Stressed about gifts this holiday season? 6 Ways to Hop off the Hedonic Treadmill...

Uncategorized Dec 06, 2020

There are exactly 19 shopping days before Christmas, 4 shopping days before Hanukkah. And if you’re anything like me, today is a day to give your Visa card a workout and get down to some serious holiday gifting. 

But before you do, I want to tell you about the hedonic treadmill. Don’t worry, this isn’t the latest workout craze with a waitlist as long as a Peloton. 

The Hedonic Treadmill

The Hedonic Treadmill is what psychologists call our human tendency to have our pleasure diminish over time, little by little things that used to give us a big hit of happiness.

We are highly adaptable creatures. Our ability to quickly adapt and habituate to a situation has kept us alive for thousands of years in an ever-changing environment. 

The advantages of adaptation
My twins just turned 15 years old and recently got their driver’s permits. Learning how to make a left turn at a traffic light gives them a thrill (and me a panic attack) like nothing else right now. Making a left turn 5 years from now? Well, it’ll be no big deal for them, probably won’t even be a big deal 5 months from now. 

Our ability to adapt to things/people/experiences means we don’t have to re-learn how to drive a car each time we get in the driver’s seat. That would be exhausting! 

Our brains evolve into wanting bigger and better thrills. We crank the stereo, crave a convertible, or fantasize about race car driving school (ummm that would be my husband - NOT me). 

Our shift into autopilot where we always make a left turn to drive into the school even if we were actually on our way to the grocery store! And as we continue to adapt and habituate, we forget to appreciate those heated seats we had wanted for so long when we were young. Before the new car smell has even worn off, our happiness levels adjust quickly to our “new normal”. 

This adaptation wiring is a helpful skill of ours because it also means that if something catastrophic happens to us, and we lose a limb, we also adjust to this “new normal” and return to our old happiness levels, pretty quickly. 

The downside of the Hedonic Treadmill

As positive psychology researcher, Sonja Lyubomirsky, summarizes in her book, The How of Happiness, Hedonic Adaptation is a positive adaptive quality especially when we’re going through a negative event, but if we've got a new partner, a new job, or a new iPhone it's not exactly helpful to have our happiness boost have the attention span of a goldfish.

Marketers take full advantage of this, especially this time of year. But think about it, as sexy as the iPhone 12 looks, it’ll probably be nowhere near as thrilling as when you first upgraded from a flip phone (admittedly, I still want the new one!).

Now I’m not here to be the grinch who stole retail therapy.

I’m as excited as any time-starved mom to bring magic to the holiday season while simultaneously wondering if we have obscure C or D batteries or the patience to ponder pages of directions that may as well have been written in a foreign language. My kids are older, so, thankfully, gifting doesn’t require either! 

I wish I had known (when they were younger) that the happiness these objects bring are short-lived and we’re wired to have that pleasure decrease over time. Because I could’ve lowered my stress levels about finding the “perfect” gift.

I still adore the magic of Christmas morning, I’m not opting out of consumerism, and I love the ritual of giving gifts that make people laugh, cry, or feel fabulous.

But I also know how to counteract the Hedonic Treadmill in a way that brings much more meaning, fulfillment, and a much deeper sense of happiness to my life and my gifting.

Here are 6 ways to counteract the Hedonic Treadmill

  • Savoring
    Savor your stuff. I regularly reflect on how much I love my books, my camera, or a sweater that makes me feel fabulous. Savoring the future is also a positive thing. So if you want to luxuriate in what you’re looking forward to post-pandemic (hugs, dinners out on the town, travel), that is also a way to get off of the Hedonic Treadmill.

    My signature course, the Life Feast is all about savoring. Photography is a very natural way we already savor our past and our present.

  • Gratitude
    Practice gratitude (and teach your kids felt gratitude that goes beyond the thank you note), because gratitude is a form of savoring. True gratitude goes deep to improve our relationships, our fulfillment, and our overall joy in life. 

PS I’m hosting a 3-day FREE gratitude gravy challenge this week that runs Dec 8-10, 2020 to help us counteract the season of stuff.  There’s one challenge dedicated to loving on the little things in our lives and a gift idea gratitude practice that is a holiday and relationship game-changer - you’ll love it. You can sign up for the gratitude gravy challenge right here.

  1. Decrease Materialism
    Materialism is really just the “expectation” that something should bring you lasting happiness. And the emptiness of it is that we aren’t wired for that. So even just having this expectation change by reading this blog post enables you to enjoy the gift-giving season in a different way. Less stress, less expectations means more enjoyment in the moment.

    CREATIVITY is also a great antidote to materialism. If you’re creating more you are consuming less. This is something I regularly strive to keep in balance and teach in the life feast.

  2. Decrease Social Comparison
    We call this “compare and despair” in the Life Feast. This is when your Hedonic Treadmill is positioned smack dab next to the Joneses and you really start running in circles. Gratitude helps with this. So does getting out of perfectionism (something else we work on in the Life Feast in a playful f*ck perfectionism kind of way). Mindfulness also helps by giving you pause to notice that you’re in compare and despair and then it gives you space to step OUT of it and back into what’s truly important to you.

  3. Meaning & Purpose
    Committing to a life of more meaning and purpose goes beyond the Amazon shopping cart (no judgment, mine is full of crap, too). In the Life Feast, we find more meaning in the mundane through creativity. We get out of our comfort zones to live life on purpose, we spend time identifying our values and we give ourselves permission to be human (i.e. we can still have that full shopping cart, we are human, after all!).

  4. Mindfulness
    Mindfulness gives you the ability to stop and pause and check-in with yourself. Are you adapting to something? Are you taking a relationship for granted? Mindfulness gets you out of autopilot and into the moment. This is what the December Life Feast focus is ALL about - the art of awareness. Presence > presents.

This isn’t an easy holiday season.

Not getting these little positive bursts from interacting with lovely shopkeepers or a dopamine burst from doing laps on Mainstreet or in the mall is a challenge right now.

This shirt is by my friend, Melissa, of Heaven and Cake. It's adorable. I have bought SEVERAL to gift this holiday season! You have my full permission to stock up on these babies and gift some laughs this month!

Planning a Zoom caroling session definitely doesn’t have the same allure as singing with humans in person. We're all tired of this sh*t.

The Gift of the Pandemic
But if there’s anything this pandemic has given us, it’s the gift of noticing what we had previously taken for granted, something that was on our Hedonic Treadmill. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t miss something really simple and basic right now that, a year ago, probably hadn’t occurred to them to savor a little longer.

I promise that life's absurdity, beauty, and strange charisma is wildly abundant, even in the challenges of a pandemic. So let’s gift intentionally, pay attention, get creative, and spend some time noticing the wonders instead of running one more lap on the Hedonic Treadmill this holiday season. 

Lizzie Larock

PS if you want to sign up for the FREE 3-day gratitude gravy challenge, you can join it right here! Dec 8-10, 2020


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