Hedonic adaptation is (according to Wikipedia) as follows:

Hedonic adaptation is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.

I think hedonic adaptation is probably the single most important (and somewhat unintuitive) part of our psychology that we should keep in mind at all times.

I’ve been thinking about hedonic adaptation this week for 2 reasons. Firstly, I’ve been getting a lot of messages from (mostly) GCSE and A-Level students stressed about exams, and feeling the pressure of needing good grades to make university offers. If I’m ever on the verge of feeling any level of stress about exams, I think about two things - (1) ‘action is the antidote to anxiety’ - I ask myself 'if we had the exam today, which topics would I be unhappy about’ and I tackle those topics in a focused fashion, and thus the action allays the anxiety regarding particular topics. (2) I think that 'even if this doesn’t go well, it’ll have no impact at all on my long-term happiness’. This applies to everything from exams to university places to applying for study abroad programmes to where we’ll end up as junior doctors etc. Thus, I find that appreciating the power of hedonic adaptation works nicely as an antidote to fear.

On a more personal note, a friend and I have been looking for houses around Cambridge to live in for the next 2 years while we work as junior doctors. We’ve found some really nice places that stretch the budget a bit, and some less nice places that are more affordable. Hedonic adaptation is something we’ve been keeping in the back of our minds - in the sense of 'tbh, no matter where we end up, we’ll likely be equally happy so we should take that into account when making decisions’. This might be a reason to opt for the less-nice-but-more-affordable houses. There are other factors as well of course - sociable-ness, ease of access to work/town, whether significant repairs need to be made, how nice the living room is to serve as a recording studio for videos etc - I’ll keep you updated as to how the search goes. It feels quite surreal to be thinking about houses and stuff at this stage, but I guess that’s the next step in life after university, and becoming a proper adult.

Do check out the links below if you’ve got time - the 'Life is a Picture' article especially blew my mind when I first came across it, and really did change the way I look at everyday life and decision making.

Have a great week!

My favourite links on the topic

  1. https://waitbutwhy.com/2013/11/life-is-picture-but-you-live-in-pixel.html
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auowsk9OfYU

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