May 21, 2024
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Getting Off the Hedonic Treadmill

You keep doing more and earning more. Yet you’re not any happier than before. Ever wonder why? It’s probably because you’re on the hedonic treadmill.

The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, refers to the tendency of humans to return to a relatively stable level of happiness or satisfaction after experiencing positive or negative events or changes in their lives. In other words, it’s the concept that our happiness levels tend to revert to a baseline despite significant life events or changes.

The hedonic treadmill suggests that although we may experience temporary boosts in happiness due to positive events like buying a new car, getting a promotion, or achieving a personal goal, the initial happiness surge is often short-lived.

Over time, we adapt to these positive changes, and the happiness they bring becomes the new normal. Consequently, we seek out additional sources of happiness, such as acquiring more possessions or pursuing new achievements, to maintain that elevated level of happiness. The cycle continues, and we keep striving for more in the belief that it will lead to greater happiness. However, the problem is that the pursuit of external sources of happiness becomes an ongoing process, and we may never feel a lasting sense of contentment or fulfillment.

This constant desire for more can lead to a perpetual state of dissatisfaction and prevent us from being truly happy. There are a few reasons why the hedonic treadmill can hinder our happiness:

1) Adaptation: Humans have a remarkable ability to adapt to new circumstances, whether positive or negative. Initially, a positive change may bring a surge of happiness, but as we adapt to it, the happiness wears off, and we return to our baseline level.

2) Comparison and social reference points: We often compare ourselves to others and use their circumstances and possessions as reference points for our own happiness. If we constantly compare ourselves to those who have more, we may feel a sense of inadequacy or envy, which undermines our happiness.

3) Increasing expectations: As we accumulate more possessions, achievements, or experiences, our expectations tend to rise. We start to desire even greater achievements or material possessions to maintain the same level of happiness. This perpetual chasing of heightened expectations can be exhausting and lead to diminished satisfaction.

4) Neglecting the present moment: The pursuit of future happiness or the next achievement can distract us from appreciating and enjoying the present moment. Constantly striving for more can make it difficult to savor and find contentment in the here and now.

Instead of solely relying on external factors to gain happiness and fulfillment, I suggest you work on… cultivating gratitude (Eizehu ashir? Hasomeach b’chelko!), nurturing relationships (with others and Hashem), practicing mindfulness, and finding purpose and meaning in life and in your work.

Doing so can contribute to a more enduring sense of happiness and fulfillment.


Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, is an executive coach and president of Impactful Coaching and Consulting (ImpactfulCoaching.com). He can be reached at 212.470.6139 or at [email protected]

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