There are many misconceptions about happiness.
If you believe all the hype, you might think you should be happy all of the time and if you’re not, you’re doing something wrong.
Even though we have been brainwashed into believing we deserve to live on a happiness high, this is never going to happen thanks to hedonic adaptation. Read more about this and the purpose of your emotions in my column from last week.
Both positive and negative emotions are part of your brain’s survival strategies. As a result, everyone encounters emotional dips and bumps. Recognizing when you have hit an emotional speed bump or pothole will help you keep the experience in perspective.
If someone mentions a hangover you may smile, but mostly because you can probably recall suffering from one and are glad you aren’t hung-over now. An alcohol-induced hangover starts with overindulgence that’s often accompanied by a heightened level of happiness. These feelings are soon replaced by negative ones and possibly headaches and vomiting.
In positive psychology, a change from strongly positive emotions to intensely negative ones is known as the “Hangover Effect.”
Imagine receiving a promotion or being hired for a new job. You’d probably walk in on your first day, full of energy and fantastic new ideas. But once you’ve settled in and been in the position for a while, the shine might well begin to come off the experience. The discouraging steep learning curve and extra energy needed to keep all the new balls in the air is draining you. You may even find yourself wishing you’d never applied for this new job.
The good news is hangovers don’t last forever. Hedonic adaptation means your feelings will eventually return to whatever is normal for you.
On the other end of the spectrum is what’s termed the “Honeymoon Effect.”
If you have ever been in a long-term relationship, think about your level of happiness in the early days compared to how you felt years later. The overwhelming joy that filled every aspect of your life dims as time goes on.
That doesn’t mean you’ve stop loving your partner, but you’re unlikely to experience the same level of intensity you did in the early days. This is known as the honeymoon effect.
Any time you experience intensely positive feelings, hedonic adaptation is going to encourage you to return to moderate happiness.
Think about how you felt after winning an award, getting a promotion, becoming engaged or any other fantastic event you’ve experienced. You were probably glowing with happiness, full of energy and ready to conquer the world.
Are you still glowing? Probably not, especially if the event happened some time ago. The memory may make you feel good but you’re unlikely to be jumping up and down with joy. Extreme emotions naturally dim with time.
Although you can’t stop hedonic adaptation, there are some things you can do to slow it down or speed it up depending on whether you’re experiencing a hangover or honeymoon.
• View happiness as a journey, not as something you need to pursue. If you see each buzz of happiness as just one phase on a longer trek you won’t be disappointed as your emotions dim. It is the path you travel that provides you with happiness, not any one event or object.
• When you’ve achieved something that makes you happy, take time every day to appreciate it. Don’t just take it for granted and let hedonic adaptation move in for the kill. Keep your positive emotions alive by reminding yourself why something made you happy in the first place.
• Be cautious when interpreting feelings of dissatisfaction, anger, or irritation. You may simply be experiencing a bump or dip. Don’t do anything hasty or rash. Wait until you’re sure you’re experiencing longer-lasting negative emotions and not just a temporary dip. Sleeping on it is a great strategy for this.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.