Hedonistic Adaptation

One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations. Once people begin to enjoy new luxuries they tend to become expected and then count on them.

– Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens

This iron law is part of the phenomenon psychologists have termed the Hedonistic Treadmill or Hedonistic Adaptation, defined on Wikipedia as:

(…) the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.

I’ve noticed this in myself and my peers in the form of an almost pre-defined path of ever-increasing consumption, complexity, busy-ness, inertia, and expenses. It goes like this: graduate from college, buy a new car, move in with significant other in apartment that requires two incomes, get a dog, buy a house on the borderline of affordability, start having kids, get bigger/better car,  get bigger/better house in the suburbs, enroll kids in private school, etc, etc. It’s questionable whether these “upgrades” truly make us happier, and therefore we should all put some thought into each one rather than following the path that seems to be tread for us by social proof.

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