If-only and the hedonic treadmill

treadmill“If only we could play this major festival, we would become successful and happy.”
“If only I could find an agent, I would have many shows and will be happy.”
“If only a major record company would discover me, I would become famous and happy.”

Do you recognize the if-only thoughts? Many musicians have them. They think that their happiness is dependent on positive events, and that positive events will lead to long-lasting happiness.

Research in the ’70s has shows that every person has a basic level of happiness, and that events don’t really change it. Winning the lottery makes you really happy, but after 3 months you got used to your new life-style and have the same level of happiness as you’ve always had. The same is true for people who bought that great new car or who made the promotion they were waiting for. They get used to the new situation and return to their basic level of happiness.

We keep searching for the next kick to become happy. But the research shows that we systematically overestimate the duration of the effect, especially if it’s about material stuff. When we get used to it, we look for the next kick that will make us happy for a short while. That’s the hedonic treadmill. Money, new cloths, a new car, getting a promotion, finding an agent, playing in front of thousands of people or getting a major record deal, will make you happy – but only for a short while.

Fortunately the effect also works the other way around. When you get paralyzed after an accident , after 3 months you are back to the happiness-level that you had before the accident. How strange it might sound, you get used to being paralyzed. But things like (traffic)noise, chronic stress or commuting, you don’t get used to. It’s best to avoid them.

Proven lasting positive effects come from the way we spend our time. Getting a better status seems to work for men, as long as they keep socializing with people of a lower status. Women are less affected by status, they go for improving their physical appearance. If you go for happiness, autonomy and passion are important, even if it means that you have less money. And don’t forget to invest in friendships.

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