Every time I pick up a new piece of business in my work as a writer, it’s a little thrill, a satisfying moment that reminds me I do what I do well. It adds a little perk to my step and makes me feel good about myself. But before long (a few days maybe) I start to think…what about more business? Are other assignments coming in? Shouldn’t I have another one by now? When’s the next one going to come in?
This high-and-low process could be dubbed “hedonic adaptation”, or the process of adapting to new, exciting changes in our life, according to a recent study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Hedonic adaptation is the process in which we stop noticing what once was novel,” notes Kennon Sheldon, a professor in the department of psychology at the University of Missouri, and lead author of the study “The Challenge of Staying Happier: Testing the Hedonic Adaptation Prevention Model.”
“It’s the process in which something that formerly affected our mood or emotional state, ceases to do so. Such as lottery winners adapt to the new wealth or relationship partners adapt to each other.”
So what’s that have to do with happiness? Sheldon notes we should focus more on appreciating the event that brought us the happiness rather than turn around to chase the next one. “After a positive life change occurs, that new situation becomes the new normal, and we automatically begin to want even more,” he says, “But subjectively, appreciating what you have works against that. So saying ‘I’m so glad this person came into my life, I am so much happier than I was before’ is more likely to preserve happiness than ‘You know, this is pretty good, but I’d like to be getting even more sex/attention/aid from my new partner, and it would be nice if he looked better too.’”
Part of the blame for this automatic response could be laid on our consumption culture, notes Sheldon. “Over-consumption is often a response to hedonic adaptation — so the new product X just sits there, your buzz is fading, it’s time to buy something new!’ says Sheldon. “Our appreciation model tries to help people get the most out of what they have before they go off looking for/buying something even better.”
And so, Sheldon’s advice is relatively simple to maintain your happiness, “When something good changes in your life, keep interacting with it so that you get near-daily positive experiences flowing in from it. And be sure to keep appreciating it so you don’t mindlessly start wanting even more.”
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