How to Get Off the Hedonic Treadmill - THINKERS Notebook

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How to Get Off the Hedonic Treadmill

My wife and I moved into a new house in January.

With a 4-year old plus a new baby on the way, we found ourselves desiring more space and some additional amenities -- namely a swimming pool, which comes in quite handy during the hot Texas summers.

So we found a house with most of what we were looking for, made our best offer, and got it. We were thrilled! We moved in full of enthusiasm. 

Five months later, we still maintain most of that enthusiasm.

Most ...

But not all.

Why? Did we make a mistake? Is the house not everything we hoped it would be? Do we have buyer's remorse???

Not at all.

We're still trilled with the house.

In fact, we're just now getting to use the pool, which was one of the biggest selling points. Every dip in the water reaffirms a major reason why we bought the house in the first place.

No, the problem is not with the house.

The problem, as is so often the case, is that my wife and I are human beings.

Breaking news, I know.

The problem with humans

The problem with human beings is that we simply are not wired to maintain any initially high level of happiness we feel from a novel but subsequently unchanging set of circumstances.

Human beings often experience jolts of happiness -- from buying a house, trying a new food, getting into a new relationship, etc. But as the novelty wears off, the happiness eventually fades away as we recede toward what is known as our "happiness set point."

It's called hedonic adaptation, or the "hedonic treadmill," and it's a cognitive bias that we need to be aware of and take steps to combat.

I've thought about this concept several times over the last few weeks as our initial euphoria about the new house has been replaced with some of the realities of home ownership: 

 
  • We need to remove some carpet around the sinks our kids use.
  • The light fixtures don't really fit our style.
  • The third garage is awesome ... but good lord how are we going to organize it?
  • And, of course, having a pool is all fun and games until you realize how much work it is to care for a pool!


Slowly but surely some of the features of the house that were novel to us when we first moved in -- the extra room! the raised ceilings! the proximity to the Tollway! -- have become part of our daily life.

And if we're not careful, we run the risk of forgetting why we thought they were so valuable in the first place.

You're not powerless!

Over the weekend, we went to my wife's parents' house. It's the home she grew up in along with her sister. It's a charming, cozy house with a big, fun backyard, but the house itself is fairly small.

Upon returning home, we were immediately reminded of how much more space we had at our house and why it's so important for our growing family.

In that moment, we stepped off the hedonic treadmill and re-experienced that initial excitement ... albeit only for a fleeting moment. Eventually our humanity took back over and the excitement faded into the reality of the day-to-day.

The good news is that we're not powerless.

The Hedonic Treadmill is a very real and potentially dangerous cognitive bias, but it can be countered with intentional gratitude.

Most of us can never truly recreate the excitement of the "first time" with anything, but by practicing gratitude on a regular basis we can remind ourselves why the elements of our life that once thrilled us can continue to be a source of satisfaction and joy.

In this week's THINKERS Roundup, you'll find three articles that will help you combat the Hedonic Treadmill -- first by understanding what it is, and then by having strategies to help you take your happiness into your own hands. 

You're happiness set point determines your baseline, not your overall happiness

"If people become accustomed to (or take for granted) anything positive that happens to them, then how can they ever become happier? As stated before, about 40% of our happiness is dependent on our actions, thoughts, and attitudes. That means that we have the ability to improve."

Read: The Hedonic Treadmill – Are We Forever Chasing Rainbows? (Amazon)
 



Recognize the important difference between pleasures and gratifications

"Rotate your pleasures so that they always feel new. Just as fresh sheets feel more wonderful than your week-old sheets, a rotation of pleasures is more enjoyable than the same ones for days in a row."

Read: Hedonic Adaptation: Why You Are Not Happier (Very Well Mind)
 



The grass isn't always greener

"Our complex society is filled with a million options and we are confronted with myriad decisions every day. Many of us spend time ruminating on the past and regretting our decisions. We often think about how our lives may have gone better if we did something else. In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz calls these “positive” counterfactuals. However, we don’t often engage in “negative” counterfactuals — being grateful for making a decision because the alternative may have been much worse."

Read: How to Overcome Unsatisfaction and the Neverending Chase for More (Sooner Magazine)
 



Quote of the week


"When good things happen, we bake them very quickly into our baseline expectations.”  

-- Dan Harris
Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

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