What we all face: the hedonic treadmill

Hello my lovelies! How are we this sunny Tuesday? Today I want to talk about a concept you may have heard of before, the hedonic treadmill, or hedonic adaptation. I find it fascinating and relate to it very much. It was a term coined by Brickman and Campbell (1971) and has become force for change in positive psychology (a field of Psychology that focuses upon happiness and well-being). It is where cognitive processes similar to sensory adaptation occur when faced with emotional events in life; our emotional system adapts to current life circumstances. It is where we react positively or negatively to a situation and then return to a neutrality or a baseline, a set point. It is a concept that presupposes why we are constantly seeking happiness in the next goal or action in order to maintain happiness levels. This notion can be a contentious topic among psychologists as the original theory declared we cannot do much to alter levels of happiness on a long term basis. The whole idea can seem counterintuitive too – would large moments that define our life trajectory change our baseline? Humans are an adaptable species which is why things may feel ‘neutral’ quite a bit, we get used to what we have. But evidence has shown activities such as altruism and self-care can impact short-term happiness which could possibly alter long-term happiness in the bigger picture. Hobbies that bring enjoyment such as art, crafting and reading can bring much happiness. Seligman termed these gratifications, and by consistently engaging we can alter our set points to be more satisfied with life. Diener et Al (2006) feels revisions must be made upon extensive research. The idea surrounding us going back to a neutral may indeed be wrong, they found the majority of people are happy or above neutral most of the time and suggest that there is no singular universal set point. They suggest that many factors including heritability (likelihood of transmission between parent and child) and personality impacts what the set point may be. There may also be multiple set points for an individual depending upon the factor impacting a person’s satisfaction with life. Longitudinal studies over a period of over a decade showed evidence to suggest that our happiness does and can change from previous levels on both a long and short-term basis. While we may have to face negative life circumstances, we will be better equipped when satisfied in other areas of our lives, and while this does take effort, being aware of where we are in our sense of self can help a great deal. For many years I felt my baseline, my set ‘neutral’ was depressed. The rush of retail therapy quickly faded, fun nights out turned me even worse the next day then back to depressed again. I felt I had to be out every weekend chasing the high, constantly achieving high grades at school, college even in the early years of university and nothing could keep me happy. I would return to my baseline. The past two years have changed all of that, I’m much happier in myself and while life events are not impacting my mood the majority of the time compared to mood swings I feel very satisfied with my life. While I have goals to achieve, they are end goals with a purpose such as overcoming phobias. So do what you love, whether that 5 minutes of sitting down with a cup of tea or spending a day painting, make that time! Please contact me and let me know your thoughts or any other topics I should cover! Much love, L x

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