Are you running on the Hedonic Treadmill?

Today I came across a definition for a symptom that I had discovered a long time ago but had no idea what it was called. Hedonic Treadmill, Wikipedia explains it as “The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, is the supposed 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. Brickman and Campbell coined the term in their essay “Hedonic Relativism and Planning the Good Society” (1971).During the late 1990s, the concept was modified by Michael Eysenck, a British psychologist, to become the current “hedonic treadmill theory” which compares the pursuit of happiness to a person on a treadmill, who has to keep walking just to stay in the same place.”

This puts a definition to what most of us struggle with in our path to happiness. We work hard towards a goal and once we reach it we get used to it so quickly that we quickly lose interest in it and immediately start searching for the next thing. In general I do not consider this a bad thing when it comes to life goals that push us to become a better version of ourselves. In the other hand I find this tendency to be a path to self-destruction when it involves material possessions.

We are exposed so much to the “newest” “most-luxurious” “ultra-modern” and the other hundreds of marketing terms that the media uses to describe the millions of products that come out on a daily basis that we believe that if we have all of it we will automatically become happier, after all, the pretty blondes on the ads are always smiling right? So you go down the shopping mall or the car dealer to buy your new and awesome car, cellphone whatever it is and yes, for a moment you become happy to have it, but how long does this happiness last, a couple of hours, a couple of days, maybe even a month? Then what, your neighbor comes into the driveway with an even better newer car, your cousin shows you how her new phone is so much better than yours. You no longer have that happiness that you thought you were going to get when you purchased the item, now you are in the search for the next big thing that will make you happy again.

We as humans are animals of adaptation, we believe it or not adapt very rapidly to any situation. So when we think that a new purchase is going to make us that much happier we do not realize that once we put up our hard earned benjamies to buy it we will adapt very rapidly to the new change and our levels of happiness will be back to normal fairly quickly. This is the hedonic treadmill, we believe that we have to keep running to get where we want to go, but in reality we stay still in the same place we were before, we believe that we need to acquire more and more things and sources of excitement simply to maintain the same level of satisfaction.  We have to stop buying the story the media is selling us of more money, more possessions, more beauty will bring us more happiness. We all want certain material things in life, and thanks to living in a democracy we can always rise to the top and attain anything we want if we put in the effort, but make sure you wake up every day to go to work because you want to achieve a goal much larger than just buying the next big thing, after all once you attain it you will quickly get used to it and realize that it was probably not what you thought it was going to be. Most importantly do not run on this treadmill for 30+ years as many people do, just to realize down the road that the shiny car and the fancy clothes were not worth the effort and all the life experiences you gave up on.

Now that you already know that there is no point on running on the hedonic treadmill because no matter what happens or what you buy you will always come back to the same approximate level of happiness, try to focus instead on the things that will bring you prolonged and more definitive happiness. This obviously is different for everyone but take a minute to think about what would be the things and experiences that will truly make you happier. I’m always amazed on how much time we spend planning a new purchase, but barely ever take a minute in our lives to sit down and think of the goals that we want to achieve in life. A point that I can’t stop emphasizing is the understanding that true happiness is within yourself and not an exterior goal or destination where you arrive some day. You can immediately increase your happiness level just by deciding today that you should be grateful for all the things you have, the people who surround you, the job that pays the bills etc etc. To stop down the treadmill the first step is to stop comparing our lives to that of others, we each live very unique and different lives and we must appreciate the one we are living.