If you’re anything like me (and pretty much everyone), you know the feeling of looking forward to getting or achieving something, getting or achieving it, and how awesome that feels for the following five seconds before you totally take it for granted and start desiring something new.
This is why your relationships fail.
This is why you feel a little depressed and unfulfilled.
This is why even though we have nice cars and smartphones and HDTVs and houses and good jobs and attractive partners and beautiful children and awesome friends and supportive families, we STILL want more.
Like most things, this crappy part of the human condition is not without an upside. If people didn’t have a predisposition toward advancement, we would have died off long ago from disease and lion attacks because cavemen would have discovered how to make fire and just quit trying new things forever, instead of inventing effective medicine and anti-lion battle axes.
The cost of ambition is the destruction of internal peace and contentment. Of our individual pursuits of happiness.
It has a name, and I didn’t know it until recently: Hedonic adaptation.
It is the psychological phenomenon of boredom and dissatisfaction taking hold over time as we adjust to positive life changes.
You’re not uniquely selfish for feeling this way and needn’t feel guilty about it. We all suffer from this.
It’s why the person who gives you intense crushy tummy butterflies and lusty pulses of orgasmic euphoria can turn into your feel-nothing roommate just a few years, or even months, later.
It’s why your brand-new car from a couple years ago from which you once handpicked the occasional pet hair from the carpet, is now sufficiently unclean and fails to deliver those fun I’m-proud-to-drive-this! feelings when you climb in.
It’s why no material thing or salary increase or lifestyle change has ever capably delivered long-term happiness to people unaware of the dangers of hedonic adaptation.
OMG! What Can I Do About It???
There is, literally, only ONE cure for this life-destroying ailment. And that is to listen to smarty-pants Amit Amin at “Happier Human” and actively, deliberately, vigilantly practice gratitude.
Your choice, every day of your life, is: Really and truly feel thankful for all of the great things in your life OR suffer a slow descent into miserable shittiness.
That’s not an exaggeration.
Remember when P. Diddy was wearing those silly Vote or Die! shirts, and we were all like: “WTF, Puff Daddy!? Are you and The Family going to murder non-voters!? That seems excessive! Oh wait. You just mean, voting is important and are encouraging us to do it, and you chose that catchy slogan to spread the message? Got it! Sorry, but that’s stupid. You totally don’t die when you don’t vote, because we would have absolutely heard about that in the news.”
Anyway. This gratitude stuff is nothing like that. I’m more right about this than Puffy was about the voting/death correlation. Please don’t listen to him, unless it’s his track “Victory” with Notorious B.I.G. because that shit was mad rare.
Find a way to say “Thank you” and really feel, deep in your heart and soul, genuine gratitude for the gift of life and that it doesn’t totally suck.
“But my life DOES suck right now!”
I’m putting my hands up in the universal sign language for “Fair enough.” I get it. I’m a whiny turd when things don’t go my way, too. It’s because I haven’t mastered this gratitude thing yet and often forget how good I really have it.
I forget every day.
Right now, a woman in some faraway place is holding her dying child because of the trickle-down effect of not having sanitary drinking water in her village.
Someone else doesn’t know how to read. Someone else can’t find employment. Someone else will get shot or sexually assaulted walking in his or her neighborhood today. Someone else has a child with a terminal illness.
Others can’t pay the electric bill.
Others have no car.
Others have no home.
I whined a little the other day because I got stuck in traffic for, like, 30 minutes, and everything worked out fine.
My 7-year-old asked whether I wanted him to starve to death because his stomach was rumbling before dinner one night.
At my next meal, even though I’m a thoughtful eater portion-wise, I am still likely to throw away more food than millions of people scattered throughout the world have available to them.
No need to feel guilty, though. Just say “Thank you.” And mean it.
Start Now or You’ll Forget and Stay on the Hedonic Treadmill Forever
I know it sounds like a bunch of mystical psychobabble crap.
But this is real. And if you (and I do this constantly, so I have to believe everyone else does too) ever say or think: “When X, Y and Z happens, everything is going to be different and I’ll finally be happy!” it means you’re an unwitting prisoner on the Hedonic Treadmill.
Just running and running and running and never getting anywhere.
It’s time to get off.
(This post originally appeared at Must Be This Tall To Ride.)