Happiness and hedonic adaptation

I’ve been reading A Guide to the Good Life : The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy lately and really enjoying the ideas behind Stoic philosophy.

One of the important points I’d picked up was to do with hedonic adaptation. There’s the often quoted study about people who lose the use of their legs and people who win the lottery. Roughly six months after the tragedy or good fortunate, people were roughly as happy/unhappy as they were before the event.

It just shows how we adapt to situations. A permanent change is relatively quickly accepted as the new norm. Now that’s handy if something bad has happened, but kind of depressing when the good events become the norm. If we adapt to them so conveniently, then we are never satisfied. That sort of explains why so many famous actors and singers, who you’d think lead an amazing life, have so many issues with depression and unhappiness.

So is there any way to forestall this adaptation? To find the good things in your life enjoyable all the time without taking them for granted? Apparently so.

The Stoics recommend we spend time imagining that we’ve lost the things we value. Imagine losing your job, car, friends, family etc… This negative visualisation makes you appreciate what you have now. Either that, or you discover what is and what isn’t so important in your life.

Another crucial takeaway from reading further about hedonic adaption was that relationship and social life goals increase your subjective well-being, whereas materialistic life goals have a negative effect.

I’ve started looking at what’s important to me in my life and while I appreciate what I have, I definitely have some changes to make too.