Hedonic Treadmill: How to Break the Endless Cycle of Unhappiness and Be Truly Happy

Hedonic Treadmill: How to Break the Endless Cycle of Unhappiness and Be Truly Happy

How are you? 

Really. How are you truly feeling today? Are you happy? Sad? Or just neutral?

More often than not, we are not 100% happy for today. Ever wondered why we couldn’t be happy all the time?

For example, you might have experienced getting something like the latest phone today, and you were so happy that you’re one of the first to snag the coveted gadget. But after some time (usually around 1 to 2 weeks), you suddenly don’t feel that much happiness with it anymore.

It’s like a cycle that never ends. And there’s actually a term for it — the Hedonic Treadmill.

 

Understanding the Hedonic Treadmill

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Understanding the Hedonic Treadmill

The Hedonic Treadmill (or the Hedonic Adaptation) is a theory that happiness has a baseline. It was first identified by Brickman and Campbell in their study “Hedonic Relativism and Planning the Good Society (1971)”, the hedonic treadmill describes the cyclical nature of happiness.

And when we become happier (or sadder), there will come a time where we go back to this baseline. The baseline can be seen in this graph:

 

As you can see, as we go far from the baseline, there will be a tipping point when we go back to being neutral to a certain trigger. 

Similar to the phone example a while ago, if you receive a large pay raise, you will be happy for quite some time. But after a few months, it will be the new normal, and you’re not really ecstatic about it as much as before. 

That explains why rich people are not always happier compared to poor people — that this happiness is temporary.

On the other hand, if something awful happens to you like breaking up with someone, there will be a time that you moved on. This sadness is also temporary.

 

Determining the Happiness Baseline

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Determining the Happiness Baseline

According to her book “The How Happiness,” Sonja Lyubomirsky theorizes that 50% of our happiness baseline is genetic, 10% are determined by external factors, and 40% is set by our actions, perspective, and attitude. 

Some are genetically predisposed to loneliness and depression. Scientists have isolated a gene linked to people with recurrent depression. Also, the ability of your body to produce serotonin (the “happy” hormone) affects this.

What’s good is that we have 40% that we can control. And that percentage is substantial enough to make a difference. Now lies the question, how do you use this new knowledge to be happier?

 

Make Gradual Changes for Your Happiness

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Make Gradual Changes for Your Happiness

Imagine that you have a pay raise, now you can finally buy all the things you eyed for so long. Eat out at the restaurants you always wanted. But again, your happiness level will just return to normal once you are accustomed to it.

One glaring example is lottery winners. It’s probably the biggest pay raise you can get in a lifetime. But why do lottery winners become bankrupt within 9 months to 5 years? And most have returned back (some even worse) to the happiness level they had before?

Aside from poor money decisions, it’s because they made all the changes abruptly. Most of the lifestyle adjustments they did are called “pleasures” which researchers have described as fleeting and as quick bursts of happiness. 

I’m not saying to forego any pleasure because having that burst of happiness can lead to an upward spiral of happiness throughout the day or week. It can even be a shield to stress. 

But then, getting them all at once will quickly dissipate the feeling you get from it. So if you get a raise or freed up some extra cash, better make slow changes to make most out of your happiness.

 

When Something Bad Happens, Change As Much As You Can

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When Something Bad Happens, Change As Much As You Can

On the other hand, when something bad happens, people change things gradually. When they get a large pay cut, they slowly take out expenses. They gradually change their lifestyle choices. And this prolongs their sadness.

So as much as you can, change everything all at once. For the example above, list all the expenses and lifestyle choices you can forego, and implement them all at once. Take out your night outs, Netflix, premium toilet paper, and so on.

If you had a breakup, maybe get a haircut, delete the phone number, or burn all the photos (okay, maybe just stash them without harming anyone). Do it all at once! So that when you recover, you go back to the neutral baseline of happiness faster.

 

Get a Hobby or Find Something Exciting to Do Once in a While

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Get a Hobby or Find Something Exciting to Do Once in a While

Life is not all about work. You need the right amount of pleasure to make it more meaningful. To make your life fresh, get a new hobby or do something exciting once in a while. In this way, you have something to look forward to every time. 

 

Have a Gratitude Habit

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Have a Gratitude Habit

Being thankful for something boosts our happiness in life. For one, if you start writing down the top 5 things you are grateful for every day, you are suddenly aware of the small things around you. 

You can also do volunteer work or charity work to express your gratuity. This mindfulness makes us appreciate our lives; however simple it may seem.

 

Set Meaningful Goals

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Set Meaningful Goals

The Hedonic Treadmill plays on time. The more we are accustomed to something, the faster we go back to our happiness baseline. 

When we do something that is slightly harder than our skills, time stops, and we enter a state of flow. This excitement and enjoyment improve our quality of life. That’s why setting meaningful goals will prolong this happiness.

 

Nurture Your Relationships

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Nurture Your Relationships

Lastly, no man is an island. Humans are social beings that can nurture each other. According to research, our brain works better if we are interacting with other people. Also, most people who are alone have higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. 

There are multiple times when all we need is someone to talk to during a bad day. That’s why we should nurture meaningful relationships to be happier. 

 

Conclusion

With that, let’s break the cycle and be happier in our career and our lives. Cheers!

 

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