All of us can look back in our lives to moments of excitement or happiness, no matter how downhearted we are in the present. Those moments might include buying our first car, finding new love, getting a promotion, being able to buy our first house, etc. But, no matter how important, exciting, or happiness-inducing those moments were, that positive emotion fades rather quickly – the new car loses it’s shine, the promotion brings new stress, and even the new house becomes “normal”. That level of happiness doesn’t last.
In psychology that phenomenon is called Hedonistic Adaptation. It’s the human tendency to return to an emotional baseline, or homeostasis, even after a large positive experience. It is further defined by Michael Eysenck as the Hedonistic Treadmill – meaning that a person has to keep moving, just to stay in the same place, or to maintain the same level of happiness that they just experienced. It’s a never ending pursuit.
“As a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness.” (source)
Well, that just sucks, right? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing in life? Even our American forefathers told us that it was our basic human right – The Pursuit of Happiness! We’ve heard it from every angle – Do what makes you happy. Are you happy? If you’re not happy, what’s wrong? You should find a partner who makes you happy. And on, and on, and on.
I’m not dissing on happiness. Happiness is a good thing. Those big moments are essential to our health and well being; those moments help make life worth living. But, we also can’t just ignore, dismiss or despise the life we’re living in-between those moments of happiness. Because, what if there wasn’t another big moment, what would you do then? Now, if you just bought a new car, and the novelty of it was still high, you might think that was fine, “Sure! I could drive this car forever!”, but after a few weeks or months, you would have a different answer; you’d be looking for the next big thing to get that high.
We’re addicted to happiness.
So, what’s the antidote for our happiness addiction? It’s in the internally evoked state of Satisfaction. While happiness is usually (sadly) now tied to the external things we acquire – money, success, relationships, material goods, family – satisfaction can be evoked from within. Satisfaction can be found and focused on in the simplest of areas – a deep breath of clean mountain air, appreciation of a beautiful home, a delicious meal – satisfaction is the active acknowledgement of where we are in the present, it’s a nod to the things that are going right, in this moment, as we’re on our way to the next goal.
That isn’t to say that you should give up on your dreams. Quite the opposite, it just means to not wait to be satisfied in the present just because the dreams that are supposed to make you “happy” haven’t manifested themselves yet. Because, once you have that dream, your happiness will then move on and be tied to the next goal, the next level, or the next “thing”. Satisfaction can be had at any moment, and there’s never an end to what can satisfy you, while happiness is a forever pursuit, and it always fades.
Can you take a moment to view your surroundings and evoke from within yourself a sense of satisfaction? It feels like a moment of peace, of saying “okay, this is how it is”, while still looking forward to the next happiness goal.
Tools for Practicing Satisfaction:
- Practicing gratitude or appreciation – this stimulates our brain’s muscle memory, we can practice feeling whatever feelings we had when we first experienced a moment of happiness or excitement. Write gratitude lists down in a journal, write or speak the story of how you felt when you had your happy experience.
- Being Purposeful – mindfulness is when your mind and body are in the same place at the same time. Look around your surroundings, can you find something interesting, beautiful, calming, or something that brings forth a good memory. Take a deep breath and acknowledge it.
If finding satisfaction in the present while pursuing future goals is something you’d like more information about or help with, please contact me!