Have you ever gotten something you’ve longed for, or even dreamed of, only to find a strange twist often follows “…happily ever after”?
It’s that moment where you realize despite having exactly what you want, the shine has somehow worn off and instead of feeling like you’re flourishing you feel completely flat – maybe even weighed down – by what you’ve worked so hard to get.
I experienced this first hand when I was about 33 years old and landed the job of my dreams in New York. My role let me travel around the world. I had wonderful family and friends. I was in great health. And had more money than one girl needed to spend.
Instead of flourishing however, it was all I could do each day just to get out of bed. I was exhausted, stressed out and miserable.
At first I thought I just needed a kick up the you-know-where to appreciate all I had. When that didn’t work I started to wonder if perhaps I was going a little mad. Until I uncovered a scientific discovery that put lasting happiness and wellbeing more practically within my grasp. Want to know what it was?
How scientists discovered we adapt
Back in the 1970s psychologists monitored Illinois State Lottery winners who’d won between $50,000 and $1 million. A fairly positive life changing event that most people expected would let them live happily ever after.
It turns out however, just 12 months later, these winners were no happier than people who’d won nothing at all. So what’s going on?
The truth is human beings have a tremendous capacity to adapt to new relationships, jobs, and wealth, with the result that even such positive life changes yield fewer and fewer rewards with time. Scientists call this phenomenon “hedonic adaptation.”
Hedonic adaptation explains why both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat abate with time.
What’s particularly fascinating about this phenomenon, however, is that it’s most pronounced with respect to our happiest experiences. Indeed, it turns out that we’re prone to take for granted pretty much everything positive that happens to us. It’s why happiness never seems to last.
How does this happen? Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky in her new book, “The Myths Of Happiness”, suggests adaptation is caused by the toll of creeping normalcy and the constant ramping up of expectations that causes us to seek out more, more and more.
While the rate at which we adapt to happiness seems to vary between people and situations, there can be no doubt that our brains thrive on novelty which is why happiness and wellbeing should never be the destination but the journey.
The good news is Lyubomirsky and her colleagues have found it’s possible to train our brains to overcome, forestall or at least slow down hedonic adaptation and in this episode of Chelle McQuaid TV, I’ll share with you how you can use these approaches to help you consistently flourish.
How can you manage adaption?
Personally I think over the years adaptation has probably been the thing that most undid my happiness and wellbeing. Things that once made me flourish would stop working and I’d give up in a fit of despair.
Turns out all I really needed to be doing was practicing gratitude consistently, sprinkling a good dose of novelty across my wellbeing approaches and being clear on why some activities were important to me even when they became a little boring. Most importantly I needed to stop comparing myself to others to put an end to always wanting more, more and more to head off adaptation.
Which of these approaches can you use to reclaim your sense of happiness and wellbeing from the creeping shadows of adaptation?