Yesterday, I had one of those precious moments of clarity that you wish you could take a magical snapshot of so you don’t lose it again.
I know writing helps me process things better, and I think you’ll benefit from me sharing this nugget, too. There’s a bit of set-up, but hang with me — I know you’ll relate.
As I was procrastinating getting out of bed on a rare Saturday I could sleep in (ok not as rare as you parents, y’all have my sympathy ), I was poking around Yelp to choose a nail salon and ended up looking at my past reviews, which I haven’t done in… maybe ever.
(Brief sidebar: I am a total Yelp power-user both locally and anytime I travel, but an embarrassingly bad contributor. I had long-since deleted some of my old reviews for things like barbecue joints that don’t align with my values anymore, leaving me with a paltry 17 reviews. I’m publicly holding myself accountable here to contribute more… starting with the two I wrote yesterday afternoon!)
I came across the review I had written for Inner Light Yoga (ILY), the studio where I teach in Nashville, which was the first place that ever really felt like a yoga home to me. (ILY doesn’t have a ton of reviews on Yelp, since most folks do fitness reviews on MindBody or ClassPass.) Here’s the 5-star review I wrote in 2017, about 3 months after ILY opened and 4 months before I started teaching there.
When I read that review yesterday, it hit me hard:
Shit, I have been totally taking this wonderful thing in my life for granted.
I mean, don’t get me wrong — I still take my teaching very seriously, and am 1000% behind ILY’s mission, leadership, and community. And I still love the classes — I had just gone to a lovely class on Friday afternoon. Yeah, living a bit out in the country means it’s not as easy for me to get to class as some folks, but guys, I can go an UNLIMITED AMOUNT and there have often been weeks where I don’t get to a single class.
I know I am lucky to A) even have this studio to practice in, and B) have the incredible opportunity to be part of the studio family. So how did I get to this point where I had lost sight of just how freaking awesome this part of my life was?
Here’s where the universal part of this lesson comes in.
My mindset creep was happening courtesy of a concept in psychology called hedonic adaptation, AKA the “hedonic treadmill.” It means that, despite positive or negative life events or changes, we tend to return to to a fairly stable level of happiness.
A famous example of this concept is a study which found that, after an initial boost, lottery winners typically returned to their pre-win levels of happiness. Even as someone who knows money can’t buy happiness, I remember being surprised the first time I heard this — surely people would be happier once they have the ability to travel to foreign lands and not have to stress about retirement savings and mortgage payments! But no — assuming that their basic needs were already fairly well met, becoming stupid-wealthy did not make them happier. And chances are, now they just have a more expensive mortgage payment.
Other, perhaps more relatable examples of hedonic adaptation might be:
- loving your home when you first move in, and over time, finding more things that “need to be redone” or reasons to move when actually it’s still pretty great (#itme 🙈)
- not having as much appreciation for your spouse or long-term partner, and being quicker to identify their “flaws”
- feeling like you have nothing nice to wear, when the clothes or shoes you bought last year were things you really loved at the time
- reaching a new level of “success” or achievement in your professional life and acknowledging it for all of five minutes before you’re discontent and wanting to work toward the next goal/project
This point in the article would be a good time to check in with yourself:
Where might hedonic adaptation be showing up in your life?
After coming to this realization yesterday, I made an internal re-commitment to honoring the badass-ness that is my relationship with ILY — and got honest with myself about some of the other areas where hedonic adaptation is definitely sneaking into my life.
…And then what?
Insight is never enough — or as they say in the 12-step rooms, “self-knowledge avails us nothing.” So how can you and I both do more to prevent the creep of hedonic adaptation, and try to “reverse” it when we find it at work?
The most obvious response might be “adopt a gratitude practice,” and I would say — yes, and… it must be adopted with Beginner’s Mind. A gratitude practice can be hugely impactful — but if you get into a rut of acknowledging gratitude for the same things all the time, you might as well hop on that hedonic treadmill. It can become rote, even if,at your core, you are genuinely grateful for that stuff.
My response? It has to be gratitude + wonder.
Gratitude alone says: “I’m lucky to have these books. It’s pretty great that I have the financial privilege to have bought them, and the educational privilege to enjoy reading them.”
Gratitude plus Wonder or Beginner’s Mind says: “Holy shit, LOOK at all these awesome books! Are these seriously MY books? *browses all the spines, pulls some of them off the shelf* Imagine what 13-year-old Val would think of this collection. This is badass!”
The first example is very intellectualized, while the second feels much more embodied and in touch with the emotional layer of the experience — and modern neuroscience has proven that, to actually soak in our positive experiences, we have to intentionally connect with emotion.
To some degree, hedonic adaptation is very natural. But new research in positive psychology is revealing that we can absolutely learn to better support ourselves in basking in the full goodness of life — and building resiliency for when life knocks us down.
I’ll leave you with this journaling prompt:
What would your 13-year-old self be amazed by in your life right now?
Why Gratitude Without Wonder is Insufficient
April 21, 2019