JULY 30, 2015
Once we attain our goals we feel fulfilled. Finally our dream has been achieved. But what do you notice ….
It slowly starts evaporating once we touch it. You want more, right? Newer, bigger, better, faster, different. That is our motto. Your mind constantly dangles a carrot in front of you with the promise of future satisfaction.
But as soon as you bite it, another one pops up that seems even more delicious than the first one. The self-perpetuating play of chasing your desires. And so the eternal search continues … If only we could keep that cherished feeling a bit longer.
But how is it that we are never satisfied with what we have over a longer period of time?
The answer lies in what in ‘hedonistic adaptation’. Hedonistic adaptation is the tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable base level of happiness, despite major positive/negative events.
Hedonistic adaptation has an evolutionary origin. We humans adapt fast. That used to be a good thing.
Imagine yourself being thrown back to the cavemen –era, thrown in the wild with little protection and constant danger. It was more useful then to pay attention to new things, stimuli and changes in the environment which could be potentially life-threatening.
It didn’t really pay off to only appreciate and reflect on the things you have and sit down in perfect bliss. That would NOT be an ideal strategy back then.
That’s why our brain is wired to focus on novel things and change in the environment and short-term strategies to survive.
Hedonistic adaptation has an upside (we can get over bad things quickly), but also a downside (but also the good things). It follows that appreciation, satisfaction and gratitude often doesn’t come automatically for us, but takes conscious effort. But why is this so?
Humans are social creatures. The rating your give your happiness is in large part made in comparison to others. Humans don’t have a set happiness point.
Suppose I give you two options:
a) I give you a raise of 300 dollars and your colleges 100 dollars or
b) I give you a raise of 400 dollars and your colleges 500 dollars.
Which one would you choose?
Well … the logical thing would be to choose for the last option. You actually earn more than in the first option.
But researchers have actually tested this and came to the conclusion that people are happier in the first scenario. We compare ourselves to the average in our environment. You judge from the environment where you live right now.
We are happy … but in comparison to others.
This also explains why income inequality is a bigger predictor of unhappiness than the gross national product once a basic level of basic survival needs is reached.
So how can you make happiness last longer?
#1. Reflect on where you already are
If you reflect on good things that you have and gained, it automatically cultivates more optimism and a positive mood. You see the bigger picture and notice things that by now you have taken for granted. We start framing our reality in a new way.
It’s the same thing what a lot of painters do. They see the extraordinary in the ordinary. They bring forward elements and focus our attention on things that we normally don’t notice anymore, because we are used to it.
#2. Look back at the progress you’ve made
We look at ourselves through the situation at the present moment. The current standards and beliefs we hold. The goals we achieved and the progress we’ve made.
When you first start out lifting weights, you advance a lot. You quickly raise the bar higher. You immediately notice the changes, feel good and proud about yourself.
But if you see yourself in the mirror each day …. you fail to notice the results. You’re thinking from the perspective of the person who you are right now, instead of the person who you’ve been. Although that person would be enormously grateful with how you look right now.
It takes an old friend who you haven’t seen for a while to realize how much you’ve changed. You are constantly pushing your limits. Focusing on a new point and a new horizon. But you never look back to notice what you already achieved. We keep on looking forward … toward a future that never comes.
Change mostly comes gradually. Day by day, step by step. But if you take a step each day and do that over a long period of time, you’ve traveled a long way.
But to see that you have to pause and reflect on the growth you achieved and the lessons you learned along the way. You can see the beauty of the path that guides you along your hero’s journey.
Gratitude cultivates the act of appreciation. There is a lesson to be learned from everything. Every closed door opens a new door.
You need the bad to appreciate the good. Without that contrast you wouldn’t be able to judge experiences. There is no right belief. It comes down to choosing the most empowering beliefs that work for you, without hurting others.
Have gratitude towards others. You know how hard it is to give yourself gratitude. Imagine how you would feel when someone would give it to you.
When you start looking at life through that lens, life will have more meaning and possibilities. Problems can be viewed as obstacles … or challenges. How would you learn without making any mistake?
If we put our focus on what we do have, life doesn’t seem so bad. Shelter, tasty food and water, safety and a good health were once the things people prayed for. At the end of the day ask yourself the question ‘does this truly matter’?
Tip: Keep a gratitude journal. I write down the things I am grateful for just before I go to sleep. It brings peace to my day just before bedtime.
Celebrate the (small) victories you’ve made. Pause for a second. Let it sink in. Sit back and enjoy. You have finally realized what you want. Isn’t that a reason to be happy?
It’s time to give yourself some congratulations and throw a party with some friends.
#5. Find variety and novelty in repetition
Humans are the only animals that are bored. Animals live in the present. Humans have the gift of self-consciousness with an ability to reflect on the past and the future.
To be happy, you have to find pleasure and variation in repetition. Because you easily get used to circumstances and activities it is very important to keep alternating them.
So you’ve got to use a timing that hinders habituation and to connect with the only moment that ever exists … the now.
By: Filip Van Houte