The Hedonic Treadmill

Nothing appearing on this site should be taken as advice. Ever. There is not a single topic I actually know anything about or understand, for I am a bear of very little brain. You have been warned. And I’m telling you right off the top, I shall make no attempt to make sense or defend whatever crazy crap I might say.  I have no plan and no agenda. I don’t feel like editing right now and this seems like a nice diversion.

What follows is not science.

It should be noted this is only a theory, and a much contested one at that. But for my purposes, I’ll pretend it’s real. After all, my delusions define my reality. And if you’re reading Beyond Redemption, maybe my delusions are influencing your reality too.


This is my Hedonic Elliptical.

It’s covered in dust.

As are those weights.

Yes, my basement is a mess.

So. The Hedonic Treadmill. The basic idea is that people have a baseline level of happiness (determined by genetics, personality, and how much peanut butter you have in the pantry) and that after either extreme excitement or happiness (a big publisher bought my insane book!) or terrible tragedy (my legs fell off because I spent a year sitting on my ass doing nothing but writing and editing!) we return to that baseline.

That was an overly long and shitty sentence.

I’m going to focus on one small aspect of the treadmill: Money.

According to the Hedonic Treadmill theory making more money only makes you temporarily happier. Part of this is that when people make more money, their expenses also increase and they in fact end up with exactly the same amount of stress as they had before.

I was chatting with a friend a few days back. He makes well into six figures a year whereas I am an unknown writer with a strange book which has yet to earn out its advance and maybe never will. We both have stresses. I’m worrying about making mortgage payments but I absolutely love what I’m doing. He is worried that he’s chained to a job he’s ambivalent about by a need to make monstrous mortgage payments. Is he happier with his huge pay-check and (pretty much) guaranteed salary than I am as I sit here wondering whether Harper Voyager will buy my next book? I don’t think so. We bitch about different things, but we both bitch. He’s all impressed that I’m a published author and thinks it’s amazing that I am chasing my dream. I’m all impressed he can pay for lunch.

Is he happier? I don’t think so. We’re both basically happy dudes in spite of our stresses.

There are two thoughts that fall out of this.

One: There are things that do increase your baseline happiness. My wife and I bought a house and moved out of our condo two years ago and that has definitely increased my happiness on a long term. My family—in spite of all the stresses of modern living/parenting—is a continual source of happiness. They are the coolest most awesome ‘thing’ I have ever been involved with. They make me a better person.

Two: There is no spoon.

Three: What? You said two thoughts! I lied. Could a way off the treadmill involve making more money but not increasing your cost of living? What if making more money didn’t mean you had to live in a bigger house, drive an over-priced car, and buy more expensive coffee? What if making more money didn’t involve being deeper in debt? What if you only spent money you actually had?

Nah. That’s crazy talk. I want a Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R.


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