A few years ago when I was focusing a lot of my time outside of work on climbing mountains, I thought a lot about a concept called hedonic adaptation. At the time, I wasn’t familiar with the term, but through my adventures and travels I became aware of the idea that as I gained more experience and acquired better skills, my aspirations grew to bigger and harder objectives. After I would accomplish one objective, instead of feeling satisfied, I would start thinking about what was next.
I first heard the name from Dr. Laurie Santos’ course on Happiness through Coursera. Hedonic adaptation is the concept that we as humans have a set point for happiness. Meaning positive or negative things may happen to us, but we adapt and ultimately go back to the same set point. Take income for example. A person may think, if I could just make $100,000 I’d be happy. But then once they make 100,000 they want to make $200,000 to feel happy. And so on.
Understanding hedonic adaptation is fundamental to pursuing a path to leading a happy life. By understanding hedonic adaptation, the effects can be countered. Another reason it is important to understand is because it illustrates that what we believe will make us happy is very often an illusion leading us to pursue goals that won’t actually make us happier.
In order to live more fulfilling and happier lives we have to spend our time pursuing things that will actually improve our happiness. I want to elaborate more about this in future posts.
What do you do to curtail hedonic adaptation?