The Surprising Truth about the Hedonic Treadmill

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Photo by Lidya Nada on Unsplash

Maybe you are one of those people who say all they want in life is to be happy. To wake up every day in a world that is just like you have always wanted it to be, with a house on the beach, surrounded by nature, yet having all amenities of urbanity right at your doorstep; being super successful, while working 2 hours a day; having the perfect relationship and tons of lovers and admirers; being so trim that even Gwen Stefanie gets jealous, while eating everything you want. Or something like that.

Well, actually it’s more mundane and takes much less effort.

The thing is…

Ah, first things first: What is happiness?

Happiness is a living process. Things come and go. Some you like, some you don’t like. If you like what’s in front of you, you are happy, if you don’t like what’s in front of you, you are unhappy.

The idea that the world will adjust to your likes and dislikes is what you find in two years old. Get over it.

The idea that happiness needs to come from inside is widely spread. The problem is, that we expect it to come from a deep peace from within, where everything is unicorns and rainbows. In order to get there, we are told to listen to our feelings and to express our wants and needs and then find a way to fulfil them. If you believe this, you need to check on this one, too.

We hear everywhere that being happy is the solution, but it’s not.

Being slightly unhappy is good

Evolution helped us to always be just a little bit unsatisfied. Experts also say, that this is the hedonic treadmill. Recent literature warns us to get out of that treadmill. It’s said to be a result of capitalism.

“Just be happy and content with what you have” you will hear in various variations.

The desire to be happy is itself making you unhappy.

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of.” Albert Camus

Here is a secret: The treadmill and your happiness are unrelated.

The most successful people feel the most inadequate. They constantly try to improve because they think they suck. We then say things like “See, money and fame don’t make you happy”. Right, they don’t. They are unrelated (if I may repeat myself).

The treadmill is part of the human condition and lets you grow.

Happiness then comes from accepting this condition and letting it be.

The Process of (un)Happiness


Being unhappy is good, not bad. The hedonic treadmill is good, not bad.

Wanting to achieve more, be more, do more is good. If you depend your happiness on achievement on any of this, you lose. If you depend your happiness on doing this, you win.

Researcher & author for eco-living. Merging philosophy, psychology & personal development with ecology.

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