H Is For... Hedonic AdaptationRead Now
Why Everything Loses Its Sparkle & What That Means For Happiness
Nothing lasts, particularly the things that we think make us happy - which makes increasing our "happiness baseline" ever more crucial.
According to the principles of Hedonic Adaptation (or The Hedonic Treadmill), anything that once gave us joy will cease to at some point in the future.
It might be within a relatively short period of time, too, which can come as a bit of a shocker when you feel you have stumbled across a significant piece of good fortune or have discovered an elixir of some kind.
It could be juicing, hiking, fasting - or it could just be getting high. It's great at first but after a while, it becomes the new normal and in order to get that kick again, you need to amp it up a bit (and again and again).
There are obvious downsides to this approach.
But any kind of addictive behaviour - even "healthy addictions", like exercise, can be, at their core, a need to get that original feeling of elation that came the very first time we did it.
Think The Lottery Will Make You Happy?
This principle, that we adapt to our new states of being, even after they radically change, is applied to a well-known study of lottery winners, in the TED-ED video here.
The point was to find out if coming in to such extreme levels of good fortune cemented their long-term happiness.
Did their "baselines" of happiness change at all after coming into such a signficant sum of money?
They did, at first.
But then after a while, participants, like elastic bands, snapped back in to place.
They were about as happy as they were before they won the prize (and some, even less so).
This principle also applies to relationships, career satisfaction, material gain and even altruistic behavior.
No matter what changes in the external world, at some point we adapt and whatever - or whoever - initially gave us a happiness kick, now fails to have the same potency.
Married couples no longer experiencing the "honeymoon period" will know this first-hand and will learn the lesson we all have to in some way, that happiness doesn't lie outside of ourselves.
Why Baselines Matter
And that is what makes the "baseline" so crucial, particularly for those of us whose basic level of happiness isn't particularly high.
No matter what our default setting is, there is nothing external that is going to change that.
The only thing we can ever do is work on increasing it "internally" instead.
Because whatever it is we think will "make" us happy "out there" at some point will fail us.
And we will be back to where we started from, still having to deal with whatever is inside us and whatever it is that is really dictating how happy we feel in the first place.