We are constantly pursuing happiness. It’s an elusive creature, though. What happens is that once we attain achievement, once we think we’ve arrived, once we acquire that thing we were going for… we get a momentary rush, but then, once again, return to that state of desire, that state of wanting, that state of chasing after happiness. Hey, perhaps it’s not such a bad thing to always be striving, constantly seeking greater levels of success. However, how can we ever truly be happy if we do not stop to pause and savor our triumphs?
In walks the “hedonic treadmill.” What, you ask, is this high-tech piece of gym equipment? Well, according to the current definition on 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. According to this theory, as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness. The term was originally coined in 1971 by Philip Brickman and Donald T. Campbell in their essay, “Hedonic Relativism and Planning the Good Society.” Essentially, though you run as fast as you can to obtain and accumulate “stuff” (e.g., riches, recognition, rewards), you will forever be stuck at your natural state of happiness because your achievement only served to raise your expectations of happiness and leave you not better off than you were before your win.
There must be a way off of this path to nowhere! For inspiration, I turned to Dr. Elizabeth Scott, PhD, who says, “hedonic adaptation is a fact of life, but when we are aware of how it works and how it functions in our lives, we are more able to work around the negatives and engage in activities that are more immune to the stifling effects of the hedonic treadmill.” In her June 2022 article, “Defining Hedonic Adaptation: Why You Are Not Happier,” she offers a variety of ideas for improving our level of happiness:
- Identify and pursue pleasures in your life. Go on… get that cup of coffee! Call that friend for a quick laugh. You get the idea.
- Rotate your pleasures so that they always feel new. Keep it fresh.
- Make time for hobbies.
- Find time for others to create greater meaning in your life.
- Savor your positive experiences.
- Keep a gratitude journal.
- Monitor your happiness levels. If you feel that you could be happier, make time for whatever you can do to lift your mood. Do what makes you happy and/or try something new.
So, pace yourself… once you’ve climbed the mountain, be sure to turn around and look back at how far you’ve come. Celebrate before you move toward the next peak.