Hedonic Adaptation

I had this conversation with someone recently and she said, “I would love to be happy more frequently.”

It reminded me about this book I read many years ago that discussed about happiness set points. I recalled enjoying the book a lot because of how it explained that we tend to find happiness by improving our circumstances.

I will be happy if/when _____________.

I will be happy if I can get off work early today. I will be happy if I can have a really good dinner tonight. I will be happy when I buy a new car. I will be happy when I can marry the girl of my dreams. I will be happy when I can move into a new home. I will be happy when I win the lottery. It is an endless list of possibilities.

But the important truth is,
What we think will make us very happy for a long time,
Will only make us a little happier for a short while.

The author explained this effect is known as hedonic adaption.

Circumstances that change our lives and make us happy, helps us to achieve that desired effect of happiness. We are happy when we start to drive around in our new car. We are happy when we wake up everyday in our fully furnished new home.

However, because humans adapt both physiologically and sensory into their new environment, our lifestyle and habits shape around the new circumstances and then our happiness level returns to the same set point as before.

And now we are back to the cycle of seeking greater happiness again because, what we have now doesn’t make us as happy as how we think it would, and then we are not satisfied with what we have.

I think the key point here is that, we keep trying to find what will make us happier, and we don’t spend enough effort to hang on to the happiness that we already have.

The biggest lie we can tell ourselves start with,
I will be happy if _________________.

I think what the author wants us to understand is that,
if you’re not happy today, then you won’t be happy tomorrow, because happiness is not out there for us to find. Happiness is inside us.

My copy is more than 10 years old. I bought her a new one and I hope it helps her find happiness as much as it helped me.