Have you ever noticed yourself placing emotional value on an item or activity when first obtaining it, such as with the excitement over a new car, house, job or relationship, which brings you great happiness at first, only to find it less emotionally valuable later, maybe causing you to seek a bigger house, nicer car, better job or relationship in the pursuit of more happiness?
THE HEDONIC TREADMILL
Changing the physiology of our body on the hedonic treadmill of happy and unhappy perceptions
ADDICTION TO UNHAPPINESS
As explained in the adjacent video interview of Bestselling author Eckhart Tolle by Oprah Winfrey there is also what is referred to as “addiction to unhappiness”.
"People who grew up with a parenting style characterized by excessive discipline and unrealistic expectations may have learned to equate unhappiness with love and success"
- Dr. David Sanck, Psychology Today
It is in the news, movies, books, music, advertising, religion, politics, and on social media and television. Unhappiness seems to be the underlying theme just about everywhere you turn. It is as if we are on some type of hypnotic roller coaster ride of highs and lows, with many of us experiencing more lows than highs, and it is such a norm in our society that many people do not realize or question it. We set out to explore this phenomenon, so we first asked people if they were happy, and most people said “yes”. We explained this unhappiness and happiness roller coaster and many people said it was just a part of life and insisted that they were happy. Through different conversations in person and those posted on social media, we noticed that many of these people were either stressed out, fearful, resentful, angry or experiencing some type of unhappiness in our presence the majority of the time, but they still insisted that they were happy.
While there is no doubt that unhappiness is part of the human experience, it just did not make sense that most of the time, humans seemed to be feeling some type of unhappiness while calling it happiness. We found many reasons for this phenomenon, which you will read below and throughout this website, but one of the most interesting concepts is the “hedonic treadmill”.
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"Genes predispose some people to focus on the negative." - Dr. Rebecca Todd psychological scientist the University of British Columbia
Or have you felt great as a result of a consulting session with friends and family, a support group, a therapist, or religious or spiritual experiences only to find yourself back into unhappiness shortly thereafter? Maybe you broke a bad habit which brought you great happiness when first experiencing your successful outcome, such as losing weight or quitting smoking, only to find yourself back to those bad habits and their associated unhappiness some time later, and these cycles of happiness and unhappiness seem to go on and on.
One day, we (Keema and Rob) noticed that this was our lives as we seemed to always be on some type of sporadic happy/unhappy seesaw. What was even more interesting is that as we awakened to this awareness, we noticed many people in flux the same way. Distress, worry, fear, resentment, anger -- the list of unhappiness goes on and on.
Psychologists, Drs. Brickman and Campbell, first published the hedonic treadmill hypothesis in 1971 with their essay, Hedonic Relativism and Planning the Good Society.
The hedonic treadmill states that regardless of what happens to us, our level of happiness will return to our baseline after the event. In other words, there is the initial excitement or spike of happiness or unhappiness caused by psychological or physical events, however, as time goes on, the spiked feelings, or high and lows of happiness or unhappiness, start to dissipate. After some time has passed, we are back at the baseline or as the adjacent chart indicates “set level of happiness” that we were at before the event. The words that caught our attention were “baseline" or “set level of happiness”.
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ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE - NOT - THAT IT SHOULD BE YOURS OR ANYONE ELSE’S
Before we get started on our findings, some of the material you are about to read is research that you may already have read in other places on our website. Please keep in mind that the reason we are repeating this information is because it is important in understanding how we came to our conclusions and how this research effects our lives in many ways. In addition, remember that one of the bases of epigenetics and reprogramming the subconscious mind is redundancy, therefore the more you read this material, the more you get a long-lasting understanding of how the hedonic treadmill epigenetically changes the physiology of your body through your happy and unhappy perceptions. The awareness of the hedonic treadmill and its effects on your body throughout your daily life can be beneficial.
Lastly, while there’s at least one element of the hedonic treadmill that doesn’t seem to resonate with our findings, there are many aspects of this concept and its baseline of happiness that we appreciate, and it is not our intent to disprove it. We simply understand that our human experience has programming that includes a negativity bias, the propensity for having repetitive negative thoughts, and an increasingly destructive human nature. We have significant data from multiple arenas which indicate that we are more inclined to experience distress, and find it appropriate to look at unhappiness over happiness as a baseline when thinking about something like the hedonic treadmill.
We thought, if people are stressed out, worried, fearful, angry, resentful, and a host of other negative thoughts and feelings most of the time, and this prominent low-spirited vibratory behavior is reflected in our society through media and other social engineering, then how can the hedonic treadmill baseline be of happiness?
6,000,000 NEGATIVE THOUGHTS AND STATEMENTS
According to the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging (LONI) at the University of Southern California, the average person has upwards of 70,000 thoughts per day. That comes to approximately 48 thoughts per minute. Dr. Joy Miller in the adjacent video talks about how scientists say we have 60,000 thoughts per day, and they estimate that 95% of our thoughts are repetitive (habitual or addictive), and 80% of those repetitive thoughts are negative.
Based on these findings, by midlife (age 40), it is estimated that there are more than 6 million negative or unhappy thoughts and statements that humans are exposed to that are stored in the subconscious mind. These thoughts and statements can be adverse to happiness and contribute to unhappiness.
(See related topic for elaboration: Addiction to violence and unhappiness.)
This is a contradiction in terms, but is quite real in our world where people emotionally, and in some cases even physically, abuse themselves and others, and claim it to be love and happiness, as in the case of child or spousal abuse. This sounded a lot like me (Rob) at one point in my life and is certainly the case for members of my immediate and surrounding family who, to this day, emotionally abuse each other and themselves, and call it love and happiness.
As Tolle explains, “When you are unhappy for whatever reasons, once you’re trapped in that energy of unhappiness, you don’t want to get out. … On some level, you enjoy your unhappiness…” We thought about how one may “enjoy unhappiness”. How can that be? That sounded absurd!
We then read a study by clinical psychology researchers Martha H. Pieper, Ph.D. and William J. Pieper, M.D., coauthors of the book Addicted to Unhappiness, who found that “People who have an acquired unrecognized need to cause themselves unhappiness often come from stressful, abusive or highly dysfunctional childhoods. When a child grows up with this type of discomfort, they tend to normalize it. So, for these children, the discomfort of unhappiness was equated with being loved.” This indicates that the self-abuse of unhappiness equated with being loved is an epi (epigenetic) subconscious program that is not only being mistaken for love, but because love is associated with being happy, this unhappiness of abuse is also being equated with “happiness”.