I love May. It is normally a warm month in this part of the world, and in all the countries I have lived so far, Italy, UK, Switzerland, normally comes with a few bank holidays.
That long weekend and bank holiday Mondays that we are all looking forward to. Normally these long weekends follow a wonderfully sunny week and are kicked off by majestic storms, or even better, snowstorms. Last week we were playing in the garden in a T-shirt, come the weekend and we are looking for our snowsuits once again in the back of the wardrobe.
I bet though, if most of us were to be asked what each bank holiday represents and why we celebrate, probably only a small percentage of us would be able to answer. Personally I had to look up on Google one too many bank holidays and celebrations this year and started wondering what it is and why do we forget?
It is in our nature, we tend to take for granted a lot of what our grandparents and ancestors fought and died for. We do it as populations, and we do it as individuals in everyday life.
Every time we buy a new gadget, we experience something new or reach a goal, after the early euphoric moments we often quickly go back to a state of almost bored indifference or at best to a relatively stable level of happiness.
This attitude has a scientific name: hedonic adaptation, or hedonic treadmill.
Normally a yet more expensive gadget, a more intense adrenaline rush or a new goal achieved are never the solution that leads to a magic state of happiness. The risk is to be stuck on said treadmill.
Over two thousand years ago, stoicism followers, thought they had found an answer. The likes of Seneca, Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus, used to apply a very efficient technic against hedonic adaptation.
We have long known that "gratefulness" plays a big role for our happiness, the success of the "5 Minutes Journal" books and App leverages exactly this dynamic. But while books and applications these days ask you to list or focus on the positives of our lives, stoics went a tad farther and daily imagined their lives without the people, the objects, the job, the little luxuries they most treasured.
Without going that far and becoming stressed or obsessed, I find the above a theory worth remembering.
“The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, is the supposed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes. According to this theory, as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness. […] During the late ’90s, the concept was modified […] to refer to the hedonic treadmill theory which compares the pursuit of happiness to a person on a treadmill, who has to keep working just to stay in the same place”.
If more things/more money does not equal happiness, though, we should start challenging the paradigm: owning more things/earning more money is not necessarily positive.
A paradigm is, by definition, something you don’t challenge: a good example is the idea that more is good for you (on a larger perspective, the idea that an economy should tend to growth – but how sustainable is that?). In order to have more, you have to spend more. To spend more, you have to earn more money. Our purpose in life, though, should be happiness and balance.
I am "guilty" of running on that treadmill like everyone else, but find that being aware of where I stand daily is a big help to guide my day and my choices. When I am running too fast and realize that, contrary to the name of this website and for how much I try, I do not always own the way I live, I slow down and try to look at the bigger picture, at the kilometres run and those ahead.
When in doubt, stop and challenge yourself and the status quo.
Google asked a large sample of people whether they liked driving. All of them said they did, and went on to try Google`s new self-driving cars. 97% of those who had said they loved driving said they actually liked more being driven.
So are we really doing what we like, and liking what we are doing or we just like the idea of it all but would probably happily do differently?
“I’ll just say this, you’ll feel like Neo from the Matrix. Once you swallow the red pill of simplicity and see the hedonic treadmill at work, you’ll never want to go back.” (Eric LaForest / Elevated Simplicity).
“Morpheus: […] Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?
Neo: The Matrix.
Morpheus: Do you want to know what it is?
Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind”.
…Which will it be then? Red pill or blue pill?
Happy Monday! ;-)