Blizzards and Happiness: Hedonic Adaptation

Blizzards and Happiness-¬†HedonicLast week I was in Portland, Oregon for work. The weather was about 45 degrees–a temperature that usually signals the onset of winter for me. Yet, after being pummeled by multiple snowstorms and near-zero temperatures in Boston, I couldn’t get enough of the “warm” Portland air.

I went for two outdoor runs–without gloves or a headband. When the first 45 degree days roll around in Boston, I at least debate pulling out the winter gear. Not this time.

Thrilled to be wearing only one shirt! No gloves! No hat! Thin coat!
Thrilled to be wearing only one shirt! No gloves! No hat! Thin coat!

My runs were great, because I spent the entire time appreciating the warmth and my surroundings. At some point it occurred to me that I was a living example of hedonic adaptation in action.

Hedonic adaptation is the idea that when something new and good comes into your life, it only increases your happiness for a little while. After some time passes, you get used to the new blessing and your happiness goes back down to the usual level. This is one reason why winning the lottery doesn’t make people happy, and why changing jobs may only solve your problems for a little while.

Home sweet home. Taken Monday evening before I left for Portland.
Home sweet home. Taken Monday evening before I left for Portland.

In my case, the blizzards in Boston disrupted my run on the so-called hedonic treadmill. By exposing me to much more brutal and unpleasant conditions at home, the weather prepared me to appreciate a Portland climate I might otherwise have not.

It’s one argument for living someplace with seasonal weather changes–each one helps you appreciate the others. It may also be one of the reasons why the happiest Americans don’t all live in warm weather states. (Another big reason being that weather is far from the only factor driving happiness levels.) As much as I’ve been cursing our local weather, staying put helps me to more mindfully appreciate the sun when it does come out.

Calvin and Hobbes Author: Bill Watterson
Calvin and Hobbes
Author: Bill Watterson