Monday, May 28, 2012

Get Off The Happiness Treadmill

Everybody wants to be happy. But genuine happiness is both elusive and fleeting. Brides don't live the "happiest day" of their lives for the entirety of their marriages, nor does the feeling you get when you receive the keys to your first home. These are some of the most monumental events a human being can experience, but the intensity that accompanies such events diminishes with time. This is because we adapt quickly to new environmental circumstances - and quickly tire of them.

In evolutionary psychology, this is called the Hedonic Treadmill Effect.

Evolutionary psychologists believe that humans are naturally designed against feeling abundant happiness because it creates complacency. In prehistoric times, complacency carried negative consequences for hunters, like being bested by other hunters, or perhaps even eaten.  

Studies show that happiness often is not achieved by the acquisition of status or material conditions becasue we quickly adjust to the condition, and eventually consider it mundane (hence the stories of lottery winners who report that they were happier before winning the lottery).

Close kin to the hedonic treadmill effect, is the assymetry of affective experience effect. This effect refers to the fact that bad experiences cause greater increases in unhappiness than comparable good experiences cause happiness.

To complicate matters, positive psychologists have uncovered evidence of baseline happiness, which reveals that 50% of our happiness is genetic (if your parents aren't happy people it doesn't mean you are doomed to a life of misery, it means that you will have to work harder for your happiness). 40% of your happiness is internal (attitude, outlook, positivity, optimism). 10% is bsed on circumstances.

So how do you get off of this treadmill? It's very simple, and it's very subjective: Evaluate what brings meaning to your life, and engage in activities that make life meaningful to you.

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