Cellphones started getting common when I was in high school. And not so long after, some kids from well up families at school started bringing phones to school. Having a cellphone was a huge social currency. I remember one holiday asking my mother to buy me a cellphone. Thinking about it now. It was a pretty unreasonable request people were selling cattle to buy phones, and she didn’t even have one herself. So she told me I should work hard and one day I’d be able to buy myself one. I was shattered and it stuck with me.
When I started working and could now afford it, I always had the latest phone. I was a big Samsung fan (still am) so I always had the latest S series and galaxy note phone. Sometimes buying it on release week. I was living the dream and I loved it.
I can vividly remember the excitement I’d have when I got a new phone. The day I got it, I’d barely sleep. I’d spend the entire night setting it up. Discovering all the cool new features and moving all my stuff from the old one to the new one (yeah, back in those days it would take the entire night). Getting a new phone brought me such happiness.
I remember another thing distinctly though. The happiness I’d get from getting a new phone wouldn’t last very long. Not long after, I’d get used to it, and it would become just a normal phone. Then I start looking for the next thing.
The hedonic treadmill
The hedonic treadmill sometimes referred to as hedonic adaptation, is the concept that humans will return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite positive or negative events in life that move us up or down from that stable level.
As you would expect, there are some significant advantages and disadvantages that come with our ability to adapt like that. For example, if something very good happens in your life and your lifestyle improves significantly, it’s likely that those increases in your lifestyle that caused a certain amount of happiness to occur will level out. You’ll get used to them and soon they’ll be the new norm and you will return to the same level of happiness that you were at before those things happened. Maybe just a little higher if the thing has some residual lasting happiness.
We can also make the opposite adjustment. If we have a big negative experience. If we receive a pay cut or have to take a job in a location that is not favourable, we will return to the same level of happiness we had before any of that happened at a relatively quick pace. We quickly adjust to the terrible thing and it doesn’t bother us as it did when it first happened. We make adjustments and so we revert to our base level of happiness. And maybe a little lower if the event left some lasting scars.