Hedonic Adaptation

Folks who win the lottery tend to be much happier for a short period, but then fall back to somewhere near their pre-winning level of happiness.

Folks who lose a limb tend to be much less happy for a short period, but then adjust back to somewhere near there pre-amputation level of happiness.

This effect is called “hedonic adaptation” or “the hedonic treadmill”. Our level of happiness adapts to something resembling a thermometer’s set point, regardless of external events. It sounds both bogus and sad, but there’s a ton of evidence for it.

Maybe you’ve experienced it. Maybe you’ve gotten a raise or promotion and then three months later you no longer appreciate it, you’ve accepted it as the new status quo. Maybe you lost your wedding ring and were devastated for days, but then the next week you accepted there was nothing you could do about it, went out with your spouse to buy a new one, and now six months later you barely think about it.

We tend to overestimate the long term impact of events, good or bad. A single fortunate event won’t make you happy for the rest of your life. Or even for very long. So stop waiting for something like that. There’s no silver bullet.

So what should we do about this? My plan: Aim for small-but-frequent bits of happy over daydreaming about big ones that I’ll quickly take for granted anyway.