Hedonic adaption, or the hedonic treadmill, is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.
Humans are a very adaptive species and our brains are wired to constantly want more of something. Therefore, it is easy to understand why hedonic adaption plays a big role in all of our lives.
If we experience a negative outcome in life, we eventually get over it due to the passage of time. The old saying, “Time heals all” is a reason why we adapt to negative outcomes; time is what allows our mind the ability to return to its relatively stable level of happiness.
If we experience a positive outcome, our minds are wired so that we adapt to our better situation and crave for more whether it is more money, more awards, more toys, more houses or more of something else. This craving can be a good thing or bad thing depending on how it is handled.
Hedonic adaption applies to our life in many different ways.
After we accomplish goals that we set for ourselves we don’t give up and stop setting goals; we create new goals. This can be a positive and a negative. It can be a positive because it can drive us to continue improving our lives and getting better at something which is important in today’s competitive world. It is also what allowed humans to achieve such prosperity in the world.
It can be a negative as well though if it causes us to spend our whole lives chasing goals that we will regret later on. The most common chases that people regret later on in life are money, high positions at a job, and status. It can also be a negative because if we work long and hard to achieve a goal such as getting promoted to partner at a firm then we won’t be forever happy or satisfied. We will eventually return to our relative level of happiness and then will likely become annoyed with something else like stress, coworkers, lack of free time or pay.
The best way to handle the negative effects of hedonic adaption is to use negative visualization. Negative visualization is picturing, or visualizing, our lives empty of the things we already have and already value. This will allow us to appreciate what we have.