Have you ever noticed that after gaining a certain level of success or finally getting a particular possession you’ve always wanted, the joy and excitement fade away quickly? This phenomenon is known as the hedonic treadmill – and it affects all of us, regardless of age or background. In this article, we will explore what the hedonic treadmill is and how we can combat it to achieve more lasting contentment.
What is the Hedonic Treadmill?
The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, is a psychological phenomenon in which people’s emotional state returns to a baseline level, even after experiencing significant positive or negative events. This means that the initial excitement and pleasure we feel from something new, such as getting an award at school, getting into a sports team, or getting a great job, eventually fades away, and we return to our original level of happiness.
The concept of the hedonic treadmill is based on the idea that humans have a “set point” for happiness, which is determined by genetics and life circumstances. When positive events occur, such as winning a prize, our happiness levels increase temporarily, but eventually return to our original set point. Similarly, negative events, such as illness or losing a competition, can temporarily decrease our happiness levels, but we eventually adapt and return to our baseline.
How can we combat the Hedonic Treadmill?
There is a technique that can help us trick our brains into thinking that what we want is what we already have. This technique involves practicing gratitude by imagining losing something that we currently have and then reminding ourselves that we already have it.
Here are some examples:
Imagine losing your phone: Close your eyes and imagine losing your phone, with all your contacts, messages, and social media apps. How would you feel? Would you feel disconnected and anxious? Would you feel worried about having to find the funds to pay for another phone? Now, open your eyes and remind yourself that you still have your phone and you can appreciate its value in your life.
Imagine losing your favorite gift that you got from your best friend or family member. Maybe it’s something you’ve had since childhood. Imagine losing that favorite possession. How would you feel? Would you miss it and feel a sense of loss? Now, remind yourself that you still have it and appreciate its value in your life.
Imagine losing a loved one: While this may be a difficult exercise, it can be very powerful. Imagine losing a loved one, such as a parent or a close friend. How would you feel? What would you miss the most about them? How would your day-to-day life change without their presence? Now, remind yourself of the value that this person brings to your life and appreciate who they are.
Imagine losing your home: Close your eyes and imagine losing your home, perhaps from a terrible storm. How would you feel? Would you miss the memories that were shared in this home? Would you miss the comfort and safety that it provides? Now, open your eyes and remind yourself that you still have a home and appreciate its value in your life.
Imagine losing your health: Imagine losing your health, and not being able to do the things that you love, like playing sports or dancing. How would you feel? Would you miss the ability to move freely and enjoy life? Now, remind yourself that you have your health and appreciate its value in your life.
Imagine losing your education: If you are currently in school or pursuing a degree, imagine losing that opportunity to learn and grow. How would you feel? Would you miss the chance to acquire new skills and knowledge? Would you miss the opportunity to meet new people and build on your social connections? Now, remind yourself of the value that education brings to your life and appreciate the opportunities that you have.
By practicing this technique regularly, we can train our brains to appreciate and value the things we have, rather than constantly seeking more or better. This can help combat the hedonic treadmill by allowing us to fully appreciate and enjoy the things that we already have, rather than always striving for more.
Here are some additional tips:
- Pursue Meaningful Goals: Setting and achieving meaningful goals can provide a sense of purpose and fulfillment that can combat the hedonic treadmill. Instead of focusing solely on material possessions or external achievements, think about what truly matters to you and work towards those goals.
- Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness involves being present at the moment and fully engaged in your surroundings. Practicing mindfulness can help you appreciate the small things in life and increase your overall happiness levels.
- Connect with Others: Research has shown that social connections are a key factor in happiness. Take time to connect with friends and family members, and build meaningful relationships with the people around you.
- Give Back: Giving back to others can increase happiness levels and combat the hedonic treadmill. Volunteer your time or donate to a cause that you care about, and experience the joy that comes from helping others.
In conclusion, the hedonic treadmill can make it difficult for us to achieve lasting happiness, but there are many ways to combat it. By practicing gratitude, pursuing meaningful goals, practicing mindfulness, connecting with others, giving back, and tricking our brains into appreciating what we already have, we can find lasting happiness and fulfillment. So, let’s start making small changes in our daily lives to combat the hedonic treadmill and make happiness a constant in our lives.