The Hedonic Treadmill.

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Desire hath no rest, is infinite in itself, endless, and as one calls it, a perpetual rack, or horse-mill.

Making more money, getting married, buying a new car, giving birth to a child, moving into your house, all these are great achievements, but they would not make you happy. When we get what we want eventually, we ask ourselves, is this all there is? We overestimate how happy we would become when we achieve some of these goals and aspirations. The reason for this tendency is called Hedonic Treadmill/Adaptation.

Hedonic Treadmill 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. Human desire is insatiable; we are always reaching for something, a new car, more money, a destination which, when we eventually get there, we realize it is a journey and not a destination. We say to ourselves, If and when I get that job, that car, that pay raise, buy that house, we would be happy, but unfortunately we don’t get that happiness we think we should get.

Hedonic Treadmill 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.

American Entrepreneur and Best-Selling Author Gary Keller shared the following insight and story in his book, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results,:


Upon coming out of his palace one morning and encountering a beggar, a king asks, “What do you want?” The beggar laughingly says, “You ask as though you can fulfill my desire!” Offended, the king replies, “Of course I can. What is it?” The beggar warns, “Think twice before you promise anything.”

Now, the beggar was no ordinary beggar but the king’s past-life master, who had promised in their former life, “I will come to try and wake you in our next life. This life you have missed, but I will come again to help you.”

The king, not recognizing his old friend, insisted, “I will fulfill anything you ask, for I am a very powerful king who can fulfill any desire.” The beggar said, “It is a very simple desire. Can you fill this begging bowl?” “Of course!” said the king, and he instructed his vizier to “fill the man’s begging bowl with money.”

 The vizier did, but when the money was poured into the bowl, it disappeared. So he poured more and more, but the moment he did, it would disappear.”

“The begging bowl remained empty.”

Word spread throughout the kingdom, and a huge crowd gathered. The prestige and power of the king were at stake, so he told his vizier, “If my kingdom is to be lost, I am ready to lose it, but I cannot be defeated by this beggar.” He continued to empty his wealth into the bowl. Diamonds, pearls, emeralds. His treasury was becoming empty.

And yet the begging bowl seemed bottomless. Everything put into it immediately disappeared!

Finally, as the crowd stood in utter silence, the king dropped at the beggars feet and admitted defeat. “You are victorious, but before you go, fulfill my curiosity. What is the secret of this begging bowl?”

The beggar humbly replied, “There is no secret. It is simply made up of human desire.”

“One of our biggest challenges is making sure our life’s purpose doesn’t become a beggar’s bowl, a bottomless pit of desire continually searching for the next thing that will make us happy. That’s a losing proposition.

Acquiring money and obtaining things are pretty much all done for the pleasure we expect them to bring. On one hand, this actually works. Securing money or something we want can spike our happiness meter—for a moment. Then it goes back down.

Over the ages, our greatest minds have pondered happiness, and their conclusions are much the same: having money and things won’t automatically lead to lasting happiness.

How circumstances affect us depends on how we interpret them as they relate to our life. If we lack a “big picture” view, we can easily fall into serial success seeking. Why? Once we get what we want, our happiness sooner or later wanes because we quickly become accustomed to what we acquire.

This happens to everyone and eventually leaves us bored, seeking something new to get or do. Worse, we may not even stop or slow down to enjoy what we’ve got because we automatically get up and go for something else. If we’re not careful, we wind up ricocheting from achieving and acquiring to acquiring and achieving without ever taking time to fully enjoy any of it. This is a good way to remain a beggar, and the day we realize this is the day our life changes forever. So how do we find enduring happiness?

Happiness happens on the way to fulfillment.

Dr. Martin Seligman, past president of the American Psychological Association, believes there are five factors that contribute to our happiness: positive emotion and pleasure, achievement, relationships, engagement, and meaning. Of these, he believes engagement and meaning are the most important.

Becoming more engaged in what we do by finding ways to make our life more meaningful is the surest way to finding lasting happiness. When our daily actions fulfill a bigger purpose, the most powerful and enduring happiness can happen.

Happiness happens when you have a bigger purpose than having more fulfills, which is why we say happiness happens on the way to fulfillment


In the book, No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline, Brian Tracy cites the five ingredients of happiness:

1. Health and energy. This is perhaps the most important element of a good life. We strive for it all our lives. It is only when you enjoy high levels of pain-free health and a continuous flow of energy that you feel truly happy.

In many cases, health is a “deficiency need.” This means that you do not think about your health very much until you are deprived of it. For example, you do not think about your teeth until you have a toothache. You do not think about your body until you have aches or pains of some kind.

2. Happy relationships. Fully 85 percent of your happiness—or unhappiness—will come from your relationships with other people. As Aristotle said, “Man is a social animal.” We are designed to function in society, working and living with other people at every stage of our lives.

Your ability to enter into and maintain high-quality relationships with your spouse, children, friends, colleagues, and others is the true measure of the quality of your personality and your level of mental health. People with high levels of self-esteem and self-respect get along better with others and have much happier lives.”

3. Meaningful work. To be truly happy, you must be fully engaged with life. You must be doing things that keep you active and give you a sense of fulfillment. If you are making a living, you must be doing work that you enjoy, do well, and for which you are well paid.

People are truly happy only when they feel they are making a contribution of some kind, that they are putting in more than they are taking out. You need to feel that what you do really makes a difference in the lives and work of other people.

4. Financial independence. Some of the greatest fears we experience are those of loss, failure, and poverty. We fear being destitute, without funds, and dependent on others.

One of your chief responsibilities to yourself is to work toward financial independence and financial freedom throughout your life. The happiest of all people are those who have reached the point at which they no longer worry about money. This is not something you can leave to chance, but rather something that requires deliberate, purposeful action and tremendous self-discipline to achieve.”

Whenever you feel that there is a big gap between where you are today financially and where you would ideally like to be, you experience stress, worry, and unhappiness.

5. Self-actualization. This is the feeling that you are becoming everything you are capable of becoming. This occurs when you feel that you are realizing more and more of your true potential.

Abraham Maslow is best known for his Hierarchy of Needs. He determined that people have both “deficiency needs” and “being needs.” People strive either to compensate for their deficiencies or to realize their potentials. He concluded that you begin to evolve and develop to the highest levels possible for you only when your deficiency needs are first satisfied.

All the best in your quest to get better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.

Lifelong Learner | Entrepreneur | Digital Strategist | Marathoner | Bibliophile

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