The Hedonic Treadmill - Why we can never be constantly happier

Reading time: 2-3 min

Throughout quite a few of my posts, I explored ways in which we can increase our happiness. I recently came by a notable theory, relevant to happiness.

The Hedonic Treadmill

The "hedonic treadmill", coined by Brickman and Campbell (1971) describes how humans rapidly return to a 'baseline' state of happiness, even after significant positive or negative events.

This is illustrated by two examples by this source (Oxford Reference), on winning the lottery and accident victims:

"In a classic article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (1978), Brickman and two colleagues provided evidence showing that, a short while after the events that changed their lives, lottery winners are not substantially happier, and accident victims who have become paraplegic are not substantially less happy, than other people."

Significance to prior posts

This could explain something I described in this post.

"But by the time our future selves experience this supposed stepped-up happiness or success, we desire more. Our achievements only ever give us fleeting happiness and fulfilment. Eventually, the delight from achieving what we desired will fade and further goals will be set."

The happiness we gain from recent achievements are quickly lost, and we return to a baseline state of happiness, and then we desire more. This produces an endless cycle of pursuing happiness, and wanting 'more' in our lives.


I wonder how this observation affects an argument I noted here, on how removing all negative memories may possibly remove the contrast between happy and sad times. If we, by default, quickly re-enter a neutral state of happiness regardless of recent happy or sad events, does this 'contrast' argument still stand?


Further thoughts:

As noted here, I once came by this claim of

"...consistent gratitude will raise happiness to the same degree of doubling income."

(Although I never found a source for it.)

Does gratitude increase our happiness by a consistent amount above our baseline as long as we persist with administering gratitude in our life, or does it cause a temporary increase, and then our happiness gradually or rapidly falls back to baseline soon after?


Also, I made it past 100 days of code day 4. Slow, but progress is progress.


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