A Quirk That Can Control Your Life: Hedonic Adaptation

blurry treadmill

Are you familiar with Hedonic Adaptation?

Basically, it’s a mechanism that lets people adapt to new circumstances and get on with their lives.  Fantastic for a survival mechanism for the species.  Earthquake? Flood? Paradise? Record food supply?  Take a moment or two, soak it in, and return to your set level of happiness and carry on with life.

The tricky part is that it also means that the new car, new purse, and new T.V. won’t permanently increase happiness either.  People just get used to new things.  If someone is unaware of this, it can feel like life is just a treadmill of earning and spending but not getting anywhere.  Wiki even has an entry for the hedonic treadmill. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedonic_treadmill

The great and amazing thing is that it works in reverse, too.  What if the television cable stopped working?  It would be irritating, but  people would get used to it pretty quickly.  They might start to appreciate the free TV signal that is available.  A little free time would open up that used to be dedicated to watching QVC (or whatever).  The monthly bills would decrease a little, either providing a growing emergency fund or reduced need to work over time.

One way to take advantage of this psychological quirk is to become a minimalist, and cut back until each item you have evokes gratitude.  Tammy Strobel did this and was profiled in this NYT article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/business/08consume.html

Is this a path of deprivation?  It’s not.  The key is to have everything that you want and need. But not to have everything you can buy.   The extra stuff won’t increase your happiness.

To paraphrase one of my favorite bloggers, a debtor who feels deprived by not making a new purchase is similar to a dangerously unfit person who feels that a walk would deprive them of laying on the couch. http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/10/22/what-is-hedonic-adaptation-and-how-can-it-turn-you-into-a-sukka/  Think about it.

This post has everything to do with right-sizing that visible patch of ice for the Independent Penguin.


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