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