The Hedonistic Treadmill is a psychological and philosophical concept, key to understanding happiness, in a number of ways. Without incorporating the concept into your thinking, you can’t really expect to improve your overall mental state and happiness. It makes clear the absolute futility of material gain, as well as status symbols and power positions.
What is the Hedonistic Treadmill?
It’s a psychological theory that states that no matter what happens in your life, you always return to the same baseline levels of happiness. What happens is as you achieve goals and grow as an individual, your expectations and hopes grow in tandem, meaning that no matter what happens, after a brief spurt of happiness, you’re always dropping back to having unattained goals and feeling potentially discontent or unhappy.
It’s been touted when it’s said that rich people are no happier than poor people, and it definitely holds true, at least, anecdotally. Even if you won the multi-million lottery jackpot tomorrow, and you were rich beyond measure, and you could guarantee you and your family never had to want for anything for the rest of their lives, you would still fall back down to the same previous levels of happiness, given enough time. That’s the Hedonistic Treadmill.
That’s Not a Bad Thing Though
Absolutely not. It’s a great thing. Because you aren’t going to win the lottery tomorrow, or probably in your lifetime, even if you buy a ticket every week till the day you die. The fact is, we’re not all destined for greatness and riches, in fact, very few of us are.
Does that have to mean that very few of us should go on to attain happiness? No! The Hedonistic Treadmill logically means that whatever your financial, career or health situation, you can look past your problems, issues and goals, and focus on improving your baseline happiness, instead of trying to attain material wealth, recognition or power.
The Hedonistic Treadmill means that whatever your financial, career or health situation, you can look past your problems and focus on improving your baseline happiness.
What it really does, is it makes happiness attainable for everyone, by explaining that far from the capitalist mantra states, you don’t need that new phone or car to be complete.
Buddhism and Stoicism
So obviously, this kind of viewpoint, which turns it’s back on material possessions, and focuses instead on self-acceptance, understanding and discipline is always going to factor into many eastern and Buddhist philosophies.
It’s similar with Stoicism. It all comes down to understanding what really changes your mind set, health and happiness, and clearing away illusions. It allows you to look closely at what is actually preventing you from becoming happy, long term. Once you can see what’s holding you back, and reducing you as a person, you can change it.
Stop Making Excuses
The best thing about this concept is that it takes no prisoners, it makes you the master of your destiny. You’re left to think; so that promotion, new car, money won’t actually make me happy, what will? What do I need to change and work at in order to feel validated, content, and that most ethereal of goals; happy?
While that sounds like you’re left at something of a loose end, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead of leaving you with no path at all, it’s simply cutting away the distractions that block the actual path. Which may or may not become absolutely clear, but at least you’re not obsessing over a new car any more.
With that clarity and focus, you can stop making excuses to yourself. You can stop thinking “I’ll be happy once I achieve or gain x” because while you will be, at first, that happiness is responsive and short-lived. You need to stop putting off addressing why you’re not happy, and confront your lack of satisfaction in your life now.
How do You Change Your Baseline
So that obviously brings us to the next point. How can you incorporate this way of thinking into your overall plan to become happier? Well, the rules of the treadmill dictate that whatever you do cannot be a short term change, and that demands sustainability, so learning that dream hobby for a week, or trying out meditation for two days simply won’t do it.
The rules of the treadmill dictate that whatever you do cannot be a short term change, and that demands sustainability
Whatever you do to try to raise your baseline, you need to make it long term, because while we humans have plastic minds, and they can shift, they don’t tend to be quick or easy about it.
Bear Happiness in Mind
The most important thing you can do when it comes to raising happiness levels long term is simply prioritise your happiness, all the time. Understand the cost of spending a day or two wallowing in unhappy or stressful emotions, and instead target the cause of those feelings, and resume as positive a mental state as you can manage, as quickly as possible.
I’m not saying you should be selfish about your happiness. You shouldn’t put yourself first constantly, or be self-absorbed. But you shouldn’t give your life and the people in it the ability to make you feel stressed or sad, because no one has that ability except you. You give permission to life to make feel bad, no one else. Stop doing that.
continue to part 2