Are You Sabotaging Your Own Happiness?

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What will it take for you to be truly happy?  I’ll bet you have a list of hopes that finish the sentence: “I’ll be happy when…. ”

My list used to go like this:  I’ll be happy when I have the job of my dreams.  I’ll be happy when I live in a place I love.  I’ll be happy when I have a husband who loves me and happy, healthy kids. I’ll be happy when I’m fitter. I’ll be happy when I have more money than I can spend.

Any of these sound familiar?

While hope is vital, waiting for happiness to arrive so you can really start living is a game that never ends. 

The problem is even when these hopes finally become reality, they don’t make us as intensely happy for near as long as we think they will—leaving us feeling confused, ungrateful and wondering why on earth our happiness never seems to last.

Haven’t we all been there at some point?

The good news is there’s nothing wrong with you.  Scientists have discovered that we have a built-in capacity to adapt to both the agony of defeat and the thrill of victory. 

This phenomenon is known as “hedonic adaptation.”  And it’s a completely normal part of human functioning that protects us from being dragged down into emotional pits and from experiencing nonstop joy.

Professor Sonya Lyubomirsky in her new book The Myths of Happiness notes that what’s particularly fascinating about this phenomenon is that it becomes more pronounced with respect to positive experiences.

We all adapt to things that make us happy.

In fact, we’re prone to take for granted pretty much everything positive that happens to us.  Be it a new relationship, a new job or incredible wealth, over time these changes yield fewer and fewer rewards.

Luckily, research suggests several secrets to overcoming, forestalling or at least slowing down hedonic adaptation, including:

  • Truly appreciating what you have
  • The importance of variety
  • The power of novelty and surprise
  • Finding new meaning in what you’re doing
  • Not comparing yourself to others

Instead of despairing about why things no longer made me happy, I learned to use these approaches to tweak my experiences and restore the joy in the things I’d longed for.  While I still have hopes for the future, they’re no longer hopes on which my happiness depends.  I’ve finally learned how to be happy right now.

What can you try to stall hedonic adaptation when it comes to your happiness?

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