The Hedonic Treadmill and Your Happiness

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In This Post

  • We explore what the hedonic treadmill is, and how it’s related to our happiness
  • Ways to break free from the happiness cycle and the happiness hedonic treadmill
  • Techniques and methods you can use to help you feel happier

Happiness is something that we all strive for. The pursuit of happiness is a natural human tendency, and it’s natural to want to feel good and experience positive emotions. However, the pursuit of happiness can sometimes be elusive. It’s easy to get stuck on what has been called the “hedonic treadmill.” Today, we will discuss the concept of the hedonic treadmill, its implications on our happiness, and how we can break free from it.

What Is the Hedonic Treadmill?

The hedonic treadmill is a concept that was first introduced by psychologists Brickman and Campbell in 1971. It refers to the idea that we have a baseline level of happiness that we tend to return to over time, regardless of the events or circumstances in our lives. In other words, we have a “happiness set point” that we tend to revert to, much like a treadmill that keeps us moving in the same place. This means that even when we experience positive events such as getting a promotion or negative events such as a break-up, our happiness levels will eventually return to our set point.

My Experience of Falling Victim to the Hedonic Treadmill

One time, I went to a fancy restaurant and ordered a really expensive steak. It was the best steak I had ever tasted in my life, and I felt like I was on top of the world. For the rest of the week, I couldn’t stop raving about how amazing the steak was and how happy it made me. I even told all my friends about it and convinced them to go to the restaurant with me to try the steak for themselves.

But the next time I went back to the restaurant and ordered the same steak, it wasn’t as good as I remembered. In fact, it was kind of disappointing. I couldn’t believe it. Had my taste buds betrayed me? Had I built up the steak in my mind so much that it was impossible for it to live up to my expectations?

As it turns out, I had fallen victim to the hedonic treadmill. The first time I had the steak, it was such a novel and exciting experience that it brought me a lot of happiness. But once I got used to the taste and the experience, my happiness returned to my baseline level. So, even though I had initially thought that the steak would be the key to eternal happiness, it turned out that it was just another fleeting pleasure that couldn’t bring me lasting joy.

How Do I Break Free From the Hedonic Treadmill?

The concept of the hedonic treadmill can be frustrating because it seems that no matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to sustain high levels of happiness for very long. However, it’s important to understand that the hedonic treadmill is a normal part of human psychology and is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it may serve an important evolutionary purpose, as it allows us to adapt to changes in our environment and circumstances.

While we may not be able to completely escape the hedonic treadmill, there are several strategies we can use to improve our happiness and well-being.

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1. Practise Gratitude

One way to boost your happiness levels is to focus on the things that you are grateful for. Gratitude is a powerful tool that can help you feel more positive and fulfilled in your daily life. By taking the time to appreciate the good things in your life, you can cultivate a more optimistic mindset and improve your overall well-being.

This can be as simple as writing down three things that you are thankful for each day, or expressing your appreciation to others. Practising gratitude helps shift our focus from what we lack to what we have and can help us feel more content and satisfied with our lives.

How Do I Incorporate Gratitude Into My Life?

  • Keep a gratitude journal. One of the easiest and most effective ways to practise gratitude is to keep a journal where you write down things you’re grateful for each day. This can be as simple as listing three things you’re thankful for each morning or evening. By focusing on the good things in your life, you can shift your attention away from negativity and cultivate a more positive outlook.
  • Express your gratitude to others. Another powerful way to practise gratitude is to express your appreciation to the people in your life. Take the time to thank someone who has helped you, compliment a colleague on their work, or express your love and appreciation to a family member. Not only will this make them feel good, but it will also help you cultivate a sense of gratitude and connection.
  • Use mindfulness to focus on the present. Practising mindfulness can help you cultivate a sense of gratitude by focusing your attention on the present moment. When you’re feeling stressed or anxious, take a few deep breaths and focus on the sensations in your body. Notice the things around you. The sights, sounds, and smells. Appreciate the beauty of the world around you.
  • Look for the positive in every situation. Try to find the positive in every situation, no matter how difficult it may seem. Even in challenging times, there are often things to be grateful for. Whether it’s the support of loved ones, the lessons you’ve learned, or the opportunity for growth and self-reflection.

Gratitude as Part of Your Daily Life

By incorporating these simple strategies into your daily life, you can cultivate a sense of gratitude and appreciation that will help you feel more positive, connected, and fulfilled. So take a few minutes each day to focus on the good things in your life, express your appreciation to others, and look for the positive in every situation. With practise, you’ll find that gratitude becomes a natural part of your daily routine – and a powerful tool for happiness and well-being.

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2. Engage in Activities That Bring You Joy

Another way to improve your well-being is to participate in activities that you enjoy and that bring you a sense of fulfilment. Do you remember the last time you did something that brought you immense joy and satisfaction? Maybe it was a creative pursuit like painting or playing music. Or perhaps it was something more physical like dancing or playing sports.

Whatever it may be, engaging in activities that bring you joy is not just a fun pastime, but an essential component of overall well-being. Prioritising things that bring you joy could be anything from hobbies to spending time with loved ones. When we engage in activities that we enjoy, we are more likely to experience positive emotions, which can help offset the negative emotions that we may experience as a result of the hedonic treadmill.

What Are the Benefits of Prioritising Joy?

  • Boosting your mood and reducing your stress. When you engage in an activity that brings you joy, it releases endorphins in your body, which are natural mood boosters. Additionally, engaging in pleasurable activities can reduce stress and anxiety, allowing you to feel more relaxed and at ease.
  • Increasing your motivation and productivity. When you engage in an activity that you truly enjoy, it can help to increase your motivation and productivity in other areas of your life. By taking the time to prioritise your joy, you are sending a message to your brain that your happiness is important and worth pursuing. This can help to fuel your drive and focus in other areas of your life as well.
  • Enhancing your creativity and problem-solving abilities. Engaging in creative pursuits such as writing, drawing, or crafting can help to enhance your problem-solving abilities and boost creativity. By allowing yourself to explore and experiment joyfully and playfully, you are opening yourself up to new ideas and perspectives that may not have otherwise surfaced.
  • Strengthening your relationships. Sharing joyful experiences with others can help to strengthen relationships and build bonds. Whether it’s through playing games, going on adventures, or simply sharing a meal, engaging in activities that bring you joy with loved ones can deepen your connection and create positive memories that you can cherish together. More on this later!
  • Increasing your overall life satisfaction. At the end of the day, life is about finding joy and fulfilment. By prioritising activities that bring you joy, you are investing in your happiness and overall life satisfaction. When you take the time to engage in things that truly light you up, you are living a life that is aligned with your values and passions, which can bring a deep sense of fulfilment and purpose.

Making Happiness Intentional

Engaging in activities that bring you joy is not just a luxury, but a necessity for overall well-being. So, take some time today to explore what truly brings you joy and make it a regular part of your life. Whether it’s through art, sports, or spending time with loved ones, investing in your own happiness is the best investment you can make to help avoid the hedonic treadmill. By actively making time for things that bring you joy, you make change happiness from a destination, or something that should ‘happen’ to you, into something you can feel regularly.

3. Take Care of Your Physical and Mental Health

Maintaining good physical and mental health is crucial for overall well-being. This includes getting enough sleep, exercise, and nutrition, as well as taking steps to manage stress and emotions. When we take care of our physical and mental health, we are better equipped to cope with the ups and downs of life and are more likely to experience positive emotions.

What Are the 4 Core Areas of Health?

  • Sleep: Getting enough quality sleep is essential for maintaining good health. When we sleep, our bodies and minds have the opportunity to rest and repair themselves. Sleep deprivation can lead to a variety of health problems, including weakened immune function, increased stress levels, and decreased cognitive function. To improve your sleep, try to establish a regular sleep schedule, limit caffeine and alcohol intake, and create a relaxing sleep environment. You can read more about our tips for quality sleep here.
  • Exercise: Physical activity is an essential component of good health. Exercise not only strengthens our bodies but also has numerous mental health benefits, such as reducing stress and anxiety. Regular exercise can also help to prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Find an activity you enjoy, such as dancing, hiking, or swimming, and stick with it!
  • Nutrition: Eating a healthy, balanced diet is crucial for maintaining good health. Proper nutrition provides our bodies with the nutrients needed to perform at their best and can help to prevent chronic diseases like obesity and heart disease. To improve your nutrition, focus on eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Avoid processed foods and sugary drinks, and aim to limit your intake of saturated and trans fats.
  • Stress management: Stress is a natural part of life, but chronic stress can have negative effects on both our physical and mental health. It’s important to develop healthy strategies for managing stress, such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga. Other stress-reducing activities include spending time in nature, engaging in hobbies, and spending time with loved ones. It’s also important to identify and address the sources of stress in your life, whether that be work-related stress or relationship issues.

Improving Your Health Takes Time

By incorporating these four steps into your daily routine, you can take control of your health and improve your overall well-being, which will in turn help you from feeling the negative effects of the hedonic treadmill. Remember, small changes can make a big difference, so start with one step at a time and build from there. With time and dedication, you can achieve optimal health and a happier, more fulfilling life.

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4. Set and Work Towards Meaningful Goals

Have you ever found yourself feeling lost or aimless, without a clear sense of purpose or direction in life? If so, you’re not alone. It’s a common experience to feel like something is missing like there’s a hole in your life that you can’t quite fill.

One way to combat this feeling is by setting and working towards meaningful goals. Having a sense of purpose and direction can provide a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction that can greatly improve your overall well-being and get you off that hedonic treadmill. Click here to read more about tracking your goals and progress.

What Are the Benefits of Goal Setting?

  • A sense of accomplishment. Setting and achieving goals can provide a sense of accomplishment and pride that can boost your self-esteem and confidence. Accomplishing something that you’ve worked hard for can give you a sense of satisfaction that can last long after the goal has been reached.
  • Increased motivation. Having a clear goal in mind can provide motivation and drive to take action towards achieving it. When you have a sense of purpose and direction, it can be easier to overcome obstacles and setbacks because you have a reason to keep going.
  • Improved focus. Working towards a goal can help you prioritise your time and energy, and can provide a clear sense of direction for your life. When you have a goal in mind, it can be easier to say no to distractions and activities that don’t align with your values and priorities.
  • Greater sense of purpose. Setting and working towards meaningful goals can provide a greater sense of purpose and meaning in life. When you have a clear direction and purpose, it can be easier to make decisions and take actions that align with your values and bring you closer to your desired outcome.
  • Better mental health. Research has shown that having a sense of purpose and direction in life can lead to better mental health outcomes, including lower rates of depression and anxiety. When you have a clear goal in mind, it can provide a sense of hope and optimism that can help combat negative emotions and thoughts.

Choosing the Right Goals

In order to work towards meaningful goals, it’s important to choose goals that align with your values and that are realistic and achievable. It’s also important to break down larger goals into smaller, manageable steps that you can take action on each day.

Remember, the journey towards achieving a goal is just as important as the outcome. Celebrate your progress and enjoy the process of working towards something important to you. By setting and working towards meaningful goals, you can cultivate a greater sense of purpose and direction in life, and improve your overall well-being.

5. Foster Positive Relationships

Our social connections are an incredibly important part of our lives. Positive relationships with friends, family, and loved ones can bring us joy, fulfilment, and a sense of purpose. Moreover, fostering these relationships can help us break free from the hedonic treadmill and lead more meaningful lives. Research has shown that positive relationships can help us maintain our happiness levels and even increase them over time.

What Are the Benefits of Relationships?

  1. They provide us with emotional support. When we have someone to confide in, share our experiences with, and seek advice from, we feel less alone and more supported. This can help us manage stress, anxiety, and depression, and improve our overall mental health.
  2. Positive relationships also provide us with a sense of belonging and social connection. Humans are social creatures, and we thrive when we feel like we are part of a community. Having strong relationships with others can help us feel like we belong, and give us a sense of purpose and meaning.
  3. Positive relationships can help us develop empathy, compassion, and kindness. When we care about others and feel connected to them, we are more likely to be kind and compassionate towards them. This can not only improve our relationships with others but also improve our own sense of well-being and happiness.

How Can We Foster Positive Relationships in Our Lives?

  • Make time for social activities: Whether it’s joining a club, attending a social event, or simply making plans with friends and family, it’s important to prioritise social activities in our lives. Even if you’re busy, try to schedule time for socialising and connecting with others.
  • Practise active listening: When you’re interacting with others, make an effort to really listen to what they’re saying. Show interest in their experiences and perspectives, and try to empathise with them. This can help build trust and strengthen your relationships.
  • Be kind and supportive: When others are going through a tough time, be there for them. Offer support, encouragement, and a listening ear. This can help build trust and deepen your connection. You can also express your gratitude for the people you have in your life. Letting someone know how much you appreciate them and how they have positively impacted your life is a great way to strengthen your relationships and deepen your connection.

It’s easy to see how positive relationships are a key aspect of breaking free from the hedonic treadmill and leading a more fulfilling life. By making time for social activities, practising active listening, being kind and supportive, and expressing gratitude, we can foster strong relationships and improve our well-being. So, take a moment to reach out to someone you care about, and start cultivating positive relationships today!

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Breaking free from the hedonic treadmill may not be easy. But, by incorporating these strategies into your life, you can take steps towards a more fulfilling and meaningful existence. Remember, happiness is not a destination, but rather a journey, and it’s important to focus on the present moment and the things that bring you joy and satisfaction.

To Put it Minimally

  • The hedonic treadmill refers to the endless pursuit and cycle of a feeling – in this example we spoke about happiness
  • Breaking free from the hedonic treadmill of happiness will help you feel better in the moment, in a more stable way, rather than constantly seeking the next thing that will bring you joy
  • You can use techniques and practises to help you break free from the hedonic treadmill
  • Examples include: practising gratitude, planning intentionally joyful moments in your day, taking care of your physical and mental wellbeing, set and achieve your goals, and spend quality time with people you love and improve the quality of your social relationships