Friday, April 11, 2008

Maladaptive Happiness

An oxymoron? A crazed psychologist’s rumination?

Not at all. It’s interesting to note that happiness experts have found that we adapt to exciting, fun new things. I use adapt here referring to the manner in which organisms adapt to their changing environments. According to happiness researcher Sonja Lyubormirsky, we do things to increase happiness, but then we adapt. The thrill wears off. Now I call that maladaptive. We’ve all experienced it:

That hot new guy you absolutely, positively had to have…now that you have him, he’s not all that anymore?

The dissertation you’ve given blood, sweat and tears to produce…by the time you get there it’s a bit ho hum and you’re wondering what next.

The promotion you’ve worked yourself to the brink of death to land, is it really all it was cracked up to be?

Lyubormirsky and colleague Ken Sheldon are now studying whether or not people can avoid that adaptation. They’re going to look at the effect of behaviors like savoring and introducing variety.

The Nine of Cups in Tarot refers to having one’s wish fulfilled or dreams come true. It’s likened to savoring a good meal, to contentment, to sensual pleasure. It’s the wish card. So instead of just taking the hot new guy for granted…well I don’t think I really have to get into the specifics of savoring and variety, do I?

I believe that the notion of celebrating achievements is a kind of savoring. Take the dissertation completion as an example. Instead of letting it drift by virtually unnoticed, celebrating is a way to enhance pleasure in the event. And not just for the few hours of the mad party you’re having, you have to keep it going for a while. I don’t mean the party, I mean the focus on the accomplishment. Maybe keeping a copy right near you in your office is a way to remind yourself of what you’ve achieved.

Variety keeps things interesting. Studying yoga is great fun and exciting to the newcomer. You have to try new poses to keep the fun in it. It’s the same with anything new, you have to find ways to make it interesting and fresh.

So let’s share a good glass of wine, or may a couple for the sake of variety, and savor the experience together.

See the Monitor on Psychology article about Lyubomirsky at


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The perfection of wisdom, and the end of true philosophy is to proportion our wants to our possessions, our ambitions to our capacities, we will then be a happy and a virtuous people.Yours is a nice blog.

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