Avoid Hedonic Adaptation

A goal I’ve set for myself this year is to be mindful and grateful for what I’ve done and what I’ve got. My plan for doing so is to avoid hedonic adaptation.

I first heard of this term in the book A Guide To The Good Life: The Ancient Art Of Stoic Joy (great read, by the way). The idea of hedonic adaptation goes something like this. We set goals, figuring when we achieve them we’ll be happy. But when we achieve these goals, the happiness doesn’t last. Once achieved, we set new goals and pin our happiness on them. It creates a system where we’re always striving and never happy with what we’ve got because we keep moving the goalposts and wanting more.

For example, say I set a goal for myself to increase my bench press by 10 pounds. I work toward it and achieve it, but when I do I’ve already set a new goal of 20 pounds and am not happy with having achieved the initial goal. Put in another context, say I told myself that if I could just get that new snowmobile, my life would be better and I’d be happy. So I saved and worked toward it and eventually got it, but by then, via hedonic adaptation, I’ve already set my sights on something else instead of being happy with what I’ve got.

So my goal is to be consciously happy with what I’ve got and what I’ve achieved, and to avoid the constant moving of the goalposts. The first step is to acknowledge that I do this. The second step is to not do it.

My plan is to write down my goals, and when I achieve them, to look back on what I wrote and the journey it took to get there. Also I plan to avoid setting new goals right away after achieving the ones I’ve written down.

So how is this relevant to living a simple, outdoor life? It’s all about setting expectations. If you’re coming to the field school this year, or learning on your own wherever you are, I encourage you to set goals and be accountable to them. But you should also realize that this concept of hedonic adaptation will affect you. So be happy with what you’ve achieved, and not unhappy because what you’ve achieved isn’t mastery of everything.

Read more about hedonic adaptation:



Blog, Educational Philosophy

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Derek Faria

    Great advice, and another solid article, as usual Tim. Thanks for all that you do and share.

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