The Hedonic Treadmill

By Anthony Gold

Where does happiness come from?

Many people believe they would be happier if they had more money, a better job, improved health, or higher-quality relationships in their life.

Turns out, that’s not quite true. Brain chemistry and psychological research suggests that only 10% of our “happiness” is determined by external circumstances such as money, health, and relationships – and that the other 90% comes intrinsically from within.

Studies done with lottery winners and paraplegics examined how happy each person was one year out from winning the money or losing the use of their limbs, respectively. You might think that lottery winners would report higher levels of happiness, but you’d be wrong. Each group reports equal measures!

Countless research points to a process known as hedonic adaptation in which humans very quickly return to a base level of happiness despite major positive or negative events in their life. Some data suggest this process takes, on average, about three months.

And that is why after getting the raise or relationship or anything else that we thought would “make” us happy, that we quickly realize we don’t feel much happier than we did before the raise, relationship, or other external manifestation. And thus the pursuit of happiness is like a person on a treadmill – you have to keep working just to stay in the same place. We need to continually procure these “extrinsic assets” (money, people, property, promotions, kudos, experiences, appreciation, muscle tone, etc.) just to be happy.

In other words, we think happiness is a thing to be found (or lucked upon) – and we spend so much of our life desperately searching and clawing for it in a never-ending, energy-depleting, soul-sucking grind that wears us very tired indeed.

And yet, that need not be.

Given the intrinsic nature and locale of happiness, all we need do to tap into its vast (unlimited!) reservoir is simply choose it.

Seek not outside yourself. For it will fail. (T-29.VII.1)

Think not that happiness is ever found by following a road away from it. Why would you seek to try another road, another person or another place? There is a choice that you have power to make. (T-31.IV.7;4;8)

[Upon making that choice] how lovely is the world … how free from fear, how filled with blessing and with happiness! (T-29.VI.6)

Join us in Monday’s class where we’ll explore this concept of intrinsic happiness and the incredible serenity that results from making such a choice. I look forward to seeing you then.

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