover things we already have.

I’ve written before about shopping at home. We can reframe what we already have from something we’re used to to something new and exciting. It may not be possible to find everything exciting all the time. That’s the beauty of it. We probably have more than enough to be enjoying something and then to let go of it for a period until we’re ready to enjoy it again.

What can you rediscover today?

photo by maHidoodi

{ 3 trackbacks }

The Honest Dollar | Triple Play: Vote for Me, Weekly Round-up, Monthly Check-up
March 3, 2008 at 8:11 am
How to win the rat race | On Financial Success
March 20, 2008 at 1:47 pm
Bookmarks about Hedonic
October 31, 2008 at 12:30 pm


[email protected] February 25, 2008 at 4:42 pm

I would LOVE to rediscover my summer wardrobe! …and being able to go outside without a coat on …and grass! I’d really love to rediscover grass! I guess that’s one of the neat things about the changing seasons: it keeps things fresh and fun!

[email protected] February 25, 2008 at 5:04 pm

Reminds me of the phrase, “A luxury, once sampled, tends to become a ‘necessity’.”

Watch out what luxuries you constantly sample!

Becky February 25, 2008 at 5:45 pm

I like doing clothes swaps with my same-sized, equally poor friends–if we each get 2 or 3 new pieces it can really make a difference in our wardrobes!

Susan February 25, 2008 at 6:42 pm

I know my husband and I have a lot of things stored in our basement that we just don’t use anymore. I’d like to clean out the storage area this spring and donate and/or sell all those items we don’t need, so who knows what we’ll rediscover!
It’s wasteful otherwise, and I really don’t like that!

RacerX February 25, 2008 at 10:15 pm

Trying to do this with our “library” of books. So many I read years ago, they feel like old friends!

Chief Family Officer February 25, 2008 at 10:49 pm

This is a point that always bears repeating. In fact, you’ve inspired to me go through the stack of clothes that I haven’t worn since I was last pregnant – I hope to find things that make me feel like I’ve acquired a new wardrobe, and if I don’t like something, then I can declutter and add it to the Goodwill pile!

Hilda February 26, 2008 at 12:08 am

My craft supplies! I got oodles of it and whenever I have the feel to be ‘crafty’ I don’t go and run out to the store anymore.

Wooly Woman February 26, 2008 at 10:24 am

What a great post! You are so right, we need to rediscover things we already have. Like summer clothes (as others mentioned above) – it is so nice to get out of jeans and into light clothes for a change once the weather warms.

Another thing I could rediscover is china. I inherited many wonderful old things from my grandmother when she died. It is too much to have out and look at all the time, so I could rotate pieces here and there. Things such as vases, old bowls, or decorative pieces are all at my fingertips if I need a change. Sometimes I feel I have too much, but I like the idea of rediscovering it, I hadn’t thought of it before.

LoveandSalt February 26, 2008 at 10:37 am

Just two weeks into a new (“I-mean-it-this-time!”) diet I’m looking forward to “shopping” in all the clothes I stored away when I started gaining weight, just over a year ago.
I CRAVE those clothes! I never had time to get tired of them, and even if I did, they’ve been out of reach for a year.

CatherineL February 26, 2008 at 1:34 pm

Mrs M – So many of the clothes I have are too tight – I’d just love to be able to fit into them. The idea is far more appealing than new clothes. I tend to feel more comfortable in the stuff I already have.

Katie February 26, 2008 at 2:11 pm

This idea is utilized in the show “Freestyle” on HGTV…. the designers go into a home, and “redesign” a space using only things already in the home. It is amazing what they do with things already owned! I love watching that show… and it inspires me to look around my own house and move things around to get a new, fresh feeling about my surroundings!

tasterspoon February 26, 2008 at 6:17 pm

Such good observations. I’ve worn the same wardrobe for ten, fifteen years and still enjoy my clothes, I think in part because I divide it into spring, summer, fall and winter, and put the three seasons it’s not away in a far closet, and totally shift over every three months. This also keeps me excited about the changing seasons.

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