Hedonic Threadmill

Came across "Hedonic Threadmill" while listening to one of the Sunday messages from Christ Commission Fellowship(CCF) which I also posted in my previous blog. For those who are going through quarter-life or mid-life crisis or any random time in your life where you felt you are in burning pursuit of the true meaning of happiness, you would definitely bump into this term.

According to Wikipedia, Hedonic threadmill also known as hedonic adaptation, is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.

Investopedia defines "Hedonic Threadmill" as the following:

The tendency of a person to remain at a relatively stable level of happiness despite a change in fortune or the achievement of major goals. According to the hedonic treadmill, as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness.

On the negative flip, suppose something tragic happen to you like denied promotion, an accident or bankruptcy, initially you might feel depressed but slowly as time progress you'll adjust to your circumstances. Soon you'll learn to find happiness in other things, because humans are adaptable beings.

On the positive note, this means after getting that promotion you worked hard on or being married to the love of your life, for sometime you'll be leaving your dreams in cloud nine, but after sometime happiness declines. You'll then think to be really happy in your married life you need to have kids, buy house of your own and so on. And the list will continue to grow. So in order for a person to maintain the same level of fulfilment, he needs to acquire more than what he acquired before. This sounds miserable to me because it will be a never ending pursuit to happiness.

HappierHuman.com tries to explain the power and problem of adaptation. The author Amit Amin provides evidences how adaptation can stop giving human happiness. Here's some of it:

While its true that being physically attractive increases self-esteem and opportunities in life, it's not enough to sustain satisfaction. Being attractive may lead to higher expectation in terms of friends and partner. But success in relationships has no direct correlation to physical attributes but more in character and behaviour. Oftentimes less attractive people can be more grateful.

We desire money not for the sake of having money but for what money can give us. Yes money cannot buy happiness but it can buy things to make us happy. But the more money we get from our jobs, the more things we need to sacrifice like time with family, more stress and the like. Also wealth can be inversely proportional to appreciation. The more wealthy a person becomes, his appreciation to simple things decreases. They would require bigger houses, more stylish cars, fancy restaurants for dinners, more expensive shoes and bags, more lavish trips etc.

Humidity after a clear day is correlated with reduced vigor and happiness. Sunshine after a cloudy day is correlated with increased mood. But sunshine after sunshine is correlated with nothing. When we experience sunshine most of the time, eventually we tend to take if for granted.

Marriage + Children
Studies suggests that having children increases meaning and purpose in life which could be the reason why people choose to get married and have kids. But this is not a one-size-fits-all, for others they can find meaning in life through their career, helping others, raising advocacy and awareness etc. We just need to strike a balance on each other's choices in life and there is nothing wrong whichever side you opt to belong. As not all married people are happy, just like not all singles are miserable.


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