Hedonic Adaptation, also called the Hedonic treadmill, is

“The tendency of a person to remain at a relatively stable level of happiness despite a change in fortune or the achievement of major goals. According to the hedonic treadmill, as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness.”

After hearing about this idea sporadically over the last couple of years I noticed an interesting subtly. Like many psychological discoveries, the lens the data is filtered through is economic. I’m sure there is a rich history why so much of psychology is framed economically, and I’m sure I’ll explore it one day, but the why isn’t important for this post. The effect this perspective has on us is.

Hedonic Adaptation is a name we have given to a human instinct. When looked at economically and materialistically, we see it as a negative trait, and this is a valid conclusion when we focus on the external material world. But instincts are old. Very old. And this instinct developed in our nervous system far before the idea of money, or even the idea of ownership. This instinct guided our ancient ancestors through millions of years of climate change and food shortages.

There is an obvious evolutionary advantage to this instinct when we look at it as the propulsion mechanism of the organism towards growth. Individual growth. This instinct took the stumbling baby to the running toddler. It took the boy to the hunter, and the girl to the medicine doctor.


When we look through the materialistic lens, the hedonic treadmill can appear as a prison. If we choose to look at it through the Individuationing lens, this instinct becomes an ally towards growth. And I think the most important aspect of the hedonic treadmill is that it is the mechanism that leads to mastery. And I think that mastery is an element of the human life that needs me to explore it more. Seeking and obtaining mastery at something seems to fulfill a need within the human organism that has a cascading effect on the rest of the organism.

But like all things, it is a balance. It is easy to see examples in our culture of mastery seekers going awry. I think the key is to fall in love with the process that leads to mastery, not the goals one can obtain once they reach mastery.

Most of these posts are my thinking “out lout.” Thank you for reading. I love you. Namaste.