Can you remember the last time you felt really happy? Or, the last time you were looking forward to feeling happy? It must have revolved around a major life event. You were about to start a new job or move to a new city or get into a new relationship. However, once the novelty wore off and things settled down, your happiness levels would have plummeted as well. Why does this happen? Why can’t we appreciate the fact that nothing has been going wrong? Why does the daily certainty of things not make us so happy?
Unfortunately, humans are many things, but not a particularly appreciative lot. And maybe it’s not entirely our fault, it’s the way we’re programmed. I was sort of pleased to stumble upon the concept of the “hedonic treadmill” a couple of days back.
What is the hedonic treadmill?
You’re probably wondering why you must hear about another sort of treadmill, I’m sure you hate these already. Well, this is a slightly different concept, and might allow you to justify your whining bouts. The theory proposes that humans tend to return to their equilibrium level of happiness no matter what they do. So, even if you buy a luxurious house, after a while you’ll get bored, and want a mini-island. Once you have that, you might want to travel to the moon and so on.
For a better analogy, you might wish to think about your weight. Even if you lose or gain a few pounds, your body weight mostly tends to stabilize and come back to a range where it likes to feel comfortable and well-fed. It’s the same for happiness, there’s a baseline where your happiness likes to settle at. So, even if you were really excited about your new job or about moving to a new city, after a while, your happiness will die down and you’ll get used to it. The good news is that your brain deals with sadness in the same way. And, maybe that’s how humans are able to bounce back pretty quickly from bad events.
So is everyone always just bored?
Though it’s true everyone has an equilibrium happiness point, it doesn’t mean everyone’s just bored all the time. Some people are usually just always content, and some are usually just always unhappy. So, everyone’s equilibrium point doesn’t need to be the same. It depends on your outlook in life, and how positive or negative you are as a person.
So, what if I have nothing to look forward to at the moment?
Now, we come to the crucial question – what if there’s nothing to look forward to at the moment. No major vacation planned, no major life event happening which can bring us some happiness. Well, this is the case for most of us right? I suppose the weekend brings some happiness, but apart from that life can get a bit boring and monotonous. Well there are a few things you can do to escape the hedonic treadmill.
Novelty: Novelty has always shown to improve the quality of your life and improve your cognitive abilities. Starting a new class, exercise regime or even trying a new recipe can brighten up your life. If you wake up one day, and do everything differently, that helps too. Most of the time when you’re bored at work, you just need some new challenges or you need to tackle your work in a new way.
Gratitude: Even if nothing great is happening, there’s some credit to be given to the universe if nothing’s going majorly wrong. We may forget to feel grateful for the things we take for granted, but we really shouldn’t. I mean think of the small things which can go wrong every day – you may drop coffee on your laptop, your car might break down or your fridge might stop working.
Vocation: Most people may not actually have the luxury of being able to do what they love, but it’s always wise to try. If you can’t love your job, you can make time for hobbies in your spare time – things which you love to do.
Socialize: However miserable someone might be, who hasn’t felt happier after meeting their family and friends? Most of us are so caught up in our lives, that we hardly make time for our loved ones. Doing so makes us feel more lonely, as humans are social animals after all.
Here’s a related and unconventional way to deal with this – making your life worse that it is now, so as to be able to appreciate what you have. It’s an interesting take by one of the columnists for The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/oliver-burkeman-column/2015/jul/28/trick-yourself-happy-make-life-worse-first