We want “it” badly. We emphatically believe that having “it” will change our lives drastically. We dream of “it” frequently, fantasizing about what we will do when we have “it.” And then, we get “it.”
Elation rushes through our body. A smile plasters our face. Our minds are blown that we finally have “it.” We praise God for “it,” thanking Him for answering our prayers. We share the news with everyone we know.
For a while we are happy. Time passes however and the joy we felt for “it” is gone. The newness wears off. “It” becomes normal and sure enough “it” is replaced by “IT.”
Sound familiar. It is what psychologists call the Hedonic Treadmill or hedonic adaptation. It is how psychologist describe the we treat happiness, suggesting the following cycle: desire -> work towards desire -> obtain desire -> increased happiness because you obtained desire -> adapt to new way of life because of obtaining desire -> enter new desire -> repeat cycle.
We often believe happiness is found in increased pay, more stuff, job promotion, changed living situation, and other external factors. This is not to say that desiring more is wrong but it is to say that fixating on external factors to make us happy is dangerous.
When people stay on this cycle of always wanting, they never truly feel happy because they are always wanting more. They rarely feel satisfied because they are focused on next instead of now. In a Pew Research of various countries in 2014, it was noted that when the surveyor asked the participant if they were having a good day, more people in the poor countries said yes, over those in wealthy countries. That is certainly a phenomenon worth noting.
So, what can you do to avoid a dangerous trip on the Hedonic Treadmill?
1. Focus on Relationships
The more you can build positive, supportive relationships, the better perspective you can have. Relationships are the backbone to who we are. We rely on our network of friends and family to be our rock. Focus on the beauty in your relationships and nurture them. Steer clear of comparing yourself to those you build relationships with. Enjoy each other’s company and relish in what you both are going through in life.
2. Focus on Being Grateful
Research over the past couple of decades has shown us that the more gratitude we routinely express, the healthier and happier we are. Keep a daily record of what you are grateful for. Intentionally share what you are grateful for with others and encourage them to do the same. Emotions are contagious, so share a good one.
3. Focus on Being Present
Oh boy do I struggle with this one. One of my Gallup Strengths is “futuristic,” so my mind loves going to the future and hanging out there. The danger in this however is that I sometimes miss what is right in front of me, what I have now. Dream so that you are motivated to act on your dreams; but bring yourself back to reality and acknowledge the amazing things in your life at that moment. Difficulty finding amazing things? Reel yourself into being grateful for the journey.
4. Focus on the Journey
If your plan is to live a long life, strap in for the ride. There will be wins and losses you will go through. Take time to appreciate them all. Strive towards the goals you desire and enjoy the journey of getting to them. Enjoy the ups and downs. Enjoy the uncertainties. Enjoy the failures. Enjoy the celebrations. Take life as it comes but always remember it is a journey.
You deserve to be happy – no doubt about it. I simply caution you to remain aware of how you position happiness. Is it dependent upon someone? Is it tied to an event? Are you relying on something else to be the catalyst to your happiness? Once you obtain it, will it truly make you happy or will you adapt and get stuck and become a catatonic zombie on the Hedonic Treadmill?