"The Hedonic Treadmill" - sometimes, referred to as "Hedonic Adaptation" - is a term coined by Phillip Brickman, Dan Coates, and Ronnie Janoff-Bullman.
It describes how people rapidly adjust and grow accustomed to change in their lives such that they cannot be satiated.
"The more you have, the less you appreciate what you have, and the more it takes to make you happy."
The problem is that expectations rise in tandem with accumulation, so that there is no permanent gain in happiness.
How do you break the cycle?
I recall an experiment in which two groups were given a mindless and repetitive task to perform for money. One group was given a relatively large sum for the work, whereas the other was paid a pittance. Over time, the underpaid group became the more efficient and, also, the happiest (even putting in overtime). The reason being that when there wasn't an extrinsic reward (i.e. money), they found ways to make the work more enjoyable amongst themselves.
Many studies of lottery winners have shown how detrimental winning can be. At best, many winners feel as if their life was no better several years down the line than it had been before. At worst, they destroy themselves, or are destroyed by sharks who took advantage of them.
The solution, then, is to be thankful with what you have and not to want more. To live within one's means.
This is easier said than done.
Happiness can be very elusive. It can be derived from a sense of belonging, of "awe", from empathy, and losing oneself in the moment. When joy is derived from the accumulation of material things, it is short-lived. Like a drug, it begins to take more and more of a hit to get your fix.
Those who believe in the "Hedonistic Treadmill" theory suggest that we all have a baseline of happiness, which we return to (eventually) after a life-changing event (good or bad). This would explain why people who win the lottery, or suffer a calamity, can trend back to the way they were before the incident. This isn't always true, however. People in prison tend to have their baseline lowered (but can bounce back when released).
Your personal baseline could be influenced by how much of an extrovert/introvert you are. Extroverts are happiest when extrinsically rewarded. Introverts are the opposite. It may be that introverts are naturally happier in the long-run, because they can find so much reward in doing solitary things that increase their sense of well-being, without having to rely as much upon others for positive reinforcement. In these days of social media, this skill may become increasingly important to maintain a positive self-image.
Daniel Gilbert has coined the term, "Miswanting", which he uses to describe how people continue to strive for the very things - materially goods, especially - that do not contribute to their satisfaction. He suggests that unhappiness doesn't come so much from not getting what we want, but, rather, it comes from not liking what we've wanted as much as we expected we would before we got it. Miswanting is a mismatch between what we want and what actually makes us happy.
Unfortunately, we are surrounded by false promises that only exacerbate this feeling. Junk food may temporarily satisfy a craving, but it is designed to make us hungry for more, so we can never be satisfied. Constant advertising makes us want stuff that we don't really need, but feel compelled to compete with our peers for. It never delivers on our dreams, yet we want to have more of it - more of what the other guy's got -and then some.
If we love objects more than the people around us, what does that say about us?
What do you think...?
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In the article - "Best, Brightest - and Saddest?" an interesting paradox is explored. Why is it that in some of the most affluent and secure communities, suicide rates are soaring and childrens' mental health declining? The answer may have to do with the intense pressure to succeed that parents place on their children.--David G. Wilson