I think Henry Cloud hit the nail on the head the wrote the following in his book The Law of Happiness: How Spiritual Wisdom and Modern Science Can Change Your Life– “We are wired to experience happiness, but we keep hitting the wrong buttons in our efforts to turn our happiness on.” Simply put, humans are created and wired in such a way that when properly “turned on,” they get happier!
The good news is that the “wiring” is something we can get a grip on, and includes our physiology, psychology, emotions and spirit. The other news? We often don’t know where the buttons are. Instead of intelligently looking for them, we just keep pushing the wrong ones, hoping happiness will be a click away.
I’m not sure of the exact moment I first experienced the hedonic treadmill effect, but it was early on in life and I knew I didn’t like how it felt. Given society’s material bent coupled with our natural desire to always be wanting more, next, or new, just about everyone has experienced “Hedonic Treadmill fatigue” at some point in their life. What about you?
The real question is how do you get off that treadmill….and stay off?
More good news: there are plenty of powerful, evidenced-based practices and “hacks” to help you get off. Even better, once integrated into your life, these practices bring the very happiness and fulfillment most of us were looking to the treadmill for in the first place. The other news? Two things are required on your part: 1. shift your mindset and 2. you gotta go do something!
For the first four, I’ll go “old school” and look at what the ancients were saying back in the day (the Stoics, of all people):
- Ask “What’s the worst that could happen?”- It takes effort, but doing this helps you put things into perspective very quickly. Is what your experiencing really that bad? Most times not. Thinking about how it would be to lose the people and relationships you love most can dial you back to reality in a hurry. It also makes you more appreciative…and happier.
- Do “as if”- Be determined to work on your emotional fitness. When your negative emotions begin to dominate you (especially anger), think of how you want to be instead and start acting that way on the outside; often, the inside soon follows.
- Make it a treat- Intentionally go without something you like for a short time. Denying yourself makes you appreciate it more once you have it again. This works just as well when done by choice instead of out of need or necessity. It also builds self-discipline and will-power, which practiced long enough can become a sustainable habit.
- Forgive yourself- Yes, you are human and will fail at times. When you start “should-ing” on your self or are getting pummeled without mercy by your inner Ronda Rousey, make a mental shift. View life as a process and events as “mini experiments” and not as something that’s pass/fail. Take the long-view and focus on what you’re learning instead.
The next 3 come from contemporary research:
- Ask “What’s the best version of me”- You’ll have to set aside some time and give it intentional thought, but this one is worth it….both for you and everyone else. One of the best ways to do it is simply imagine yourself 10, 20, or 30 years in the future as if all your goals have been accomplished. If someone were video taping your life and playing back for you, what would be seeing? Once done the pay-off can be huge as you gain clarity on what you value, what’s missing and where you want to go with your life.
- Make your experience new, different and surprising- Hey, the reality is that we adapt to just about everything (and everyone) in our life start taking the familiar for granted. It’s just a fact of life and can serve us well at times. When that process isn’t serving you so well, then a little tweak is often all it takes to get the spark, novelty and enjoyment back. In addition, adding a little spice in the way of gratitude and savoring can also work magic.
- Ask “What would I do if this were my last month?”- Jolt your system to full attention by asking yourself this question when faced with a decision to do something. In addition to perspective, you gain inner motivation that can fuel you to get off your rear and actually do something. To me, this is a version of Andy Stanley’s “best question ever”, or “what is the wise thing to do?” Even if you can’t get into thinking its’ your last month, the reality is that you do have a terminal appointment and the number of marbles you have left is limited; go ahead and use that fact to your advantage now.
While the 7 action steps listed here can get you off that dreaded treadmill, there are many more. Next, I’ll list ones that are more distinctly spiritual, which Dr. Cloud expounds on in his book on Happiness. Like the 7 listed here, contemporary research supports these also and the scriptures have been telling us about them for a long, long time.
How would you rate your happiness factor on a scale of 0 – 10? If it’s less than you want it to be, what’s the next best step you’ll commit to taking in order to make some forward progress?
It’s a journey for everyone so please leave a comment and let me know how it is or isn’t coming along for you.