Securing a sizable raise at work. Getting engaged. Fitting into an old pair of jeans. There are moments in our lives that fill us with so much joy that we could burst at the seams. In those moments, life feels fair, generous, and awesome.
But then what?
Pretty soon we come back to earth. The joy seems short-lived, no matter how deeply we longed or waited for the positive thing that finally arrived. Psychologists refer to this as "hedonic adaptation," the idea that no matter how happy something makes us feel (or unhappy, for that matter), within a short amount of time, we revert back to our general “baseline” of happiness. We get used to the boost in our paycheck and soon desire even more money. The excitement of getting engaged is replaced with wedding-planning anxiety. We love how our jeans fit, but then wonder if they could be a size smaller.
These life changes rapidly become our new normal, and as a result, our aspiration levels continue to rise. Success is a moving target, and therefore, we rarely stay satisfied for long.
But don’t worry. There’s good news here too. Hedonic adaptation also applies to negative events—we are more resilient than we think after losing a job or relationship, or receiving bad news. As with good news, we typically bounce back to our general level of happiness in a pretty short time. Phew.
And even better news: There are two key ways to extend and maximize our happiness, according to a 2012 study. Psychologists Sonja Lyubomirsky and Kennon M. Sheldon suggest that we can max out those good feelings through appreciation and variety. Here’s how:
Open your eyes. (Really open them.)
It’s no secret that appreciating what we have is a major component of a fulfilling life. But how can you savor even more and deeply feel gratitude? Ask yourself these three questions:
1. Who in my life might I be taking for granted right now: a colleague, an enlightening author, a supportive sibling, a barista at my favorite coffee shop?
I almost always take my supportive and patient husband for granted. Now I tell him regularly how important he is to me. I make weekly date nights a priority. And, because his love language is receiving gifts, I make sure to surprise him with small things almost every week.
2. What exists in my life now that I once longed for: a steady job, eight hours of sleep, a loving S.O.?
I sometimes lose sight of how awesome it is to live in New York City, my favorite place in the world. While dashing to a mid-morning workout class, I recently became overwhelmed with gratitude that I'm able to manage my schedule and don’t have a nine-to-five job that keeps me at a desk. Such freedom was once a pipe dream!
3. What happy circumstances am I experiencing in my life that I may not be giving enough attention to—my good health, a growing savings account, my trusted friendships?
The best parts of our lives are often the most easily overlooked.
The best parts of our lives are often the most easily overlooked. I still feel a pang of jealousy when I see my friends who have close relationships with their fathers because I lost mine when I was 19. But then an entrepreneurial friend of mine recently told me she envied my website (the one I’m always complaining about). What might you be taking for granted? Identify it, then marinate on the positive things in your life.
Experiment and enjoy!
As the old saying goes, variety is the spice of life. It’s far too easy to be stuck in a routine of work, working out, weekend, repeat. No matter how positive a routine is, with repetition, its shine fades. To shake things up, ask yourself:
1. What new projects or challenges could I take on at work, at the gym, and/or at home?
Can you raise your hand for a new initiative at work regarding volunteering or planning a fun team event? Could you switch up your Monday yoga class for Zumba? There are a million new things to try once you set the intention to do something different.
2. Instead of going to my usual brunch spot/happy hour hangout/juice bar, what different venue could I try?
You can easily infuse some novelty into an ordinary Sunday morning or Tuesday afternoon by diversifying your regular haunts.
3. What new adventures could I bring to my relationships?
Take a spontaneous getaway with your S.O. or try something new in bed. Grab some friends and go to the zoo or try a new hiking spot instead of hitting the treadmill again on a Saturday afternoon.
When you think about it, it’s a very positive thing that we continue to expect progress in our lives. Knowing this, you can consciously choose to extend your happiness no matter what the circumstances. But we don’t have to spend all of our time chasing happiness in the form of new and better possessions and experiences. We too easily forget that many of the things we have in our lives now are once things that we only hoped for. The key to extending our happiness is not only continuing to seek new opportunities, but also making the most of those we’ve already been given.
Susie Moore is Greatist’s life coach columnist and a confidence coach in New York City. Sign up for free weekly wellness tips on her website and check back every Tuesday for her latest No Regrets column!