I'm home from vacation. We had a great time, but ah, it's nice to be home!
The return from vacation reminded me of a significant factor in happiness: the hedonic treadmill, or hedonic adaptation.
People are adaptable. We quickly adjust to a new life circumstance — for better or worse — and consider it normal. Although this helps us when our situation worsens (people are astonishingly resilient), it means that when circumstances improve, we soon become hardened to new comforts or privileges. Scoring air-conditioning, a nicer car, a bigger TV, or a fancy title gives us only a brief boost in happiness before we start to take it for granted. As Aldous Huxley wrote, “Habit converts luxurious enjoyments into dull and daily necessities.” That’s the hedonic treadmill.
Salt used to be a rare luxury! Talking long distance used to be a huge indulgence! But now we take these things for granted.
To offset the effect of the hedonic treadmill, you can remind yourself how much you enjoy something, or how lucky you are to get to experience it – and one way really to feel this is to deprive yourself of something you usually take for granted. Deny yourself something, and your pleasure in it will be re-activated when the denial stops.
One nice thing about a vacation is, no matter how wonderful it was to be away, there are always little homely pleasures that make it lovely to return.
I loved being away from my computer, but now I’m so happy to be back in front of my three big monitors! I loved having breakfast outside in the morning while we were away, but I love being back my own kitchen, with my own weird foods available to me whenever I want. I enjoyed having a break from my usual routine, but now it feels great to be back in the usual swing of things.
So often, we only appreciate things after we've lost them -- even for just a short time.