The Hedonic Treadmill – How You Can Jump Off

Have you ever heard of the hedonic treadmill. It’s not the newest and most advanced Peloton cardio device. It is a metaphor from behavioral psychology and could offer some valuable insights into your happiness and how to create a healthy work-life mix. Let’s not forget about baked goods before we go to metaphorical treadmills.

Imagine the perfect cookie.

It is amazing how a simple combination of flour, sugar, and eggs can produce such contentment. Humans can transform a frisbee-shaped mass of gooey ingredients into pure happiness through biochemistry. There is a small layer of body fat to help, but that’s another story.

Have you ever noticed how quickly happiness fades like this? It seems unfair, doesn’t it?

Your enjoyment of eating the same cookie each day would decrease. To get that same feeling of happiness, you would need to eat more cookies. Or find another calorie-rich way.

The research shows that simple happiness is a part of the human condition. It is the result of a psychological process called “hedonic adaptation,” also known as “hedonic treadmill”. Let’s look closer at happiness and see if it could be the most rewarding decision you make.

What is Hedonic Adaptation?

Let’s start by understanding the terminology. Hedonic is “relating to pleasant sensations.” This could be good food, shiny new gadgets, or the guilty pleasure of buying new shoes. These are all examples of hedonic joy.

Hedonic adaptation refers the annoying tendency of our species to quickly become used to certain types of pleasures. Our brains are wired to quickly return to our “default” state. Evolution, thank you.

A hedonic treadmill’s concept is about what happens next. The treat you want wears off too quickly, so we move on to the next prize. You get the idea. It’s a never-ending loop of unsatisfactory short-term gratification, followed by more struggle to get the same experience.

It doesn’t really matter. A treadmill can still be good cardio. Perhaps this metaphorical contraption that we find ourselves on might not be so bad after all?

The Emotional and Psychological Fallsout

Let’s look at the consequences of our hedonic restlessness. It’s not great, spoilers.

  • Disappointment Imagine the excitement of opening a treasure box followed by disappointment when you discover half of a Snickers bar and a McHappy meal coupon. Expectations and disappointments are a vicious cycle that can make it difficult to face new challenges.
  • This treadmill is endless. A hedonistic happiness junki can’t help but keep going as long as they don’t lose their fleeting happiness and find another shiny prize.
  • InefficiencyShort term happiness goals can give you a biased view of success. Procrastination can easily be a result of living in pursuit of quick gains. The deal is simple: I have important work to do. But first, I need to sharpen my shockingly blunt pencils.

How to avoid the hedonic treadmill

As you can see, the hedonic treadmill can have serious consequences for your financial and emotional well-being. Is it possible to get off the hedonic treadmill? If so, how do you jump off?

  • Why? If you are running towards a milestone that you don’t know or can’t see, you won’t get there. You can create a list of accountability targets and track your progress against them.
  • Prioritize your consumption. Keeping up with the Joneses can be a death-end. If you compare yourself to others, you will end up spending a lot more. You’ll end up buying stuff that you don’t care about. Conscious Spending is more about not buying cool stuff just because it’s too expensive. It’s about choosing the experiences and things that will make a difference in your life. You should only focus your resources on the things that matter to you.
  • Get back your time. Instead of spending your money on possessions, you can invest some of your income in time-saving activities. You can save time by investing in services that you use, such as dog walking, takeout or house cleaning. Ramit shares more information on The Best Way to Buy Back Your Time (Hint – Spend Money).
  • Investing in your health is a smart move. Your physical well-being is a key indicator of your happiness. You can achieve long-term happiness by balancing work and life and focusing your reward on fitness and health.
  • You don’t have to give up all your favorite treats. Everyone has simple pleasures, and that’s fine! You don’t want to let that purchase of a computer game or chocolate donut become a weekly event. Instead, mix them up often and use them sparingly. You will maintain a sense of hedonic equilibrium while keeping things fresh.

You should be gentle with yourself. Keep in mind that many of our impulses are deeply rooted.

This is what it means for your work/life balance

Be mindful of your happiness when you set goals for work. Do you set a series of hedonic milestones and never deliver? Are you setting goals that have a lasting impact or are you defining success?

It is important to realize that happiness is not something you should do if you are unhappy with your work life. There is no better motivation to expand your work horizons than knowing that your hard work will allow you to spend lavish amounts on things that you love and that will enrich your life. It’s important to choose wisely, to carefully select the rewards that will make it worthwhile, and then to systematically eliminate the rest.

True happiness is not a constant pursuit of endless goals. You can’t pursue elusive goals that will satisfy you. This is a futile experiment in futility. Perpetual frugality is not the way to happiness. This is just another type of treadmill that has fewer rewards. When you choose to consciously pursue the things that will truly enrich your life, such as a family vacation or more time with your kids, you can get off of life’s hedonic treadmill.

The best thing about being more mindful of happiness is? It is possible to finally give up running just for the sake of it.