Can We Really Change How Happy We Are—for Good?None By Acacia Parks, Ph.D.
Happify is all about teaching people how to change their happiness levels. Despite controversy over the past several decades about whether or not it’s even possible to get happier in the long run, recent research has reached the overwhelming conclusion that yes, it is. Here's why.
Hedonic Adaptation: Why We Get Used to the Good Stuff (and the Bad)
The majority of research around changing our happiness levels revolves around a concept called hedonic adaptation. It sounds like a mouthful, but you'll get the idea right away: Hedonic adaptation is when something good or bad happens to you and, with the passage of time, you get used to it. For example, imagine your first big breakup. At the time, it might have seemed like the world was going to end, but today, you’ve moved on, and chances are it doesn’t affect you much anymore. You can thank hedonic adaptation for that!
Unfortunately, hedonic adaptation also applies to positive events, like moving into a new home that you love. The beautiful view out of your bedroom window, the pool you were so thrilled about, or whatever else made the experience of moving exciting eventually becomes your everyday reality. Research finds that hedonic adaptation happens with the majority of good and bad things that happen to us in our daily lives.
Why? Adaptation is a system that exists in the body to help maintain balance. Anything intense that happens to you—good or bad, your body doesn’t know the difference—puts you into “stress mode,” and when your body is stressed, it puts off important basic functions (like digesting and healing) in favor of functions that would help you escape mortal danger. People who are chronically stressed have all sorts of problems because their bodies don't have time to take care of themselves.
Similarly, if you walked around all day long, ecstatic about your new car, your body would never get a break. Therefore, when it comes to everyday stress, your body’s number one priority is to get you back to “neutral” to keep your stress levels down. It looks at an event and, after it’s excited you a few times, says “Oh yeah, I know what that is, I don’t need to get all worked up about it.”
How to Make Happiness Last
I’ve argued that the body inevitably goes back to “normal,” so how, then, is it possible to lastingly increase your