Pursuing the Excellent Life
Feb. 22, 2023

Hedonic treadmill: The dulling of shiny new things (5MF)

Uncover a Secret to Long-Term Happiness with Craig on Five-Minute Flourishing! Learn about the phenomenon of hedonic adaptation and how it affects our satisfaction with new things over time. Craig shares expert insights and practical tips to help you break free from the hedonic treadmill and achieve lasting happiness.

Live Well and Flourish website: https://www.livewellandflourish.com/

The theme music for Live Well and Flourish was written by Hazel Crossler, hazel.crossler@gmail.com.

Production assistant - Paul Robert


Craig 00:00 
Welcome to Live Well and Flourish. I'm your host, Craig Van Slyke.

Have you ever noticed that when you get something new, it's just the most awesome thing? Just fantastic. You play with it, you use it, you wear it, whatever. But after a while, the new thing becomes just a thing. Sure, it's okay, but it's no longer quite as awesome as it was when you first got it. So that might lead you to start searching for the next awesome thing. 

If you've ever had this happen to you, you've experienced something called the hedonic treadmill. This used to happen to me with watches, wristwatches. I've been a watch guy for a long time. You don't want to know how many I own. It's well north of 20, I think. 

So, what would happen is I'd get a new watch. I'd play with it. I'd admire it. I'd take a picture of it, I'd wear it. I'd drive Tracy crazy just going on and on about this watch and just, I'd just generally bask in all its glory. But after a while, that shiny new watch kind of lost its luster. It's still nice, but I just don't get the same pleasure out of it.

Craig 01:13 
So, the watch goes into the rotation and gets worn once a week or once a month, or maybe not for months at a time. It's still the same watch, it's just not as shiny as it was to me. 

You've probably experienced the same sort of thing. Maybe you get a new car, you get a new pair of shoes, a new bike, a new tv, you know, whatever. And those new things are just great when you first get 'em. They're fantastic. But after a while, they just don't bring you the same level of pleasure. 

There's something called hedonic adaptation, and hedonic just means relating to pleasure. And hedonic adaptation is a process by which we become used to a stimulus, which leads to the emotional effects of that stimulus lessening over time. So you get used to it, whatever it is, and you just don't get the same pleasure out of it. 

Craig 02:08 
So, there are two kind of interesting things about this. If you don't control it, you end up on the hedonic treadmill. The new thing doesn't make you feel quite as good anymore, so you get another new thing over time that loses its appeal, and you get something else and you're going on and on and on. You're on this never-ending treadmill. Consumerism kind of relies on this. 

So, the second thing is that the new thing didn't change, it's your opinion of the thing that changed. My new watch was just as nice as it ever was, but I just don't get as much pleasure out of it. 

And what can happen if you get on this hedonic treadmill is it can lead to an odd, kind of a decrease in satisfaction with your life. You get temporary happiness from acquiring things, but that happiness doesn't last, so you don't find lasting happiness and fulfillment. 

Craig 03:06 
The other thing that can happen with hedonic adaptation is it can lead you to set your sights on the wrong sorts of goals, goals that are based on external things, not internal satisfaction and internal progress. And that doesn't lead to the right sort of happiness or to lasting happiness. This can be dispiriting and demotivating. You achieve some big goal like a promotion, but the happiness soon fades. You get a new thing, a new car, maybe you've saved for it for a long time. After a while, it's just a car.

So, what can you do to get off of the hedonic treadmill? The first thing to do is make sure you're pursuing the right goals. You want to set your goals for things that are under your control and that also tap into the sort of person you want to be and that align with your deep values. When you achieve those sorts of goals, not only are they more under your control, but they're more likely to lead you to feel a deep sense of satisfaction because you're being the sort of person you want to be.

Craig 04:09 
Even better, pursue goals that are under your control and align with your purpose. These are the strongest motivators and provide the most lasting sense of fulfillment and happiness. 

You also want to be mindful of what you have and how lucky you are to have it. Practice some gratefulness. You know, maybe I could take a few minutes to watch, to open up one of my watch boxes (yes, I said one of them), admire the intricacy of the watches and the beauty. Maybe polish 'em up a little bit. 

By the way, this works even better with people in your life. This will make you more aware of what originally brought you happiness, and that can make the old thing shiny and new again. 

Then finally, you can practice something called negative visualization. Imagine losing something you value. Every day spend a couple of minutes visualizing losing something that's important to you: your health, a loved one, even a material possession. This'll make it easier to appreciate what you have and to feel gratitude for being so lucky. 

All right. That's it for this time.

Remember, you can get this episode on all my episodes at LiveWellandFlourish.com. Talk to you later.