Hedonic Treadmill

adaption by laura edelbacher

The hedonic treadmill is the supposed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes. According to this theory, as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness. Brickman and Campbell coined the term in their essay ‘Hedonic Relativism and Planning the Good Society’ (1971). During the late ’90s, the concept was modified by Michael Eysenck, a British psychology researcher, to become the current ‘hedonic treadmill theory’ which compares the pursuit of happiness to a person on a treadmill, who has to keep working just to stay in the same place. The general idea of the ‘Hedonic (or Happiness) Set Point’ has gained interest throughout the field of positive psychology.

Research supports a three-factor model, where our level of happiness is 50% determined by genetics, 10% determined by outside circumstances, and 40% determined by intentional activities. That last factor, of intentional activities, is the focus of positive psychology, especially because not all activities are equally effective at helping one to reach the higher end of their happiness range. One study concluded that life goals along with personality characteristics are important determinants of one’s subjective well-being. Life goals that enrich one’s relationships and social resources, such as altruistic and family oriented goals, increase their level of subjective well-being. On the other hand, materialistic life goals, such as monetary achievement, have a negative effect on people’s overall subjective well-being.


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