Have you ever found yourself wondering ‘what’s next?’ after achieving a goal? 

Many people who buy a house, get married, or finally get that promotion they’ve always wanted, find that the honeymoon phase seems to get over quite soon. 

What seems to be the most important event or goal in life, once accomplished, gives way to the next big goal. Many people start looking for something new and exciting to do or get.

What’s happening here?

This is a well-researched phenomenon called ‘hedonic adaptation’ or the hedonic treadmill. 

Hedonic adaptation refers to the experience of returning to a baseline level of happiness after a positive or negative event. 

A landmark study looked at the lives of people who won the lottery and other people who were in a severe accident that led to them becoming paraplegics. The findings were fascinating as both groups of people who experienced great fortune and misfortune eventually returned a former level of emotional steadiness.

Those who did go through the accident said that they were happier in the past when they remembered life before the event. However, after a few years, they were likely to return to a state of normalcy. 

Humans are adaptive beings. We also cannot sustain heightened emotions for long periods of time. No matter how good or terrible something seems at the moment, in time, we’ll return to a state of emotional steadiness. 

Why learn about hedonic adaption

Understanding hedonic adaptation will help us make better choices in our life. When you’re unaware that returning to a baseline level of feeling in life is normal, you may constantly seek unrealistic goals or thrills that offer temporary relief. 

Instead of seeking highs, you can focus on activities and goals that lead to consistent levels of happiness. You’ll develop a long-term view of life and build expectations that are sustainable. In short, you’ll be able to plan for exciting experiences while nurturing your baseline emotional level.

How to apply lessons from hedonic adaptation in life

So, how can we make use of our understanding of hedonic adaptation? When we know that things like making more money or even falling in love lead to highs that will flatten out, we can make better choices. Here are a few ways to leverage this phenomenon for a better life. 

Set goals that improve others’ lives

While goals like making more money, having a relationship, or being fit are all necessary, once you achieve them, you’ll still feel like you need something more.

Setting goals that involve helping others or contributing to the world will give you a sense of meaning. It will form a purpose in life that never dies out. 

So, make it a point to include objectives in your life with the aim of doing something beyond your own needs. Think about supporting a charitable organization or volunteering.

Today, with the world impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ll find many businesses contributing to society by opening up their offerings or giving training material for free. 

Use inspiration like these to think about how you can extend yourself in an altruistic way.

Delay gratification

Too much of a good thing becomes an uninteresting thing. Meaningful pleasure in life will come from consciously delaying gratification. This is especially important in a world where social media and content stimulates us constantly. 

Developing the habit of delayed gratification such as finishing your work first and then settling down to watch TV. Or saving money and waiting for a good deal before spending is far more beneficial in the long run.

Rotate your pleasures

To avoid seeking overstimulating pleasure in the form of spending or consuming content, try to develop varied hobbies and interests. 

Plan your week or your day so that you have a clear agenda. This can include work, exercise, skill-building through online courses, and more. 

The less ‘open’ your time is, the less likely you are to fall into the trap of seeking the next big high through social media, gaming, or other activities that don’t enhance your life. 

It’s also a good idea to choose challenging work such as learning a new language because when you do see an improvement, the labor you’ve put in will lead to a proportionally higher level of happiness. 


The phenomenon of hedonic adaptation is simply a fact of life. We will return a sense of normalcy no matter how much we achieve or even when we have challenging experiences.

The real goal is to be aware of this phenomenon and to be prepared. You can practice delayed gratification, set more lofty goals, or challenge yourself.

When you understand how the hedonic treadmill works, you’ll be able to shape your life by leveraging it. Go ahead use the tips here to find contentment and stability in the long-run.