We can learn how to increase our happiness set-point to make it easier to create peace and freedom around food, your body and your weight. Read on to learn how you can make your weight loss journey easier. And have some fun along the way.
To begin, we need to recognize the effects of hedonic adaptation on our happiness level and how to overcome it to find greater pleasure, gratification and enjoyment in life.
Hedonic adaptation, also known as “the hedonic treadmill,” is a concept studied by positive psychology researchers. It refers to people’s general tendency to return to their own unique level of day-to-day happiness despite life’s ups and downs.
Hedonic adaptation is often called “the hedonic treadmill” because, like tedious walking on a treadmill, we plod through life at the same happiness level. Or without giving much thought to what we can do to increase our daily happiness level.
What’s your happiness set-point?
Researchers explain that we each have a happiness set-point.
They contend that even though we may experience times of extreme happiness, and, conversely times of extreme sadness, disappointment or grief, the happiness pendulum always seems to swing back to center and return to our individual happiness set-point.
Simply stated, we adapt to circumstances.
Here are a few examples of hedonic adaptation at work.
People who win the lottery tend to return to roughly their original levels of happiness after the novelty wears off. While there’s an initial flood of joy, after about a year, winners seem to revert to their previous happiness set-point. They’ve adapted to their new circumstances.
The same is true for people who experience a terrible accident resulting in permanent paralysis. At first, this recognition and new reality can be devastating. But research reveals that they tend to return to their pre-accident levels of happiness once they’ve adjusted to their new normal.
Researchers find that the first bite of something delicious is more pleasurable than the third. We become accustomed to the pleasurable taste rather quickly. You can use this phenomenon to your advantage when deciding on the portion size of a dessert treat you want to plan ahead to enjoy.
How our happiness level can affect successful weight loss.
Researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky has researched the happiness set-point.
She’s found that our experience of our day-to-day happiness level is a result partially of genetics, a bit from our environment and the rest from our own thinking.
She reports that 50% of our happiness set-point is due to genetics, while 10% is affected primarily by our environment.
This leaves 40% that is subject to our intentional influence. And that, my friend, is the best news ever!
You can develop a more optimistic outlook on your whole weight loss experience by working on your thoughts and feelings about it.
You can consciously decide that finding peace and freedom in your relationship with food, your body and your weight is exciting and energizing. In fact, you can create whatever thoughts motivate you to increase your happiness quotient which, in turn, can permanently increase your happiness set-point.
But in order to raise your happiness set-point and keep it elevated, you must practice new thoughts which reinforce this outlook until they because habitual.
Once they become your new habit of thought, you have created long-lasting change.
Certain pleasurable activities are more subject to hedonic adaptation.
The happiness that certain “pleasures” bring dissipates rather quickly.
They can bring quick bursts of pleasure that are satisfying, for sure, but they are more of the moment than deeply effecting.
Positive psychology researcher Martin Seligman, one of the pioneers in this field, explains pleasures like this:
“The pleasures are delights that have clear sensory and strong emotional components, what philosophers call ‘raw feels’: ecstasy, thrills…delight, mirth, exuberance, and comfort. They are evanescent, and they involve little, if any, thinking.
These pleasures can lift your spirits, improve your mood and leave you feeling wonderful, but their effects can be relatively fleeting. What’s more, we get used to them relatively quickly. Hedonic adaptation at work.
If you have the same meal every day for a week, for example, you’ll likely find it to be less pleasurable by the end of the week.
Gratifications can prolong happiness.
Seligman also researched gratification. This includes those activities that get us into a feeling of “flow.” That’s when we don’t notice the passage of time. We’re thoroughly engaged in what we’re doing.
This effect occurs most easily when we face a challenge that’s both fun and not too difficult. Just difficult enough to keep us feeling challenged.
Gratifications, as well as activities that present a strong sense of meaning to us, are more resistant to the effects of hedonic adaptation.
The more we engage in gratifications, the more we enjoy them.
Although these are activities that require more effort and thought, the payoff is greater. Gratifications include activities that we might think of as hobbies, like needlework, creative writing, art work, sports or learning a new skill like ballroom dancing.
Gratifications can be great stress relievers.
Pursue pleasures when you need a quick and easy dose of happiness.
Because pleasures are fleeting in their effects you might think they’re worth less effort than gratifications. But, there are reasons why engaging in pleasures can be perfect for certain situations.
First, they bring a quick lift in mood without a great deal of effort. This mood boost is actually quite valuable because there is significant research showing that a lift in mood can lead to a chain reaction of positive feelings and increased resilience. Two very important components of successful weight loss.
Basically, pleasures can create an “upward spiral of positivity.” This can lead to greater happiness and resilience to stress. For the little effort they require, this is a result worth appreciating.
Gratifications take more focus and effort. So when you only have a few minutes or a very limited amount of energy, pleasures are often the simpler and more accessible option to boost your mood. Netflix anyone?
Helping others helps you too.
Altruism really does have many benefits to the giver as well as the receiver.
Meaningful activities like volunteering for a good cause or helping a friend offer real benefits. Seligman found that although these efforts may take time and energy and may not always be enjoyable to you, they can bring lasting results in terms of your overall happiness and inner peace.
Consider meaningful acts to boost your happiness quotient. They seem to transcend the effects of the hedonic treadmill.
You can minimize hedonic adaptation.
Hedonic adaptation is a fact of life.
However, it’s easy to engage in activities that are more immune to the effects of the hedonic treadmill.
When you create a greater level of happiness in your life, it becomes easier to integrate the new behaviors and habits beneficial to the weight loss process into your daily routine.
Here are some ideas to help you limit the effects of hedonic adaptation.
This advice actually elevates the level of happiness in your life.
- Find time for a variety of pleasures. Plan for them throughout your day. Grab that cup of coffee. Call that friend for a quick catch up. Buy those flowers in the market.
- Rotate your pleasures so that they always feel new. Just as fresh sheets feel more wonderful than your week-old sheets, a rotation of pleasures is more enjoyable than the same ones for days in a row. When you become slightly bored with your pleasures, try varyingy them.
- Make time for hobbies. It doesn’t really matter what the hobby is. As long as it’s one that you enjoy, you’ll benefit from it.
- Find time for others. Relationships create greater meaning in your life which creates greater happiness. Enjoy meaningful activities with others to shake up hedonic adaptation.
- Savor your positive experiences. This is a great way to enjoy life more without needing to change anything else. With a bit more intention and focused attention, you can amplify the the effects of pleasures, gratifications, and meaningful activities.
- Keep a journal. Maximize the impact of your positive experiences by writing down the things you enjoyed that day. Aim for three experiences a day. You’ll be re-living these positive experiences as you write about them. You can re-live them again when you look back at previous journal entries.
- Observe your happiness levels. If you want to be happier, make time for whatever you can do to lift your mood. Do what you already know makes you happy and/or try new things. Get curious and pick one new thing a week or a month to try.
Hedonic adaptation is here to stay.
BUT! We can still increase our happiness set-point by consciously deciding to add more pleasures, gratifications, and meaningful activities into our lives.
If you’re someone who is naturally happy, this focus on the positive can only help you feel even happier.
If you’re someone who’s bent is less happy or if you’re facing a lot of challenges, this extra attention to minimizing hedonic adaptation can help you to live a more satisfying life.
Up Your happiness set-point to make it easier to find peace and freedom in your relationship with food, your body and your weight.
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