In this article, we will discuss a few annoying features of the mind and how they mislead when it comes to happiness.

Hedonic Adaptation

The concept of hedonic adaptation was coined by two psychologists, Brickman and Campbell in 1971 with their essay, “Hedonic Relativism and Planning the Good Society.” Latter on it become known as the hedonic treadmill.

Hedonic adaptation means that we get used to anything over time, good or bad. 

We might think :”I’m going to get this (cake, shoes, whatever) and it’s going to be awesome. And the more I get of it, the more awesome it is going to be.” In reality, this is just not the way it works, simply because we get used to it. Regardless of what happens to people, their levels of happiness will eventually return to their baselines.

Notably, hedonic adaptation is not necessarily a bad thing – the process is important for helping us to recover from negative events. How rapid and how complete this adaptation is differs for negative versus positive experiences. Some studies suggest that individuals have a remarkable capacity to adapt to traumatic life events, such as disability, widowhood, and unemployment (Clark and Georgellis, 2012 )

Hedonic adaptation is a fact of life, but when we are aware of how it works and how it functions in our lives we can make better choices in terms of what really brings happiness to us and also learn different techniques to enjoy more what we have in our lives.

One strategy to overcome the hedonic adaptation is to stop investing so much in stuff in the first place, Instead invest in experiences. WHY? Because things stick around and we get bored. Experiences don’t last too long, so you don’t get to adapt to them. We actually get more happiness than we expect out of experiences, as Ryan T. Howell and Graham Hill determined in their study; they also discovered that experiential purchases seem to make other people happy too, not only yourself. (you are more likely to make someone happy and interested by talking about an experience you had, rather than a material purchase)

In their Study – To Do or to Have? That Is the Question– Van Boven, L., & Gilovich, T. (2003) focused on ”evidence that experiences make people happier because they are more open to positive reinterpretations, are a more meaningful part of one’s identity, and contribute more to successful social relationships.”

Comparing against the wrong reference points

It is in our nature to compare ourselves to others. But what happens when we are not even aware of what those reference points are?

An interesting way to understand how our mind is playing games on us is to look at the image below and notice what you notice.

You might think that the orange circle on the left-hand side is smaller than the one on right-hand side. That is an optical illusion known as The Ebbinghaus illusion or Titchener circles. The size of the surrounding circles is the reason why we perceive the orange circles as different in size.

This is an example to understand that it is important what are the reference points when we make comparisons.

If, for instance, I choose to compare myself against the stereotype of a photoshopped model in a magazine, which is only a statement of some unattainable perfect beauty, how would this affect me? Would this be a healthy reference point? What if I choose to compare my lifestyle to let’s say Beyonce? Here you can read an article about how social comparisons mess up our perceptions of physical appearance – looking at models make us feel bad – by Kenrick and colleagues (1993).

The impact bias

Researchers say that we tend to overestimate the length and/or intensity of happiness that major events will create. The same is true for unfortunate events. The reason we mispredict is that we focus only on one event when we try to predict how happy/ sad will that event make us, and we don’t take into account the rest of the things that will occur.

Because we are not aware of how resilient we are, we are not very risk-seeking, we are too worried and afraid of rejection, and bad feedback. Thus we are mispredicting our potential.

I believe that these are important concepts to grasp when it comes to understanding happiness.

What are your experiences with the concepts discussed?

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