People are adaptable. We quickly adjust to a new life circumstance—for better or worse—and consider it normal.
Although this helps us when our situation worsens, it means that when circumstances improve, we soon become hardened to new comforts or privileges. Scoring air-conditioning, a bigger house, or a new title gives us only a brief boost in happiness before we start to take it for granted. As Aldous Huxley wrote, “Habit converts luxurious enjoyments into dull and daily necessities.” That’s the hedonic treadmill.
It’s possible to beat the hedonic treadmill. One way is through conscious enjoyment and appreciation. Remind yourself how much you enjoy your perfect cup of coffee or your expensively comfortable bed.
Another is rarity. By keeping a pleasure infrequent, or by going through periods of deprivation, you can awaken yourself to it anew.
I had a great time on vacation in Kansas City, but one pleasure (which I hadn’t before even considered a pleasure) that I missed was the pleasure of sending out email. For some reason, although I could read my email, which was much better than no service at all, I couldn’t send it.
Now I’m back at home. What joy, what satisfaction, what appreciation I feel for my fully operational email! I’m facing many hours of catch-up, but I’m just happy to have this service back at last.
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