Posts » On happiness

Two years ago I learned about hedonic adaptation and it changed my life forever.

To those of you who haven’t came across it, it’s (after Wikipedia) an observed tendency in humans to return to a stable level of happiness after major shake ups, either up or down the scale.

Think about it: we always want more, be it a new car, a new gadget, a bigger house, more adrenaline or fame. We always want something else and at the end it doesn’t make us any happier. Then we start crazing for that one more thing…

Over the eons of human development it drove our ancestors in looking for safer places to sleep, eat, and reproduce. Those who succeeded ended up with more resources, becoming healthier, living longer, and raising more kids who passed the trait down the generations. So here we are now: the offspring of people who wanted more. Those who wanted less stopped at an earlier station, said “we are good enough”, didn’t pass their genes as many times, and eventually (statistically) died out.

To me the last sentence points to where happiness starts: at an earlier station.

Stop now and look back. Look at your life and see what you’ve accomplished so far. First of all you are alive thanks to safer environment, you are educated to read these words (possibly not in your mother’s tongue), lucky enough to have a way to read them, and safe enough to reflect on them. Your ancestors would love where you are. If you showed a vaccine to a 18th century ancestor they would be amazed it can save their kids from dying. How about showing the Internet to a 16th century man? “That’s so amazing!”, she would have said. How about showing Renaissance paintings in the 5th century, the Pyramids in 20,000 BC, or writing 100,000 BC - same stories. And there are thousand more examples.

Now think about our daily lives - how much do we underappreciate our past inventions? How do we treat our current living conditions as a baseline and let anxiety kick in? Think of the last time you got flu and wished to be healthy again. We quickly get used to “better”, don’t we?

Now here’s the hard part: we should let go the craze for more and start appreciating what we already have. Since the obsession for more is imprinted in us it won’t be easy, but it’s worth doing for the sake of our future. What if we taught our kids to appreciate what humanity invented so far? What if we made a habit of reflecting on our journey and how far it took us? Finally what if we judged people’s success not on resources they accumulated but how fulfilling lives they live?

I started my journey by writing down a list of things I appreciate and how I want to live my life to make the most out of them. The list lies next to my bed and I reflect on it every morning after I wake up. There’s a long journey ahead but I appreciate a lot more these days.

And eventually with appreciation comes happiness.