THE “HEDONIC TREADMILL” IN THE PURSUIT AND MAINTENANCE OF HAPPINESS

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Last night while walking in my neighborhood, I looked up into the sky to witness the historic rocket launch to take astronauts into space, which took my breath away. Watching any rocket launch at night from my backyard is always my favorite place to watch a rocket launch here in Florida. It always gives me the sense that there is something greater in the world than my small little microcosm. What is important to me at that particular moment seems pale by comparison to what the feelings of those brave astronauts must be. Watching the rocket launch gives me the sense also that our election woes, terrible pandemic, and other things that weigh heavily on our minds are temporary. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “This, too, shall pass away”. At some point in the future, whenever that is, our difficulties will be behind us and we will move forward to a better place or time.

When I first moved to Florida, I remember the awe I felt every time the shuttle launched into the sky. I stopped what I was doing and waited with such anticipation to watch and wait. Watch and wait. Last night, however, I was going about my business with my usual nightly walk and almost missed the launch. It brings to mind a principal known as “the hedonic treadmill” or the “hedonistic adaptation”. That is, hedonic adaptation is the tendency toward a process that reduces the affective impact of emotional events. It has to do with getting “used” to something that previously gave us happiness. For example, you may recall your first apartment that may have been 400 square feet and how excited you were when you moved in. If you look at that same apartment and consider living in it now that you are a bit more “established”, it might not give you the same level of excitement or happiness. In short, the excitement “wears off.” Experts suggest that a brand new sports car, for example, will not make you happy. No matter what the price point of the car, a person will gradually get “used” to driving the car, and the “newness” will wear off. I am sad to admit that last night I realized that the excitement of living on the Space Coast in Florida has worn off a little, as I admitted to myself the harsh realization that I wasn’t set up to view the rocket launch as I had previously done during preceding launches even though I was excited to see the launch in the sky. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy seeing the launch, as I did. It was just that the “newness” had worn off a little. Just a little.

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

Extrapolating this “hedonistic adapation” idea to my every day life, I know that the key to happiness, in part, is NOT the acquisition of material goods. The key to happiness is to acquire memories, to “step outside of the moment to review and appreciate it or savor it” in the words of Dr. Laurie Santos, Professor of Psychology at Yale University. Happiness comes from being both happy with your life and being happy in your life. Dr. Santos says happiness does not come from good grades, a new promotion, a bigger salary, a big house, etc. Pursuit of material goods and acquisitions is a dead end road. Instead, Dr. Santos suggests these practices to “thwart” hedonistic adaptation:

  • Meditation – a practice to help someone become present in the moment and tune out distractions.
  • Savoring – the simple act of appreciating and being present in the moment, or stepping outside of the experience to review and savor it . This can be done by looking at old photos of experiences that took part in, such as old family gatherings, a great vacation, doing something different.
  • Gratitude – taking time to appreciate the blessings in your life. Some people use a journal daily to write out several things for which they are thankful each day to give focus to the day.
  • Kindness – acts of kindness toward other people. Try paying for the coffee in the person behind you at the drive-through window some day. It simply feels good.
  • Social Connection – having friends and being part of a community can make you more likely endure disease, difficulty, and hardship better. Try re-connecting with others during this time of the pandemic, even if on the phone. Reaching out to others helps us in so very many ways.
  • Exercise – 30 minutes a day, which has been known to be mood boosting physiologically.
  • Sleep – at least seven hours a night for adults and nine hours a night for teens.
photo:dreamstime

Finally, doing things to “shake up” our routine from time to time can help us to thwart hedonistic adaptation. For example, every now and again, I close my eyes and walk toward the sink, turn on the faucet, and get a drink of water “just because”. It helps me to appreciate the use of my eyes and helps me to “see” my world a little differently.

The link to Dr. Laurie Santos’ free course from Yale University about “The Science of Well Being” can be found below. Why not shake things up during the extra time you might have on your hands during lockdowns, social isolation, and the pandemic? You just might learn something that surprises you and motivates you toward a happier life.

Life is good; carpe diem, friends …………

Note to self: savor living on the Space Coast in Florida and witnessing the forward progress to getting to Mars in my lifetime, because life is good.

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