Hedonic Adaptation

Note to my future self…

I’ve been wanting to write a quick note on this idea of hedonic adaptation for a while so here it is.

Hedonic Treadmill: is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.

If I look back at the last 5 years, I can say that I have quickly adapted to better/worst living conditions pretty quickly. When it comes to material possessions the adaptation is almost instant. These are actually great news on the short term because my happiness is not tied to my living conditions, which as a founder are uhm volatile let’s say.

Nevertheless, I do wonder how hedonic adaptation will affect me long-term because invariably a lot of my goals and systems are pegged against this notion of material wealth. Even if you’re not materialistic let’s be real. The byproduct of becoming a very succesful entrepreneur is an absurd amount of wealth. That’s how the system works. That’s great but it’s something that you still have to process and not let it take over your life.

In any case, I can also say that my baseline happiness has trended upwards over the same time period. Although I don’t have data on this going back 5 years, I can say that over time I have become happier. Perhaps it’s because the last 5 years (18-23) have been a crucial time for me to mature so I have become progressively better at handling “life”.


We know that we’re all susceptible to this regression to the mean phenomenon that we call “hedonic adaptation” so let’s use it to our advantage. If we know that we will be relatively happy regardless of our material circumstances, then we should take advantage of this and avoid any material possessions that might prevent us from living a fulfilled life.

This is different to everyone but you know what I am talking about. We feel that we need to maintain a certain lifestyle and anything that threatens that is something we avoid but guess what? It probably won’t kill you. Go ahead and take bigger risks. Live life. Higher highs and lower lows.

Now back to work…

Note: If you thought about the famous Kahneman and Deaton (2010) paper on how income isn’t correlated with happiness I understand. Nevertheless, I decided against referencing in the post because I feel that it’s a paper that’s commonly misinterpreted in the media. Essentially the headlines don’t tell the full stories and although higher income doesn’t improve emotional well-being it does correlate with an increase in life satisfaction. If you’re interested I would encourage reading the paper here. It’s wonderful(: