Hedonic Treadmill [How to hack our adaptation process to extend happiness]

“Dan, when we got this car last year I was ecstatic (“Feeling of elation and happiness”), but now it no longer makes me happy. What do you think about renovating the kitchen?”

So that quote is really a great example of hedonic treadmill. Hedonic treadmill is the adaptation process after major positive (pleasurable) or negative (painful) events so we could return into a stable level of happiness even. In that case, Dan’s wife feels bored/unhappy, because she doesn’t feel the euphoria of a new car as she was last year when the car is brand new. So now Dan’s wife start to crave another stimulus that gains her the feeling of happiness and joy, which is renovating the kitchen.

Overall, hedonic adaptation is very useful for us after we experienced a painful or a negative event. Because it will kick us back in to be a happier and emotionally stable person. But there are some circumstances when hedonic adaptation negatively impacts our lives.

Like the example above, because of hedonic adaptation, she doesn’t feel as happy as when she bought the car last year. Because she got used to (adapt) the stimulus (the one-year-old car). So the question is, how to hack hedonic adaptation that can extend the feeling of happiness into a longer duration? Well there are couple things that you must know about adaptation based on Leif Nelson and Tom Meyvis research :

  1. Break during an irritating or boring experience will increase the negative experience. Because after the break, our body needs to adapt again. So after the break, your body will be going through another adaptation process.
  2. Break during a pleasurable experience will enhance the positive experience (the reason is the same as number one), like the joy of returning to the hot tub after the break.

To answer the question, let’s have some example about the hedonic treadmill, and how hedonic adaptation will impact each of the choices differently. For example, you get a big bonus from your boss because your project increases your company revenues by 200%. You are very happy, and can’t wait to spend it. You got 2 choices :

  1. Rush yourself and your family into Beverly Hills (one of the most prestigious shopping street in America), get yourself a little shopping spree and spend all your bonus in that day. So after the day your car is gonna be full of luxury goods, and you probably can’t sleep that night, because how excited and happy you are. Now after 5 months has passed and you start to crave another shopping spree again, but you don’t have the money to buy all that stuff. So now your ecstatic life (5 months ago) start becoming another boring colorless life*.
  2. Excite yourself and buy one product to award yourself (for ex : New laptop), after couple of weeks you may start to feel vanilla (urban word for boring) life and buy yourself (for ex: Family vacation to Bali – Indonesia), and you start to feel bored again and buy new stuff and so on.

So from two choices above, what is the best choice? Well, there are 2 causes and effects for that. For the short-term, the choice one is the best choice, because your initial happiness of buying all that luxury goods will be rocketing to the top, but after some time, the hedonic adaptation will make your over the moon life into a more boring life. for the long-term, choice 2 is the right decision, because after some period of time when you feel bored, your happiness will be revitalized. So you will feel happy again.

For answering my previous question (How to hack hedonic adaptation that can extend the feeling of happiness into a longer duration?), the answer is with the second decision. Because it will extend your happiness feeling into a longer duration. So after 5 months has passed, you will still feel happy because you keep buying stuff (stimulus) that will get you excited.

*That example is a product of overgeneralization and oversimplification, but don’t worry there still tons of non-money related stimulus that could make you ecstatic like getting an award, having a new-born child, etc.

So tell us about your opinion about this post in the comment below! Do you ever experience something like this before? Are you agree with the solution to extend happiness?


Ariely, Dan. (2010). The upside of irrationality: The unexpected benefits of defying logic at work and at home. New York: Harper.

Ecstatic. (n.d.). Retrieved July 28, 2017, from http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=ecstatic

Hedonic treadmill. (2017, July 11). Retrieved July 28, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedonic_treadmill

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2 thoughts on “Hedonic Treadmill [How to hack our adaptation process to extend happiness]

  1. Mr. Budihardjo, this is a really nice article with a great message – thank you for sharing it. I couldn’t agree more: stretch out the pleasurable and truncate the unpleasurable! The same goes for work: when working on something unpleasant, work through it in a single sitting. Or if it’s a larger task, set aside time to prepare for the task by making a focused list of actions you need to take to accomplish this unpleasant task. That way, you’ll have a higher degree of likelihood finishing the unpleasant task in a single sitting. Again – thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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