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Stepping off the (hedonic) treadmill

Updated: Oct 5

During this period of isolation, we are all ready to grab any opportunity to lift our moods. These are tough times. One way we may look to achieve this is through the acquisition of new things - i.e. shopping online. You know this will only make you feel good for a little while though, right?!

We can all probably recognise those feeling we experience when we are yearning for something, maybe that perfect dress for that next big night out (wishful thinking, #coronavirus), only to finally have it in our possession, and discover that those joyous, happy feelings don’t actually stick around. Shortly after we obtain that dress, our levels of happiness just pretty much return to the way they were prior to having it (what is coined our baseline level). How do we get those “feels” again?! We shop for more dresses of course!

This is where the hedonic treadmill metaphor starts being a great, simple way of understanding this cycle of overconsumption. Just as we take a step forward, the treadmill moves right along with us, and we remain in the same place. The hedonic treadmill is keeping us from achieving happiness through the acquisition of more things.

Moral of the story? (Over)consuming things for a quick fix isn’t enough to bring lasting happiness. So how to get off the treadmill and break this cycle?


I think it’s important to identify what the underlying cause, or triggers are for our over-consuming ways. In doing so, we will have the potential to change our habits. One way is removing the triggers altogether. While sadly we can’t do this for Coronavirus at the moment, we can do it for things like sales notifications. We can also replace habits with something more healthy, like shopping in our own wardrobes.


Being more mindful is a healthy habit to get into. Thinking about our purchases, and asking questions before committing to buy them - like how many times will I wear this, do I really need this? - will only encourage us to buy less, and buy on a need rather than want basis, while also encouraging longevity.


With all the money saved from the previous two suggestions, we can go even further and invest in those things that will provide us with even more long lasting feelings of happiness. Experiences are a great way to achieve this. Not only are they something to look forward to, but they also provide you with memories. These might be difficult given the current crisis that we are all enduring, so we should really think about those things that have the potential to improve our quality of life.

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