Are You Trapped On The Hedonic Treadmill?

The Chile Cheeseburger Will Grant Me The Body I Desire…

Do you ever find yourself wistfully fantasizing about some great event in your future, a life shaking change-up, a glamorous new material purchase guaranteed to make you happy (i.e. a sofa from Walmart)? I know I do. Especially old display sofas from Walmart that smell like must and beef soup. Somehow we think, after I obtain THIS thing, THEN I will be happy.

Don’t feel like superficial drone for entertaining these thoughts, I think they’re very human, and we’re all subject to them from time to time. The problem arises when we plan our lives around achieving these goals and they don’t make us any happier than we were before. A new relationship, promotion, marriage, moving to a new city etc, all can be wonderful milestones in your life, and do/can make you uplifted- at least temporarily.

Conversely, tragic events can harm our lives too. Break-ups, the death of a loved one, losing an arm wrestling contest to a 12-year old little girl. Yeah, life can kick you down in the dirt and rub siracha into your eyes from time to time. Usually, we pick ourselves back up again. Time heals all wounds, or so they say. The point is, no matter how bad it gets, nothing stays the same forever, and neither should our sadness.

Probably, most of us spend our days trying not to dwell on the negative, but on the rainbow tantalizing us just on the horizon. A leprechaun’s pot of gold awaits us if we only run or work hard enough. And for most of us, that pot of gold is not entirely unattainable- we usually don’t set goals for ourselves that we believe are unrealistic to our daily lives.

Enter the Hedonic Treadmill: essentially our baseline of happiness is relatively unaffected by events and things. Whether it be good or bad, the grand arch of your emotional well being is always gonna stay about the same. Particularly with regards to material goods, a new pair of $300 sneakers gives you a temporary high, but then our minds simply adapt to our new station in life and your momentary happiness drops back down to how it usually is. A raise at work simply raises our expectations and spending habits along with it, thus canceling out any benefits we might have gotten from that injection of income.

Like the proverbial carrot being dangled out in front of the cart-pulling donkey, we lurch forward, certain that true fulfillment is within our grasp. However, even after getting whatever we lusted for on the horizon, our “baseline” goes back to normal. Our minds, and often our culture, tells us we then need more, or something new, to recreate this high. Hence, the idea of a treadmill. But of course, this is all ultimately fleeting…

Luckily, when something bad happens to us, our emotional state should also “adapt” and eventually return back to normal. Here’s a handy dandy graph I made for y’all to illustrate my point:

So if attaining the goals or objects of our desire doesn’t make us any happier in the long term, what does? Are we just trapped forever in a hamster wheel with little to ever sate our appetites for more?

I like the documentary¬†Happy. I’ve watched it more than once, and it really has great interviews with some of the world’s foremost researchers into the subject of human happiness. The film also introduces us to some people around the world, who for all intents and purposes should not be happy at all (poverty, physical injury etc), but are actually pretty darn positive about their lives.

There’s a lot going on in the film, but one of the key points it shows is a breakdown of the sources of human happiness and misery:

So at the very least, recognize that about 60% of how you feel most of the time is not your fault. For me, this is where Jack Daniels comes in handy. But for the rest of our our lives, around 40% is actually under our control. These are simply daily activities that we can all choose to engage in that don’t require mad amounts of money, travel, fancy clothes or social prestige.

According to the film, these are some key intentional activities we can try to incorporate into our lives:

Helping Out Your Fellow Human

We can just serve ourselves, or we can try and help others out. Bringing aid to someone less lucky than yourself can be highly rewarding. Sponge bath day at the local senior center is always looking for volunteers you know.


“Flow” seems to be about being in your zone. That can be anything from being engaged in your work, painting, cooking or tagging subway tunnels at 3am. Flow is individual to you, but you should have experienced it in your life. Whatever puts you in a different mindset and has you focused only in the moment- that’s something you want to cultivate.

Take Care Of Your Health

Eat your veggies, get enough sleep, don’t binge drink (except for Monday mornings) and get some exercise. I know this blog is supposed to be about being a free, hedonistic bohemian, but take it easy, cuz: you can’t go down to the shops and buy a new body now can you?

Be Appreciative

Try to focus on the moment and be grateful for what you have- rather than what you do not. There’s always someone who has less than you.

Try To Pick Yourself Back Up

Life gets us down, for sure. But no need to wallow in it…


Well, you can try to be the Kardashians, or you can get your head in the right place. Try to work on developing yourself and the relationships with those around you. Money, Power, Status: leave that crap for Russian Oligarchs.

Get Out in Nature

Me: I like eating, drinking and ordering things in restaurants. But supposedly simply the color green calms down our brains. So, try some camping or hiking, it is actually physically good for you.

Be Around Family and Friends

Many people have problematic relationships with their families, so for some, their friends are their family. But the point is, be around positive people you like who care about you.

Well, I’ll try and remember all this stuff. I don’t know about helping out my fellow man, as I’m kind of an introvert to begin with. But, I can do without chasing a Leprechaun’s pot o’ gold. Life is simply too short…

Are You Stuck On The Hedonic Treadmill? Is It Important To Be “Happy” In The First Place?

2 thoughts on “Are You Trapped On The Hedonic Treadmill?

  1. Well said Greg. Though pursuing a pot of gold is statistically unrealistic, having a savings account with 6 months of expenses is doable and gives peace of mind .

    Helping others and being with positive loving friends ,traveling, and looking for the glass is half full whether it be half full of lemons or lemonade, do indeed salve a soul.

    • Post Author Greg Goldblatt

      No doubt, I fully advocate saving for a rainy day/emergency. Part of this blog is exploring frugality and anti-materialism as a key to freedom and happiness, but financial security and plain old peace of mind are worth their weight in gold to be sure.

      I like the old Irish folk fable of the leprechaun’s pot of gold (however cliched), the father and faster you run towards the end of rainbow…

      And frankly, I’m happy with either lemons or lemonade, they’re both both pretty tasty and good for you.

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