How Dogs Help Me Cope with Hedonic Adaptation

So you have a great job, you’re making decent money, you hang out with friends on a regular basis and things are going well. But sometimes it all just feels like, blah.

On paper you should be happy, but it just isn't that way day to day. You have everything you need and most of what you want, so why don’t you FEEL as happy as you think you should?

You loved your job in the beginning, but now you’re bored and sick of it. You are in love with your partner, but the relationship just doesn’t have the same thrill that it used to its first couple of years. You feel like you should experience euphoric feelings more frequently, but you just don’t. Why?

If you can relate to any of this you are experiencing what is called hedonic adaptation. Essentially hedonic adaptation, or “pleasure adaptation” is the ability to adapt to changes in life, either good or bad. It’s also a theory of a survival mechanism in the brain. If you experienced a traumatic event, like the loss of a loved one or a car crash, hedonic adaptation helps us go back to relatively normal level of contentment, a “set-point.” Every person’s set point or baseline is different, thanks to genetics. It helps balance us after a traumatic event so we can go on living life and function day to day. So what happens when you don’t have a traumatic event happening weekly in your life? Hedonic adaptation is still at work, so things just start to feel boring. What was once exciting is now mundane.

This feeling has plagued me so badly over the years. It bothered me so much I started researching why I felt this way. Once I found out that hedonic adaptation is actually a thing, it really helped me get a grasp on my feelings. Just having the understanding that we are programmed to adapt to our routine and environment really helped.

I consider myself a gypsy and I have enjoyed living in different places over the past 15 years. The biggest motivation behind these moves has been boredom of my environment. I get sick of the state I’m living in and seeing the same place every day. The things that the location has to offer don’t fulfill me anymore. Where I work and where I live by far made me feel like I was on the “hedonic treadmill” so many times throughout my adult life.

Using a treadmill as an analogy helps paint a picture of how HA makes us think. Essentially you can go through life accumulating all the material items/personal goals you want, only to remain stuck at your natural state of happiness. The riches you gain and goals you accomplish will only raise your expectations and leave you no better off. SEE-WANT-OBTAIN-HAPPY-ADAPT-BORED. Does this cycle sound familiar?

Because human beings have the remarkable capacity to grow habituated to most life changes, almost any pleasure can become monotonous overtime. We are prone to take for granted pretty much anything positive that happens to us. Whether it’s a brand new car or reaching a personal fitness goal, that initial boost of happiness fades over time.

So how do we combat these feelings? The number one thing we can do is to acknowledge that adaptation exists. Just understanding that we are biologically programmed to return to a baseline of happiness in order to survive trauma was probably 50% of helping me feel better. Secondly, be grateful. Look at all the things in your life that you have to be grateful for that you take for granted every day. I bet that list is really long; I know it is for me. Lastly, and I would say most importantly, dogs can greatly enhance our happiness. The way dogs’ view life is the antithesis of hedonic adaptation. Dogs see everything through new eyes, everyday. Every morning is like Christmas morning. Every game of fetch is the best game ever. Surrounding myself with dogs and making them not only my career but my lifestyle has helped me snap out of that humdrum, daily-grind feeling so many times. Dogs spark the zeal for adventure and lust for life that I know is always in me, but don’t feel everyday.

Naturally, there are days where I just don’t feel happy at all even though I love where I live and what I do for a living. Now when I feel those emotions, I take a break from what I’m doing and go walk in nature with my dogs, or simply observe them. The pure joy that they experience from something as simple as a stick, recharges me. The more time I spend watching them in their constant state of bliss, helps me put everything into a different perspective. I re-experience the pleasure of smelling the fresh mountain air. I re-experience the joy of just being. I re-experience gratitude for my health and my life.

As if dogs couldn’t do any more for us; they are our greatest role models of how to truly LIVE.  Happiness is infinite from their perspective. It’s always there just waiting to be tapped into; we just have to be mindful to get off the treadmill and enjoy it with them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kerry Hall is the owner of Flash Dog Training in the Denver, CO area. She is a Certified Canine Specialist and Behavior Consultant who specializes in behavioral issues and off-leash training. 

http://www.flashdogtraining.com