It recently occurred to me that I often fall into the trap of feeling super happy when I get something I’ve wanted for ages then not bothered a few days or weeks later. For example, last year when I finally bought a new MacBook after 5-years it felt like the best thing in the world. It did everything I wanted it to and handled everything with ease. Then a couple of months later, Apple launched their new M1 MacBook Pro’s and all I wanted was the new shiny toy. There was nothing actually wrong with the laptop I had. I just felt like I would be happier with the newer, updated toy.
Luckily, there’s a process that explains all of this called Hedonic Adaptation. Simply put, this is the notion that when something good happens, we enter an elated state for some time before returning to our baseline. Similarly, when something bad happens, we enter a suppressed state, until returning to our baseline eventually.
This is paradoxical to the way our minds think. For me, when buying a new laptop I’m thinking, “okay sick, with this I’m going to be happier and I don’t need anything more”. But what actually happens is, “okay sick, this is going to make me temporarily elated, before I realise this is the new normal, and return to my usual state”. The disparity is in us thinking something will make us happier forever vs. something that only makes us temporarily happier. The happiness fades.
There’s also an interesting link between happiness and satisfaction. Particularly, whether this idea of hedonic adaptation has applications beyond happiness. My friend Musty wrote a really great article on this — Deathbed DMT Wisdom.
So, the next time we go out to buy something or do something because it will make us happier, it probably won’t in the long-term. We should realise that we’ll feel happier for a period of time but eventually, this becomes the new normal. Then we seek something new for happiness. Realising that happiness is a temporary, fluid state has allowed me to feel more self-aware in the moments I seek short-term happiness.