How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Take the things that you know you enjoy doing and break them up, doing a bit at a time.
When you are doing something you enjoy, watch for the pleasure tailing off and stop right then rather than think you should continue because you believe this should be fun. Take a break, look forward to restarting then pick up where you left off with a renewed joy.
Space out the actions such that the pleasure from each has completely faded before starting the next fragment. You can even put in longer periods between the activities so you can enjoy looking forward to the pleasant activities.
Examples of fragmenting fun include:
You can also look for ways to reduce adaptation, for example by refusing or removing things that make life easier or more comfortable.
It can take some willpower to do this, but it is definitely worth it!
Adaptation is a skill that we use widely. As well as getting used to pleasurable things, it also helps us live in harsh circumstances and tolerate the less pleasant things in life. Although life can be more troublesome, people with severe disabilities are not significantly less happy than able-bodied, wealthy people. Another testament to our ability to adapt can be found in how humans live in more climates than any other creature.
Hedonic Adaptation is a known process whereby, as we become used to pleasurable situations, our happiness fades over time. A classic example is going on holiday, where the first day is full of excitement about the new environment, but which can soon sag to comfort and even boredom as you wonder whether to go down to the pool again or just sit and read.
Mathematically, this can be drawn as a negative exponential, decaying from the initial joyful spike, with total happiness being the area under the curve.
Nelson and Meyvis (2008) offered people sessions in a massage chair, either as uninterrupted periods or with breaks through the session. Those who were given the massages with breaks ended up happier than those who had a single uninterrupted massage.
In what has been called the Hedonic Treadmill, the fading of happiness keeps us busy seeking the next high. We often think acquisitions or events will make us happy forever, but they do not. Sadly, you will not be happy forever when you get married, win the lottery, retire or achieve whatever dreams you have. So you just have to keep doing things to stay happy and the best way to maximize happiness is to break it up into small chunks.
Ariely, D. (2010). The Upside of Rationality, London: Harper
Nelson, L.D. and Meyvis, T. (2008). Interrupted Consumption: Adaptation and the Disruption of Hedonic Experience. Journal of Marketing Research, 45, 654-664.