My DC Life Coaching clients often tell me that they feel stuck, like they’re on a treadmill. I recently learned about this concept, the “hedonic treadmill” and it fascinated me. Many psychologists and behavioral scientists have studied this phenomenon, and it may be a key to helping us live happier lives.
The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, is the tendency of people to return to the same level of happiness – even in the face of major positive or negative events or life changes.
For example, researchers have found that if Sally gets a raise – wins the lottery – or even becomes a quadriplegic – she will initially experience a change in happiness levels. Very quickly though, she will become accustomed to the change in circumstances. She will quickly return to her original level of happiness. I have observed many clients and friends in similar situations during my time in Washington, DC.
During the late 1990s, the concept was modified by Michael Eysenck, a British psychologist. His “hedonic treadmill theory” compares the pursuit of happiness to a person on a treadmill, who has to keep walking just to stay in the same place.
Let’s say we decide to start running in Rock Creek Park to get in shape. At first this new activity gives us a boost and good feelings. But the sense of achievement can wear off eventually. Boredom can set in. We don’t get the good feelings any more. Now we even feel guilty if we miss out on the daily exercise. That’s the “hedonic treadmill.” Similar to substance addiction or tolerance, a person has to do more and more to get the same effect.
Another example of this is someone who gets a raise, and moves into a bigger house. She might enjoy great feelings for a short time, but “keeping up with the Joneses” in her new neighborhood saps her earnings. She becomes accustomed to the new lifestyle and ends up at the same happiness level she was before. My DC clients report that this is an exhausting and self-defeating enterprise!
Life Coaching to Get Off the Hedonic Treadmill
So what can lead to lasting changes in happiness levels?
Modern materialism coupled with our natural desire to always want more, better, or newer means that just about everyone has experienced “hedonic treadmill fatigue” at some point in their life.
My Life Coaching clients often say they are tired of the same old same old daily routines, exercise plan, job, unsatisfying relationships and feeling of disconnection – from family, friends and neighbors. Our sessions together take them out of their rut and inspire effective work towards personal fulfillment that lasts.
Here are some “how-to” techniques – proven ways to boost happiness levels:
- Helping others. Charitable actions have been confirmed to have enormous positive effects on personal well-being. One study found that those who displayed charitable actions developed stronger relationships with others, developed an appreciation for their good fortune, even improved their immune function.
- Self-denial. Intentionally “going without” something you enjoy for a short time can actually make you happier. For example, ride your bike or walk to run an errand or your commute instead of driving. Denying yourself makes you appreciate the thing you love more once you have it again.
- Live in the moment. View life as a process and events as “mini experiments” instead of a pass/fail test. Take the long-view and focus on what you’re learning and be happier.
- What would you do if today were your last day? Jolt your system to attention and ask yourself this question when faced with a decision of any kind. You’ll gain perspective and motivation to be true to your guiding values.
- Stay connected socially. Gathering a supportive network around you – whether friends, family, colleagues, or neighbors – has been shown to positively impact happiness levels.
- Be the boss. A sense of autonomy or control over your life has been shown to be important to achieving long-term happiness and fulfillment. In taking control, we must not just follow our desires but choose which of our desires to follow. If you believe you often conform to social pressure, base important decisions on what others think or are very concerned about what how others evaluate you, you might not be the boss of your life.
Contact me for a complimentary, no-obligations life coaching consultation and we can work on getting you to more lasting levels of happiness and personal fulfillment. Or use the Appointment Scheduler and pick a time that works for you. I coach 90% of my clients over the phone, and my DC-based Life Coaching clients have the option of meeting with me in person. I look forward to hearing from you.
Want to get off the treadmill for good? As a DC Life Coach, I’m here to help. Call Catharine Ecton Life Coaching or schedule your free Life Coaching consultation today. In my blog about Life Coaching vs. Therapy, I discuss the differences and reasons why you might want to hire me as your life coach. You can also learn more about how Life Coaching differs from from friendship here.