Why do we never end with dissatisfaction? (hedonic adaptation)

That joys are short-lived has more to do with the ephemerality of psychological experience than with the rapid development of life events. In this article we tell you the real reason why joy lasts so little.


We all experience hedonic adaptation, that is, we get used to our emotions so quickly that they no longer have a leading intensity.. This process is directly involved in whether we feel more or less happy or that happiness lasts a short time. In addition, it has a lot to do with how our brain reacts to different life events or, for example, with how we organize our agenda.

In addition, hedonic adaptation is also responsible, for example, for us spending some time hating that food that we liked so much, but from which we have eaten a good binge. It is also responsible for the fact that the joy of a salary increase, an improvement in working conditions or a congratulations from our boss lasts very little if we compare it with the time we have been yearning for it.

The aforementioned will surely trigger a torrent of questions, but surely the first is the following: what is hedonic adaptation?

Hedonic adaptation occurs in positive situations, but also negative ones.

What is hedonic adaptation?

It is the psychological phenomenon by which human beings adapt quickly to positive or negative events, and, therefore, we stop getting pleasure or pain from them. In other words, hedonic adaptation causes us to get used to positive and negative events.

This adaptation can happen relatively quickly, so people can go from feeling great joy to feeling only mild happiness, or from feeling intense pain to feeling only moderate discomfort, in a relatively short period of time.

There are several theories as to why hedonic adaptation occurs, but one of the most popular is that it is an evolutionary adaptation that helps humans cope with difficult life events. Otherwise, if we didn’t adapt to positive or negative life events, we would probably be so overwhelmed by them that we would be unable to function.

A) Yes, can be a great help in the face of grief or loss, but also a tendency to turn off positive moods after events that encourage or produce them occur. Hedonic adaptation is often seen very simply in people who win the lottery.

At first, they may feel great joy. However, over time, they are likely to adjust to their new financial situation, and that joy will evaporate. The fact that he won the lottery ceases to be so significant compared to other events that are taking place in the present. In addition, it is likely that you have been able to buy everything you wanted before, appearing new material desires that you cannot satisfy (because you do not have enough money to do so).

Dissatisfaction as a motor in life

This is how dissatisfaction begins to grow inside you again. It is as if events can destroy the petals, flowers and stems of this flower, but cannot eradicate the roots of dissatisfaction. All or almost all of us have a kind of program installed in our mind that makes, when we reach that goal that seemed enough to us, stop seeming enough.

Faced with hedonic adaptation, we can try to change our environment or change our perspective. For example, if we win the lottery, we can space the satisfaction of material needs. Thus, we would get several years to play a little lottery instead of just one.

Although it made us a little angry, the way we watched series before the platforms of streaming it was better for our mental health. A series took much longer to get bored or tired, almost forcing us to extend the pleasure over time. In fact, even the advertisements were a good measure against hedonic adaptation, since in the advertising space, our minds had the opportunity to recycle in the face of the irony or the action that we liked so much in that audiovisual content.

As children, almost all of us have had the fantasy of storming the kiosk and leaving there loaded with good bags of jelly beans. However, when our economy began to allow us, did we do it? How many times did we do it? After we did, did we go the next day for more gummies?

Hedonic adaptation encompasses pleasure and adaptation.

Happiness and our hedonic baseline

The idea of ​​relative happiness already existed in 1978, when Brickman et al. they began to understand hedonic pleasure within the framework of Helson’s level of adaptation theory. This theory holds that the perception of stimulation depends on the comparison of previous stimulations. And yes, Whether or not we like an event or an item has a lot to do with what has gone before.

The idea of “the more of what we like, the better”, it does not work. A dish can enchant us and we can want to repeat it. And repeat. And when we repeat it is very likely that it will not taste as good as the first time. Great chefs know that there are dishes that taste better after others. So yes, the pleasure that we can feel before a certain stimulus depends, and a lot, on what happened before exposing ourselves.

in your article Beyond the Hedonic Treadmill, Revisiting the Adaptation Theory of Well-BeingDiener, Lucas & Scollon (2006) concluded that we are not hedonically neutral. Already Brickman and Campbell, in their article Hedonic Relativism and Planning the Good Society (1971), argued that human beings have a “reference point” for happiness.

This point would depend on our genes and our environment. This set point theory has been supported by subsequent research, which has found that people adapt to positive and negative life changes over time.

We talk about a baseline to which we would all tend to return regardless of what happens to us. Put simply, they claim that, somehow, there are people who tend to feel satisfied with their lives and others who hardly enjoy this feeling. Thus, in the face of satisfaction (happiness), we would be like a kind of spring and the different vital events, the forces that would stretch or compress us.

This issue is more complex, since that baseline could well not be one, but several. For example, we might have one regarding satisfaction with our life in general and another regarding satisfaction with our current life.

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