Hedonic Adaptation & Happiness

Course excerpt from Finding Happiness: Positive Interventions in Therapy

Hedonic Adaptation

The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus advised, “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” Yet, for some, the pursuit of happiness can be a never ending quest. The problem is what is known as hedonic adaptation.

Heidi Grant Halvorson, PhD, writes in her article How To Keep Happiness From Fading, “the idea is that no matter how good something makes us feel (or, for the record, how bad), most of the time we drift back to where we started, emotionally-speaking. One often-cited study (link is external) famously showed that despite their initial euphoria, lottery winners were no happier than non-winners eighteen months later. The same tendency to return to “baseline” has been shown to occur after marriage, voluntary job changes, and promotions—the kinds of things we usually expect to change our happiness and well-being for the better in a permanent way.”

The story goes something like this: You buy a new wardrobe and you experience a boost in happiness. But then this minor lift wears off, and you want to buy a new watch. Yet after the new watch, the same thing happens – you quickly adjust to the new purchase and your happiness levels return right back to where they were.

For some, the purchases may be larger or smaller but the conclusion is the same – they are on a hedonic treadmill where what they have is never enough to make them happy. They simply have to keep buying more.

When Kennon Sheldon, professor of psychological sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences, along with co-author Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California, Riverside, surveyed 481 people, they found that recent positive changes did initially make them happier; however, these happiness boosts didn’t last (Sheldon, 2012).

As Sheldon explains, “The majority got used to the change that had made them happy in the first place. They stopped being happy because they wanted more and raised their standards, or because they stopped having fresh positive experiences of the change. For example they stopped doing fun things with their new boyfriend and started wishing he was better looking.

A few were able to appreciate what they had and continued having new experiences. In the long term, those people tended to maintain their boost, rather than falling back where they started” (Sheldon, 2012).

The problem with many purchases, as Sheldon notes, is that they tend to just sit there – they don’t keep on providing varied positive experiences. Further, the more we rely on material purchases to make us happy, the faster our aspirations rise, like an addiction. New purchases then become nothing more than quick fixes.

And just like an addiction, there is a “let down” after those purchases –especially if there is buyer’s remorse. Sheldon also noted that the best life changes do not necessarily equate to new purchases. Although a shiny new possession can boost happiness, that purchase has to be experienced anew every day and appreciated for what it brings to have any lasting effect on happiness.

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Finding Happiness: Positive Interventions in TherapyFinding Happiness: Positive Interventions in Therapy is a 4-hour online continuing education (CE) course that explores the concept of happiness, from common myths to the overriding factors that directly increase our feelings of contentment. We will start with a discussion on why you, the clinician, need to know about happiness and how this information can help in your work with clients. We will then uncover mistakes we make when trying to attain happiness and look carefully at the actions we take and the beliefs that do not just obfuscate our happiness efforts, but often leave us less happy. Next, we will explore the ways in which our mindset influences our feelings of happiness and the many ways we can fundamentally change our levels of well-being, not just immediately, but for many years to come. The final section of this course contains exercises you can use with clients to cultivate and sustain a lifelong habit of happiness. Course #40-45 | 2018 | 57 pages | 25 posttest questions

This online course provides instant access to the course materials (PDF download) and CE test. After enrolling, click on My Account and scroll down to My Active Courses. From here you’ll see links to download/print the course materials and take the CE test (you can print the test to mark your answers on it while reading the course document).

Successful completion of the online CE test (80% required to pass, 3 chances to take) and course evaluation are required to earn a certificate of completion. Click here to learn more. Have a question? Contact us. We’re here to help!

Professional Development Resources is a nonprofit educational corporation 501(c)(3) organized in 1992. We are approved to sponsor continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA); the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy, Psychology & School Psychology, Dietetics & Nutrition, Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, and Occupational Therapy Practice; the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board and Board of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology; the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs; the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists and State Board of Social Worker Examiners; and are CE Broker compliant (all courses are reported within a few days of completion).

Target Audience: PsychologistsCounselorsSocial WorkersMarriage & Family Therapist (MFTs)Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs)Occupational Therapists (OTs)Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs)School Psychologists, and Teachers

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