If you’re anything like me (and pretty much every other person, ever) you have countless memories of looking forward to getting or achieving something, and how awesome it feels for the following five seconds before you totally take it for granted and start wanting something else.
THIS IS WHY YOUR RELATIONSHIPS FAIL.
This is why you feel a little depressed and unfulfilled.
This is why even though we have nice cars and smartphones and HDTVs and houses and good jobs and attractive partners and beautiful children and awesome friends and supportive families, we STILL want more shit.
Like most things, this sucky part of the human condition is not without its perks. Without a predisposition toward achievement, humanity would have died off eons ago from disease and lion attacks because cavemen would have discovered how to make fire and just stopped trying new things forever.
The cost of ambition is the destruction of internal peace and contentment. Of our individual pursuits of happiness.
It has a name, and I didn’t know it until today: Hedonic adaptation.
It is the psychological phenomenon of boredom and dissatisfaction taking hold over time as we adjust to positive life changes.
It’s why the person who gives you intense crushy tummy butterflies and lusty pulses of orgasmic euphoria can turn into your feel-nothing roommate just a few years, or even months, later.
It’s why your brand-new car from a couple years ago from which you once handpicked the occasional pet hair from the carpet, is now sufficiently unclean and fails to deliver those fun I’m-proud-to-drive-this! feelings when you climb in.
It’s why no material thing or salary increase or lifestyle change IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE has ever capably delivered long-term happiness to the person unaware of the dangers of hedonic adaptation (which I’m pretty sure is more than 95 percent of everybody.)
OMG! What Can I Do About It???
There is, literally, only ONE cure for this life-destroying ailment. And that is to actively, deliberately, vigilantly practice gratitude.
Your choice, every day of your life, is: Really and truly feel thankful for all of the great things in your life OR suffer a slow descent into miserable shittiness.
That’s not an exaggeration. Remember when P. Diddy was wearing those silly Vote or Die! shirts, and we were all like: “WTF, Puff Daddy!? Are you and The Family going to murder non-voters!? That seems like an overreaction! Ohhhhhhh. You just mean, voting is really important and we should all do it, and you chose that slogan to spread the message? Got it now! Sorry, but that’s stupid. You don’t die when you don’t vote, because we would totally hear about that in the news.”
Anyway. This gratitude stuff is nothing like that. I’m more right about this than Puffy was about the voting/death correlation. Please don’t listen to him, unless it’s his track “Victory” with Notorious B.I.G. because that shit was mad rare.
Find a way to say “Thank you” and really feel, deep in your heart and soul, genuine gratitude that your life doesn’t suck and is actually quite blessed.
“But, Matt! My life DOES suck right now!”
I’m totally putting my hands up right now in the universal sign language for “Fair enough.” I get it. I’m a whiny turd every time something doesn’t go my way, too. It’s because I haven’t mastered this gratitude thing yet and forget how good I really have it.
I forget EVERY DAY.
Right now, a woman in some faraway place is holding her dying child because of the trickle-down effect of not having sanitary drinking water in her village.
Someone else doesn’t know how to read. Someone else can’t find employment. Someone else will get shot or sexually assaulted walking in his or her neighborhood today. Someone else has a child with a terminal illness.
Others can’t pay the electric bill.
Others have no car.
Others have no home.
Others have zero people who love them.
I whined a little yesterday because I got stuck in traffic for, like, 30 minutes, and everything worked out fine.
My 7-year-old asked whether I wanted him to starve to death because his stomach was rumbling before dinner.
Tomorrow, even though I’m a thoughtful eater portion-wise, I am still likely to throw away more food than millions of people scattered throughout the world have available to them.
If You Don’t Start Now, You’ll Forget and Stay on the Hedonic Treadmill (and that’s bad)
I know it sounds like a bunch of hippy dippy bologna.
But this is real. And if you (and I do this constantly, so I have to believe everyone else does too) ever say or think: “When X, Y and Z happens, EVERYTHING is going to be different and I’ll finally be happy!!!” it means you’re an unwitting prisoner on the Hedonic Treadmill. Just running and running and running and never getting anywhere. Just like me.
It’s time to get off.
We celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States tomorrow. The day where most people remember to say “Thank you!”
Please remember to say Thank you.
Just maybe, all that gratitude will be contagious.
And just maybe, if we catch it, it will save our lives.
(Note: A massive Thank You to Amit Amin at Happier Human for all the great content that contributed to this post.)