Man is a pliant animal, a being who becomes accustomed to anything. (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
Have you ever heard of hedonic adaptation? Also called the hedonic treadmill, this concept refers to the phenomenon by which our happiness stabilizes after an increase or a decrease caused by positive or negative events in our lives.
In our pursuit of happiness, we often fail to realize that once we have achieved what we believed would bring satisfaction and joy, we eventually return to our previous levels of happiness, as if nothing had ever happened. If you have finally found your soul mate, bought your dream house, landed your dream job or lost weight, and feel happier for of it... that new found happiness might not last. One shocking example of this phenomenon is the fact that people who win the lottery do not experience a permanent, long-lasting change in their levels of happiness past the initial excitement.
(The good news is that this phenomenon also works in the opposite direction. If you have become, say, paraplegic following an accident, your happiness levels might see a drop, but that drop is only temporary.)
In the context of this Less is More project, the phenomenon of hedonic adaptation applies to the pleasure we experience as a result of acquiring things. Have you ever noticed how short-lived the "high" we get from purchasing a coveted item can be? Even the most exciting new acquisition eventually looses its appeal. It becomes part of the decor. We take it for granted. As an exercise, I encourage you to look around your house for objects, big and small, that you were very enthusiastic about in the beginning, but that you now fail to notice or at least fully appreciate.
What lesson should we take from this? Is is worth our money and our planet's natural resources to shop and buy things that will only keep us content for a short amount of time? Does such a short term increase in happiness justify the stress material consumption puts on the environment? Is "I can afford it" a sufficient reason to buy something?
If we want to make ourselves or others happy, is there a way to achieve it without actually buying things?
Next comes the question of experiences. I am wondering if the privileged wouldn't benefit from spacing out their "special outings" such as nights out on the town, weekends away and longer trips in order to appreciate them better. Part of the pleasure in such activities lies in the build-up and the memories. When you do something too often, it's not special anymore, and you don't savour it quite as much.
Do you have any personal, specific examples of how buying less and doing less might actually promote happiness?
WEEK 3 IN REVIEW
Target is closing all its stores in Canada, and that means big sales as they try and get rid of the merchandise. Many friends of mine mentioned going, just in case they find something interesting (notice they did not mention an actual need). When I said I would not go, a coworker told me: "but you might get a super bargain, and maybe you do need something" to which I replied (with a smile): "well of course if I walk into the store I will suddenly discover all those needs I didn't know I had".
Not going. Period.
I went to get a haircut at my usual salon - which is located in a shopping mall. I walked fast and looked ahead of me. Bought nothing. I used the opportunity to be more mindful of my spending: I got a cut but no color. In the coming year I will try and go back to my natural color as part of the Less is More project.
I have a pile of clothes and a pile of books ready to go. I might add to it, as I realized I still own some maternity clothes and baby bedding. Not planning on using those anymore, so... farewell!
Good riddance - the things that are in too bad a shape to even be donated:
I am recycling a number of outdated traveling guides. I am also using an outdated agenda's pictures to make bookmarks, some of which will make fun, homemade presents to fellow readers. Even if that's the farthest my craftiness will go for now, it's still better than nothing.
I realized that:
Owning pets is not a good idea if you want to keep your budget in check. Find tapeworms on a furry friend's behind, get appropriate treatment plus preventive flee treatment for the other furry friends in the house, and my wallet is now $235 lighter. A couple months ago, one canine eye infection cost us about $125. And I'm not talking about the food, the treats, the toys (which we keep at a minimum) and other equipment such as crate, leash, cushions. Which also take up space. But pets are such a nice addition to a home, aren't they?
Like adults, children like new stuff and neglect the old. That is... until you "threaten" them of getting rid of the toys they don't use. All of a sudden my kids are rediscovering what had been hiding at the bottom of the toy chest, and enjoying it fully. The flame has been rekindled.
The problem of presents: I knew it would be an issue. As adults, we can agree on not exchanging presents, but what about the kids? It's only January and between the 2 of them, our girls have already been invited to 4 birthday parties. I was not gonna send them without a present. All I can do is pick something that I think the recipients will like (or a gift card). As for our own kids, we will focus on things they actually need, like a new pair of basketball sneakers, a new bike (the current ones are falling apart), etc. Last year, when R turned 10, instead of presents she decided to ask for donations to the local SPCA. I was very proud of her. We might try and replicate, but of course this is not something we can actually force on children. It has to come from them.
What did you resist this week? Did you donate or get rid of anything? How did that make you feel? Please comment below! And...
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