Brain trap #2: hedonic adaptation or how our brain learns to get used to good things a tiny bit too fast
Do you ever have a feeling that your brain stops enjoying good things tiny bit too soon?
Don’t worry. It’s not just you. It’s our brains again.
Hedonic adaptation (hedonic treadmill) – or why the second bite of chocolate cake never taste as good as the first one
Why is the second bite of a chocolate cake never as amazing as the first bite?
Why is the second swim on holidays rarely as amazing as the first time you jump into the sea?
Why do marriages so often get stale with years, we get bored on our jobs, and new cars, houses and shoes make us joyful for only so long?
Because our brain is designed to adapt to things quickly.
Hedonic adaptation, also known as “the hedonic treadmill,” is a code name studied by positive psychology researchers that refers to people’s general tendency to return to a set level of happiness despite life’s ups and downs.
It is simply a way of our brain to save energy and “working cycles” – it automates everything it can, turning it into a habit and getting used to it very quickly.
It is a wonderful feature, if you think of it, saving our brain from getting overloaded and making it possible for us to keep on exploring and learning new things.
But it can also be a bit of a killjoy – makes us take an amazing things in our life for granted (how often do we remember to appreciate our cozy bed and clean water?), and robbing us of all the amazing emotions that we could enjoy if we would remember to appreciate all of it just a tiny bit more.
So what can we do about it?
Remember the good news: our brain is wonderfully adaptive, and once we recognise the patterns, we can train it pretty well to avoid these traps.
How to weaken the hedonic adaptation?
• work on strengthening appreciation and gratitude – especially on gratitude for mundane little things that are part of your life regularly – look for ideas under Pillar 8 – The power of gratitude
• keep on bringing in novelty into “old” things – try to build new experiences about same old “things” and give it new perspectives
• keep on doing new things and try out new experiences – variety is the key
• practice savouring and mindfulness – enjoying the subtle shades of the experience and finding the new aspects of it that you haven’t noticed before
• discussing with friends – share what you appreciate about all of the things in your life, but also exchange ideas that could bring in more novelty and new perspectives
• practice loving-kindness meditation – it is shown to increase the amount of positive emotions
• look for more meaning in things instead of focusing on pleasure – meaningful goals/activities/relationships are more resistant to the hedonic adaptation than the pure pleasure activities
If you would enjoy the funny side of the hedonic adaptation, check out Louis CK brilliant video on “Everything is amazing and nobody is happy”
How about you?
Do you ever notice your brain getting used to good things a bit too fast?
Which are your ways to bring in novelty and appreciation into your life – or which of the mentioned ways would you like to try out and do more?
Do share in comments – but also to start a conversation in our Positive Psychology Tribe virtual community for meaningful conversations.