Avoid This Treadmill

Quick Summary: Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got til its gone? What if we could avoid that trap?

The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, refers to the tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness or subjective well-being, despite major positive or negative events or changes in their lives. In other words, people often experience temporary boosts or declines in happiness due to certain life events or circumstances, but over time, they tend to adapt and revert to their baseline level of happiness.

The term “hedonic treadmill” implies that individuals are constantly chasing happiness, but they often find themselves on a metaphorical treadmill, making efforts to increase their happiness but ultimately remaining at a relatively stable level. This phenomenon suggests that external circumstances and material possessions have a limited and temporary impact on long-term happiness, and true well-being is influenced by other factors such as relationships, personal growth, and a sense of purpose or meaning in life. It can also be influenced by where we put our focus.

We often delude ourselves into thinking that this phenomenon will abate when something happens. “When I’ve achieved X, or completed Y, then I will be content and be able to stop chasing. When I’ve arrived, I’ll be happy.” The problem is that there is always a next thing to achieve, or reach, or get. When you are the CEO and making $10 million, but your fellow CEOs are making $50 million, suddenly your income doesn’t seem so great.

In certain philosophical and spiritual traditions, particularly in Buddhism, the term “hungry ghost” refers to a metaphorical being that is consumed by intense craving, desire, and insatiable hunger. The hungry ghost is depicted as a realm or state of existence within the cycle of rebirth, where beings are driven by constant craving and dissatisfaction.

The hungry ghost metaphor can be interpreted beyond its literal existence as a realm and can also be seen as a symbolic representation of human psychological states. It points to the human tendency to be driven by endless craving and dissatisfaction, always seeking more and never finding lasting contentment. The problem is the desire for more— because no matter how much the hungry ghost gets, it’s never enough.

What if, instead of focusing on the next thing that we need to be happy, we focus on what we have? As Sheryl Crow sang, “Its not getting what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.” Taking the time to acknowledge and appreciate the things we have in our life, making this a regular habit, shifts our attention away from what is missing and towards what we already have.

If you had enough, would you know it?

-Dr. Justin