Want to see the joy you get from butter rolls fade faster than a Kardashian marriage?
Of course you don’t. But according to psychologists, it’s kind of inevitable.
And with that fizzled joy comes—yes—a need for more butter rolls.
And candied yams.
And eventually, the whole pumpkin pie.
It’s not easy keeping ourselves happy. For that we can thank hedonic adaptation, a natural human phenomenon whereby we adapt to the things that make us happy.
Regardless of what happens, we always end up more or less back where we started, happiness-wise. So how can we stay happy?
It’s the classic story of the lottery winner who starts to feel about his Bentley the same way he used to feel about his Subaru Baja. Or the exerciser who starts to take the new fancy health club for granted, just months after upgrading from her ramshackle basement gym.
And unfortunately, there’s not much we can do to prevent this.
Doomed to crash and burn at the gym?
Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, University of Missouri and University of California did a study on hedonic adaptation, and this is what they found: “The happiness generated by positive life changes can never be more than a temporary rush.”
Even the bliss of marriage, they said, fades after a couple of years.
This natural tendency poses a colossal risk to our health.
If we’re sure to get bored with our exercise and diet regimens, then what? And will we even get used to the happiness we get from being in shape? It seems like we’re doomed to regress. But the hedonic adaptation study did uncover one positive: while you won’t love your new workout routine, gym or Garmin stopwatch forever, you CAN stay stoked about fitness overall. How? By creating a series of rushes.
When a positive activity is kept fresh and interesting, people stay happier for longer, they found. In other words, variety is the spice of happiness.
Constantly buying new toys could be a little unfeasible (in fact, you may want to pause and read 5 tips to avoid fitness impulse buys , but changing your workouts or striving for new goals will provide the same rush
Hedonic adaptation can actually improve your fitness level
Think about this: hedonic adaptation helps people adapt to negative experiences just as fast as positive ones.
So if you need to muster up some holiday willpower, here’s the answer, right?
Those bad habits you’ve been meaning to fix, but haven’t, because you’re afraid it will crush your will to live? Apparently it won’t. At least not for more than a couple of weeks.
Hedonic adaptation will cause your brain to turn a negative into—if not a positive—than at least something that just feels normal.
The pain of a militant P90X class, of getting up early to hit the gym, of cutting Cajun cheddar out of your diet… It will all fade.
So if you can just manage to trick yourself into doing the unpleasant-but-good activity in the first place (enter hypnosis), you’ll be gold
Soon your brain will forget there was ever any other way. Thank you, hedonic adaptation.