New Civilization News: The Hedonic Treadmill    
 The Hedonic Treadmill
picture 12 Dec 2003 @ 10:24, by Scotty

It refers to our tendency to adjust rapidly to good or bad events in our lives.

Emotions are fleeting, and we cannot sustain emotional highs or lows indefinitely. We eventually return to our baseline. We are back exactly where we started, like a runner on a treadmill.

It is not uncommon for our people to expect that when they achieve their goals, their lives will be flooded with lasting positive emotion.

Talking with someone about the 'hedonic treadmill' can sometimes prevent disappointment and frustration further down the line.
Such a discussion by the way, is not intended to dampen enthusiasm about goals.

People can and do achieve lives filled with engagement and meaning by making important changes in their lives.

It is only the rush--the high that follows a recent success--that cannot last.


The following exercise illustrates the concept of the hedonic treadmill - you may want to use it

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Recall the last time something really bad happened to you. Think about what it was and how you felt in the moment.
Now think about how you felt the next day.
How did you feel one week later?
What about one month later?
Did you feel as miserable 30 days after the bad event as you did when it occurred?

Granny was right when she told me time heals all wounds.

Now repeat this mental exercise with a good event.
Think about something wonderful that happened to you.
How long did the glow really last?
Why doesn't the glow last longer?

Here is one theory: As we accumulate more material possessions and accomplishments, our expectations rise.
We continue to need more money or greater accomplishments to boost us into the upper reaches of our happiness range.

Remember that the hedonic treadmill applies to little events (receiving a great present) as well as big events (winning the lottery).
If the hedonic treadmill did not exist, then people who have more of the "good things" in life (example: money, good looks, a great job) would be happier than people who are less fortunate.
This is simply not the case.
The hedonic treadmill is an equal opportunity phenomenon that affects the rich and the poor alike, the gifted and the average.

The following five research findings may surprise you:

1) Above the poverty level, added wealth has little relationship to happiness.

2) A comparison of life satisfaction across countries showed that once the gross national product exceeded $8000, there was no relationship between money and life satisfaction.

3) There is no relationship between money and happiness.

4) People living in sunny climates are not more satisfied than people living in cold climates. (This one is hard for me to believe as winter reaches me here in the warm tender Tropics. heh heh heh )

5) Objective good health is only slightly related to happiness. Objective health refers to how sick or healthy you actually are (as measured by doctor visits, trips to the hospital, vitals signs, etc.) as opposed to how sick you think you are. It is not uncommon for sick people (even really sick people) to underestimate the severity of their disease and report only slightly lower levels of life satisfaction than they experienced prior to getting sick. It is only our subjective perception of well-being (how well we think we are) that is related to life satisfaction.

So what is the take-home message?
Remember the hedonic treadmill during the coming Christmas holiday season and beyond.
Life brings us highs and lows.
Savor the high points for as long as you can while recognizing that they cannot be sustained indefinitely.
When experiencing the low points, find comfort in knowing that they too will pass !

(I posted this article because suddenly I realised why it is that some of us need to be at odds all the time !)


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