The cool thing about humans is that we adapt to stuff really quick. The annoying thing about humans is that we adapt to stuff really quick.
It’s an evolutionary trait that has kept us going for thousands of years but it can be a bit problematic.
This is what hedonic adaptation is: getting used to the things that are in your life.
Take a step back a few thousand years and our hunter-gatherer ancestors probably weren’t that bothered about not eating for a couple of days at a time because they were used to it. Now, I often struggle through the day if my lunch and dinner are too far apart because that’s just what I’m used to.
Living in often gloomy England usually means that we crave the sun when summer finally comes around. A few days in and we are already used to it. Some of us sick of it.
The same thing can be said for material items. Everyone loves the buzz that you get from a pair of new shoes, a new car or a new toothbrush (just me?). Yet no matter what you buy, you quickly get used to it and are already looking for the next kick. The problem with this is that it affects both our happiness and our pockets.
Here is a graph depicting what happens when you buy a new thing.
As you already know, the thrill of buying a new car or a new toothbrush is very real. The adrenaline rush is extremely satisfying and in no way should it be completely avoided. This is a fun and exciting part of life and you definitely need to live a little.
You should be aware though that it isn’t the key to long-term happiness. Especially if what you buy leaves you in the debt hangover section or paycheck to paycheck mode. If you really want to be happier and have more pennies in your pocket, its time to focus on things that really matter like relationships, health and meaningful work.
I have written previously about how we are living in the best time there ever was and it is a fact that we have never had so much abundance and choice. Yet happiness levels aren’t as high in countries like the UK and USA. In fact, countries with relatively weak economies like New Zealand and Iceland feature in the top 10. Obviously, there are more factors in play, but it would indicate that more money doesn’t equal more happiness. My guess would be that people spend money ‘upgrading’ their lifestyle which of course provides benefits, but that buzz then swiftly returns back to the baseline of contentment. Sometimes even lower if the Jones’ just got an even more expensive car.
If you can build up passive income streams, save and invest smartly and/or just do a job you like doing, even if it pays less, then you will be well on your way to escaping the vicious circle. The positive effects of this reinforce and compound into other aspects of your life. Buying new stuff all of the time and living off short-term boosts is a recipe for a very unfulfilling and unhappy time on Earth.
Here are some methods I am implementing to try and be ‘richer’ and avoid the hedonic adaptation trap:
- Ask ‘will this remove a negative from life?’ rather than ‘will this make me happier?’. It’s proven that no matter what the new thing I acquire is, it will almost certainly make me happier (albeit for a short period of time). So instead ask ‘will this remove a negative from my life?’ Going from an older Audi to a 2018 Audi won’t remove any negatives. Replacing a kettle that takes 10 years to boil probably will. The little things matter.
- Zoom out a bit. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment when the latest iPhone or game comes out or when something is being advertised profusely. Try and think ‘will I still be reaping the benefits of this new thing 1 month/6 months/1 year down the line?’ If not, then maybe reconsider.
- Try delaying as much as possible. Quite often the anticipation of getting a new gadget, going on holiday, getting a cold beer after work is where a lot of the joy and excitement is found. Delaying prolongs the anticipation, which makes the thing that much sweeter.