Hedonic Treadmill: Happiness Is Within Us
Let us think back to the time when you were 10 years younger. Do you remember certain aspirations for your future? Maybe you dreamt of a decent house, a fairly good car, some money in the bank, maybe a vacation, and a well-paying job. And you told yourself that these achievements, once you have them, will be sufficient to make you happy. Now return to the present moment. How many of those did you manage? If you are like most people, you would have, more or less, met aspirations that you had 10 years ago.
So why are you still unhappy? Why even though whatever your younger self had aspired and you have achieved, there is still the feeling of lack?
Still, the feeling that "I need more. To be happy. And I will be happy as soon as ...". The never-ending "as soon as".
The never-ending pursuit of postponing your happiness just a little in the future. AS SOON AS YOU HAVE ACHIEVED THIS ONE MORE THING. This one more property, this latest car, this Europe vacation, this, that, and this, that. And so you keep promising yourself.
“Happiness consists more in conveniences of pleasure that occur everyday than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom."
– Benjamin Franklin
Welcome to the Hedonic treadmill of life
Treadmill: an exercise machine that consists of a moving strip on which you walk without moving forward.
You step up on the treadmill, push a few buttons and it starts moving. You keep walking on it, but you are not moving forward at all. Though the display shows you have clocked a good distance, you are physically always in the same place. They should probably ban Treadmills, right?
And this my friend is the Hedonic treadmill of life.
Where, though we keep moving, even running sometimes, it seems like we haven't. And where the forever elusive happiness is just that. Forever elusive.
The hedonic treadmill (also known as hedonic adaptation) is a theory positing that people repeatedly return to their baseline level of feelings, regardless of what happens to them. We thus keep fantasizing about being happy "one day", as soon as we will achieve that one thing that is eluding us. Then as soon as we achieve it, we go and link our happiness to our next big achievement. Repeat for eternity.
So what is the point of this blog then? That Happiness is now. Now, as in right now. With whatever you have. Whatever your current possessions, relationships, job, money, wardrobe, car, house, health, etc. If you aren't happy with little, there is no guarantee you will be happy with more. Period.
Get off the Hedonic treadmill and of the endless cycle of desire and decide to be happy. NOW.
But wouldn't it be nice if we could make that magic last a bit longer? Maybe we can.
The Arrival Fallacy
Another trap that we fall into is Arrival Fallacy. It is the trap of thinking that other people are secure and happy and that they're somehow different. That once we achieve what they've achieved then we'll be happy and fulfilled. But even the CEO's in the mansions are still worrying and have very similar if not worse inner lives than we do. Material possessions don't change anything on the inside.
So it's better to come to terms with this and realize that certain anxieties will always be with us and to be a little less resistant toward them. The goal isn't to banish our worries and anxieties but to view them playfully and laugh because we know they'll always be a part of our lives in some way.
What is happiness and why do we chase it so fervently?
Happyness is a way not the destination
What would make you happy? Does a big lottery win? Finding the love of your life? Dining at the finest restaurants every day? Well, the hedonic treadmill theory stipulates that even if you managed to achieve all of the above, you'll be no happier than you were before.
You've likely heard the example of lottery winners. A famous study of lottery winners from 1978 showed that lottery winners were no happier one year after winning the lottery than before it. The same goes for many other things, even marriage. Although people who are newly married tend to get a bump in their self-reported happiness for about a year or so, after two years people tend to return to the level that they had a year or two before their marriage.
A lot of the things we pursue to find happiness — more money, the perfect partner, a bigger house, a better body — don't make us any happier in the long term.
Thankfully, the same thing occurs with negative life events.
So when a bad thing happens to you — say a broken leg or a break-up — you will of course, initially feel worse. That's normal! But the research shows that over time that feeling will dissipate and you'll eventually return somewhere back to where you started. Even if it doesn't feel like it amid the bad event.
I find this a reassuring thing to keep in mind. Whenever something unfortunate happens to you, the negative feeling it creates tends to subside. All things will pass.
Everyone is different and there are several things you can do to increase your happiness.
That's what this article is doing for you. We're examining the fundamental building blocks of reality, so you can't help but see that happiness is the journey, not the ultimate destination.
Stop worrying; focus on the now
I believe that one of the main causes of unhappiness is the fact that we live in or obsess about the future or the past. Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. The power for creating a better future is contained in the present moment: You create a good future by creating a good present.
How many days and weeks and hours have you spent ruminating about what could have been or what might be, all the things you need to do, or all the things you should have done? If you're at all like me I'm sure that answer is way too many. This is wasted time, wasted life, and wasted energy. The only moment that matters is right now.
Don't focus on outcomes
When I started blogging, I began obsessing about the outcome. Would I get clients? Would I be any good at this? What if I suck? What if no one cares what I have to say? What if I will not earn any money?
Luckily, I had a life coach aka friend who helped keep me on track, and eventually, I realized I was wasting my thoughts on things that may or may not happen, but that did not influence me in the present. The only thing I could control was what I was doing at the moment. If I am moving toward my goal and taking little steps forward, then I need to stop worrying and let it be enough.
Invest in real-time connections
As I mentioned earlier, some of the happiest places in the world are those that live and exist within a community. Each is a member of a whole and they seek to help one another. I believe having connections with other human beings is one of the main reasons we exist and is a huge factor in the derivation of happiness.
To be vulnerable you have to connect, and I don't mean trading pithy comments on Facebook or Instagram, I mean truly connect. True connection means to understand, accept, and hear someone and to allow yourself to be understood and heard and accepted.
How can you do this?
Start with people who are already in your life that you think you can forge a deeper bond with, or join a new social group that revolves around an activity that you like. Take up bowling or attend meditation classes. Seek out those who are interested in similar pursuits and it will be easier to form an initial connection. What you do from there is up to you. The world is open.
These may sound like generic answers to a really big problem, and maybe they are, but they're a good start.
Find meaning and pleasure in what you do
Our time is valuable. Spend more of it on doing what you like to do instead of doing what you feel obliged to do. For me, that means trying to make time in the outdoors each week a priority.
Take a few minutes each day to be grateful for some of the amazing things you've been given. Look around, there's a lot to be thankful for.
Stop comparing yourself to other people
Easier said than done. Turn off that social media account or at least take a break from it. All of that social comparison is changing your reference points and making you feel worse.
Embrace a more minimalist lifestyle
Once I realized that having more wasn't making me any happier, it was much easier to convince myself that less is more.
Learn to savor and meditate
Taking time to soak in a pleasant experience. Pausing to enjoy that first sip of coffee in the morning, for instance, can make it better. Meditate. Spending some time each day focusing on your direct experience. Breath, sounds, sensory feelings. This helps bring you a little more out of your head and into the present.
The hedonic treadmill exists, and we have to live with it.
If you can arrange your life so that with each passing year you get a little bit richer, a little bit more talented, improve the world a little bit, and make your relationships a little deeper, I think that the ride should be very enjoyable.
The hedonic treadmill is something that I've been mulling over for at least a couple of months, judging by my notes. And while it still concerns me, I think that maybe the hedonic treadmill is "the journey" that people say makes life worth living.
Life's a climb, and the goal is to reach the top. But unless you learn to enjoy the climb, you would never be happy even if you reach the top.
So keep on running on your treadmill, fast or slow, but do so with a smile on your face.❤️❤️