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Hedonic Adaptation

Hedonism isn’t a word we use very often. If loosely defined it means happiness achieved through feeling pleasure. Many psychologists say that one of the greatest barriers to happiness is ‘hedonic adaptation.’ When you are getting ready to buy something, you anticipate the pleasure it will bring. However, after you own it for a short while, it gets relegated to the back ground of our consciousness. We get used to having it, and it doesn’t provide as much joy.

Psychologists say this same principle applies to almost everything, from buying electronics to marriage. They also say, that when we think about losing things, due to unfortunate circumstances, we feel the pleasure again. This negative thinking reverses the adaptation’s effect, and shifts it back to where we experience pleasure once again.

I can think of several applications this has to peace of mind.

  • Fasting from things that bring pleasure, or meditating doing nothing can have the effect of our appreciating them more, and giving us time to think about important things and priorities
  • Hesitating: Knowing that an item I want to buy will soon after ownership deliver less pleasure than I imagined it would, may cause me to hesitate before purchasing.
  • Appreciation: When I’m thankful for the things I have, it is okay to think that I could loose them: the opposite of positive thinking can lead to more happiness.
  • Giving: When I let go of money and possessions, for the moment I experience pleasure and pain together: I’m re-living the feelings I had when I originally acquired it, but now know that it will be gone forever. I can imagine the happiness it may bring others. Giving is the antidote for greed and materialism,
  • Relationships:  Friendships and marriages in particular require ongoing investment, since our tendency is to relegate them to the background, yet we want more from them as we get older. Doing all of these things are good for my relationship with my wife: focus on her needs not mine (fasting)- hesitate and think of her first, appreciating her, giving things and myself to her.

Conclusion: To be a good manager of one’s personal finances, it is important to understand the thinking involved when one makes purchases of wants and not essential needs. Marketers of products know what motivates buying decisions. It may be wise to evaluate our emotions when we are getting ready to buy a new car, piece of technology, house, piece of sporting equipment and really anything outside of basic food, shelter and clothing.