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Hedonic Adaptation

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Hedonic Adaptation

By Chad Curtis

“If only I could get that promotion and make more money, then I’d be happy…”

“If I can lose 20 pounds then I will be happy…”

“There is no way I can live like this, we need more space!!…”

“Man I love this puppy so much…(some time later)…oh man we have to walk the dog, and feed it and pick up its poop…”

We have all experienced this. You get that thing or experience that you have been coveting and working for and it’s great, until it’s not.  We as humans are incredible at adapting to our environments. One of the phenomenon that we see is that as time passes, something that seems exciting and invigorating or difficult even no longer makes us feel this way. The impact of that situation fades.  The excitement fades.  The hardship fades.

“Psychologists call this phenomenon hedonic adaptation—the idea is that no matter how good something makes us feel (or, for the record, how bad), most of the time we drift back to where we started, emotionally-speaking. One often-cited study famously showed that despite their initial euphoria, lottery winners were no happier than non-winners eighteen months later. The same tendency to return to “baseline” has been shown to occur after marriage, voluntary job changes, and promotions—the kinds of things we usually expect to change our happiness and well-being for the better in a permanent way.” – Psychology Today

The reason for our blog on this is two fold, one because I just find this very interesting and secondly and more importantly, it is something that can really help shift our perspective when we reflect on our lives.

Often times we put certain goals, belongings, experiences on a pedestal. We often realize after we have achieved that thing the novelty fades.  Think of a romantic relationship, anyone who has been or is currently in a long term relationship can relate to the differences in that relationship from when it started to it’s present state.  Similarly, think of when you started training (CrossFit or otherwise) it’s exciting, you see dramatic progress right away, you are very engaged in every class every day…as time passes it can begin to feel like a different experience.

So if we recognize these things, what can you do to keep yourself fully engaged in things that are meaningful to you? Your relationships, your time at the gym, your profession, etc.  A seemingly simple thing to do is to work on acting with more intention. Remember why you fell in love with the person you are with, remember why you found your job or your time at the gym so empowering and fun. Then start to make an effort to refocus some of that attention.  This could be a number of things, planning some dates nights sporadically, doing something kind out of no where just to remind someone you care about them, talk to new faces in the gym and introduce yourself, make your training fun and engaging by talking and learning from coaches and mentoring a beginner.

Perhaps repurposing some goals is in order…are the things you are working towards something that will actually enhance your life?  Will the new house, car, muscle up make you happier?  Will it make you a better person to those around you?  These are all helpful things to consider and can help guide you through every aspect of life.

Another profound action that I have seen create tremendous results in people’s happiness and feeling of purpose is volunteering.  This can come in so many forms but when we do something to help another human being, while expecting nothing in return, it naturally creates a sense of gratefulness for all the things that are great about our lives and our experiences.  This may mean serving food at a local homeless shelter once a week or reading to children at a local library or school, mentoring a young person or working to encourage someone in your life that you love to make a positive change in their health and fitness and being their guide.

The first step of this whole thing is a little self-reflection, ask yourself some real questions and truly make an effort to dig deep.

–       Am I going through the motions with stuff?

–       Do I feel fulfilled and purposeful?

–       Am I growing as a person? Learning? Experiencing new things?

–       Are my personal relationships where I would like them to be?

The next thing I’d encourage you to do is when you have the answer to these types of questions is reflect on where your responsibility lies in each of these topics.  Does your job truly suck or are you just not putting the same effort in that you once did?  Have you not continued to learn and grow professionally?  Is your relationship boring and repetitive without moments of true happiness and sadness?  Are you coming to the gym and simply walking through a workout with no real focus or intent?

Often times we want to blame external factors for the way we feel, the way we perceive something when in fact making some changes personally to our mindset and our actions will yield wildly beneficial results, often for both us and others around us.

I find meditation to be very helpful with all of these things and with focusing my thoughts and intent, I strongly encourage you to give it a try.  There are even apps for it. Try Headspace, Buddhify, Calm or Sattva, just to name a few.

I encourage you to take stock in your life as it stands today. Think about the things you value and how you can improve them through simply changing your mindset and shifting your focus in order to pull yourself out of that hedonic adaptation.  I challenge you to take something, even if it just one idea or tip from this post and implement it in your life somewhere.