You are currently viewing It doesn’t matter what we want. Once we get it, then we want something else.

It doesn’t matter what we want. Once we get it, then we want something else.

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In Game of Thrones, Petyr Baelish says these words in Season 3. And it begs the question: When does one truly feel satisfied?

Have you noticed that we humans always want more? First, we want a job that pays us X. Then, we want an apartment of our own. When we get an apartment, we want a bigger one. We constantly want more and bigger. The same goes with salaries, jobs, cars, and our phones!

Why is it that no matter what we want and what we get, we aren’t satisfied? This concept is known as “hedonic adaptation”.

Hedonic Adaptation

What is hedonic adaptation? Hedonic adaptation, also known as the hedonic treadmill, is the human tendency to return to a set point of happiness, irrespective of what happens. This is why no matter what goals you achieve, it doesn’t feel enough and you want more.

Journey Over the Destination

So, if achieving more doesn’t make us happy, what does? Neuroscience shows that the act of seeking itself, rather than the goals we might achieve, is key to satisfaction. Dr. Andrew Huberman talks about this regularly.

Dr. Andrew Huberman's Tips to Boost Brain Power - “Seeking is the reward”

Essentially, life is about the journey and not the destination. This human desire to seek explains why achieving major goals, winning the lottery, moving into your dream house, or getting your dream job doesn’t result in an increase in long-term happiness. Rather than the final object, we crave the act of seeking – the chase. Happiness comes from the pursuit of goals.

How Hedonic Adaptation Helps Us

While at first glance it may look like humans are greedy and never satisfied, the concept of hedonic adaptation shows what helped our species evolve as a whole.

By prioritizing the act of seeking, rather than achieving, we avoid becoming complacent. The pursuit of achieving helps us move from one goal to another, and not settle once we achieve something. Imagine if human beings felt satisfied with the horse as a means of transportation. We would never have advanced to cars, planes, buses, trains, and more! This desire for more is invaluable for the advancement of our species as a whole.

Secondly, hedonic adaptation can help us in negative situations. Because of our ability to calibrate to our ‘normal’ happiness level no matter what happens, we can also bounce back from challenges easily. It helps us accept things that we cannot change, and move on.

The Negative Side of Hedonic Adaptation

The flip side of constantly seeking more is that we are always in a state of wanting. This can cause feelings of frustration because we never feel satisfied (at least in the way we expect). In addition, because we are always pursuing the next thing, we deprive ourselves from the joy of the present moment, leading to anxiety, worry, and more discontentment.

How to Feel Satisfied

So, if we are never satisfied with what we achieve, how can we feel happy?

The key is to practice gratitude. The more we can appreciate what we have, the more we can be in the present moment and cultivate feelings of satisfaction within ourselves. In addition, practicing mindfulness and savoring the present moment is essential in increasing happiness and satisfaction.

Instead of thinking that “when you get xyz” you will be happy, be grateful for what you have right now. Try to be present rather than constantly chasing the next thing. This includes enjoying the journey of achieving your goal. Acknowledge that finally getting what you want isn’t what is going to make you happy. Instead, appreciating the current moment, being grateful for everything you do have, and enjoying the act of working towards your goal is what is going to lead to more lasting satisfaction.

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