Hedonic Adaptation

You may have heard of the term hedonic adaptation back in high school psychology class and then forgotten about it soon after. However, it is one of the most powerful forces affecting every single person’s daily life. Simply put, it is the observed tendency which shows that regardless of what happens in life, after an extended period of time, people will revert back to an average level of happiness.

Think about how crazy that is for a second.

It’s a scientific phenomenon that has been studied and measured across a range of conditions. It even held true for people who have been through traumatic situations such as amputees.

It’s important to realize however that the average level of happiness and length of time to get back to it depends very much on the person and the event that occurs.

The level of happiness a person normally experiences is partially determined by genetics but is also heavily influenced by naturally occurring factors such as our friends, environment, etc. An impactful event such as a death of a family member or marriage/divorce will obviously take much longer to get over than something of less magnitude (such as getting 100 on a test). However, days, weeks, or months after the event it becomes normal and has turned into our new reality.

Now, let’s think about that in terms of money. Let’s say you win the lottery tomorrow to the tune of $100 million. You buy everything you’ve ever dreamed of having, you get your family and friends out of debt, you never have to work again. A few months later you probably have a couple nice cars in your driveway that weren’t there before, a movie theater in your house, and a brand new pool out back. That amazing feeling you once had from winning the lottery begins to fade and soon enough you get bored sitting around watching TV all day. Even with all your fancy stuff your life becomes relatively normal again and you’re really not happier than before your big win. It’s because of hedonic adaptation.

If you planned for this windfall and used it to fund passion projects or help other people it may certainly change your life for the better and make you significantly more happy on a daily basis but over the long term, you’ll be just about the same as you were before. It keeps you from getting too high or too low. The sooner we begin to accept that and understand that a new car isn’t the answer to our prayers, the better off the world as whole will be.

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