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Q: Hedonic treadmill ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: Hedonic treadmill
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: qpet-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 22 Feb 2003 19:11 PST
Expires: 24 Mar 2003 19:11 PST
Question ID: 165813
What is the concept of hedonic treadmill all about? Who came up with this concept?
Subject: Re: Hedonic treadmill
Answered By: bobbie7-ga on 22 Feb 2003 22:18 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Good evening Qpet. It’s nice to see you again.

What is the concept of hedonic treadmill all about? 

Georgetown University psychiatry professor Norman Rosenthal describes
the hedonic treadmill by comparing the pursuit of happiness to a
person on a treadmill, who has to keep working just to stay in the
same place.

"As we acquire new things, we shift our expectations so that what
seemed like a fortune to us before now seems not quite enough. As one
famous millionaire put it, 'How much money is enough? Just a little
bit more.' Observing how greater wealth generates higher expectations,
researchers refer to the 'hedonic treadmill' theory, which compares
the pursuit of happiness to a person on a treadmill, who has to keep
working just to stay in the same place."

Mindful Things: Newsletter


Researchers Brickman and Campbell argue that all individuals labor on
a hedonic treadmill:

“As we rise in accomplishments and possessions, our expectations also
rise. Soon we get used to the new level and it no longer makes us
happy.” Has this ever happened to you? Maybe when you bought a new
car? Only to find out that what you really wanted was the feeling the
car would bring you, not the car itself.

University of California Regents


On page 56 of the book At What Price: Conceptualizing and Measuring
Cost-of-Living and Price Indexes the hedonic treadmill theory is
addressed as follows:

- Nothing can keep people happy or unhappy for long. 

- Expectations quickly adapt to new circumstances.

“If these circumstances are characterized by continuous improvement,
ever increasing amounts of goods are required to maintain the same
level of satisfaction. Conversely deteriorating circumstances would
make people unhappy for some time, but only until expectations are
back in line with reality, as long as basic needs are met.”

The National Academies Press: At What Price


The Hedonic Treadmill:
“Those who rush to experience intensively pleasurable activities find
that, amusing as they are, they soon become accustomed to them - the
pleasure from them isn't sustainable. In order to maintain the intense
pleasure they try more extreme and expensive things, but they'll adapt
to them too. Abstinence from pleasures can make smaller pleasures seem
more intense.”


Who came up with this concept?

Psychologists Philip Brickman and Donald Campbell came up with the
concept of the hedonic treadmill.

“In a now classic essay, Brickman and Campbell 1971 used the term
hedonic treadmill.


Brickman and Campbell (1971) based their conception of the hedonic
treadmill on a notion of adaptation level, which Helson (1964) had
introduced earlier to explain phenomena of adaptation in perception
and judgment. Anyone who has bathed in a cool pool, or in a warm
sea, will recognize the basic phenomenon. As one adapts, the
experience of the temperature of the water gradually drifts toward
'neither hot nor cold', and the experience of other temperatures
changes accordingly. A temperature that would be called warm in one
context may feel cool in another. Brickman and Campbell proposed that
a similar process of adaptation applies to the hedonic value of life

Princeton University: Experienced Utility and Objective Happiness


“Brickman & Campbell (1971) suggest we are on a hedonic treadmill.
As accomplishments and possessions increase, expectations also
increase. Although people react strongly to positive and negative
events they adapt over time and return to their original level of

Carleton University Lecture

Evidence for adaptation:
- Janoff-Bulman (1978) lottery winners study
- Silver (1982) spinal chord injury study

“The most famous observations in this vein were made by Brickman,
Coates, and Janoff-Bulman (1978), who reported that after a period of
adjustment lottery winners are not much happier than a control group
and paraplegics not much unhappier.”

Princeton University: Experienced Utility and Objective Happiness


The paper by Stephen Wu, “Adapting to Heart Conditions: A Test of the
Hedonic Treadmill” tests the hypothesis of hedonic adaptation by
analyzing the role that a history of heart problems has on the ability
to deal with future heart conditions.

“The results show that those who have had a heart condition in the
past are less likely to report worse self-assessed health and
emotional health due to the onset of a new condition than those who
have not previously had exposure to heart trouble. The results are
fairly supportive of the notion of a hedonic treadmill.”
Department of Economics: Hamilton College


In an article by Martin Morse Wooster:

“.. relying on money as the measure of happiness might cause you to
step onto what psychologists call the "hedonic treadmill," where you
feel you would be happier if your income increased by 25 percent.
Apartment renters would like to be able to get a house, homeowners
want a larger house and a second car. (..) Once you're on the hedonic
treadmill, it's very hard to get off, since it never ensures
happiness; whatever you earn, you'll always want 25 percent more

Reason: February 1994


The psychologist David Lykken said:

 “Taking an evolutionary perspective, it is logical that happiness is
so fleeting. Feeling good, he said, is a reward system for
accomplishments that make a creature more likely to survive. But if
happiness didn't fade away, an effect theorists have dubbed the
"hedonic treadmill," the result would be a blissed-out complacency.”

Boston Globe, October 11, 2000 by Gareth Cook


Search Criteria:

“hedonic treadmill” theory 
“hedonic treadmill” concept

Thank you for your question and I hope this response has provided you
with the information you were seeking.

Best Regards,
qpet-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $10.00
Thak you, bobbie, great answer- it realy helps to get such a broad range!

Subject: Re: Hedonic treadmill
From: nronronronro-ga on 22 Feb 2003 22:27 PST
What an amazing answer by Bobbie7!

Another great book...
The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People:  What Scientists Have Learned
and How You Can Use It by David Niven, PhD
Subject: Re: Hedonic treadmill
From: bobbie7-ga on 23 Feb 2003 09:21 PST
Thanks Qpet for the 5 star rating and tip. I'm happy to have helped.

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