Saturday, January 14, 2017

Conditional Happiness and the Hedonic Treadmill

There are two ways to be happy:
  1. Get everything you want
  2. Want everything you have
Which seems more attainable here and now? In my recent reading endeavors, I’ve picked up two psychological concepts that have helped me understand happiness:

Image result for hedonic treadmill

Conditional Happiness: I’ll be happy once I graduate, when I make more money, when I can finally take a vacation. We’ve all said something like this out loud or to ourselves at one time or another. Conditional happiness is directly linked to pursuit of external factors we think will fulfill us, and is the cousin of materialism

The Hedonic Treadmill (aka Hedonic Adaptation): Psychologists figured this one out relatively recently (late 1990s), and it refers to our tendency to revert back to our original state of happiness relatively soon after acquiring whatever it is we’ve been longing for. Finally got that new car you've been saving for? It’ll make you happy for a short while, then it becomes the norm and you’re back to where you started. Get a pay raise? Good for you! It won’t be long until you’re seeking another one. Further, it would be downright devastating to receive a pay cut. To quote the philosopher Chris Rock, “If Bill Gates woke up one day with Oprah’s money, he’d jump  off a bridge. ‘Oh no! I can’t even put gas in my plane!'”

One example (of presumably many) of me falling victim to this way of thinking recently:

Heated Seats: I got a new car last summer and it happens to have heated seats. I’ve long scoffed at the idea of paying extra money for ass-warmers (honestly, when’s the last time you were uncomfortable due to a cold ass?), and now it’s the first button I push when I start my car. In fact, I’ve caught myself getting frustrated when the seat has taken longer than usual to warm my ass, and I'm disappointed when I find myself a passenger in a car without this feature. I'm embarrassed.

So if conditional happiness and jumping on the hedonic treadmill are so engrained in our culture, how the hell do we avoid falling victim to this? A few suggestions:

  1. Prime the mind every morning: According to legendary performance coach Tony Robbins, when we begin the day in a lowered emotional state (tired, overwhelmed, hungover, etc.), we see only problems in our lives, not solutions. This leads to us telling ourselves self-defeating stories (“I can’t succeed,” “Woe is me!). To fix this, Robbins suggests, have a morning routine that primes the mind for the day. This way, Robbins suggests, we’ll begin to see solutions to life’s problems. Further, we’re more likely to recognize and appreciate the good in our lives. Without fail, this leads to gratitude and, to paraphrase Robbins: It’s impossible to feel negative emotions and gratitude simultaneously. Up to you how you want to prime your mind, but after reading this (in Tools of Titans), I’m forcing myself to work out, meditate and write before starting each day. So far, so good.
  2. Stop being so goddamn distracted: Once we’ve taken care of the basics—food, water, shelter, heated seats—money and possessions are just a story. The goal of advertising and marketing is to get us to believe their story—that our lives are inadequate and that we can achieve happiness by purchasing their product. We don’t have to listen.
  3. Realize happiness comes from within: As my man Van Morrison says, “Look for happiness—always—within your self. And don’t go chasing, thinking that it is out there—somewhere else.”

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