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“Hedonic adaptation”

December 22nd, 2004 · 4 Comments

A term I learned from the latest issue of Technology Review, in an article that asked Can we trust people to know what makes them happy?

From Technology and Happiness by James Surowiecki

Take lottery winners. One famous study showed that although winners were very, very happy when they won, their euphoria quickly evaporated, and after a while their moods and sense of well-being were indistinguishable from what they had been before the victory. Psychologists even have a word for the phenomenon: “hedonic adaptation.”

So, too, with technology: no matter how dramatic a new innovation is, no matter how much easier it makes our lives, it is very easy to take it for granted. You can see this principle at work in the world of technology every day, as things that once seemed miraculous soon become mundane and, worse, frustrating when they don’t work perfectly.


One of the key insights of happiness studies is that people have a very hard time being content with what they have, at least when they know that others have more. Today, technological change is so rapid that when you buy something, you do so knowing that in a few months there’s going to be a better, faster version of the product, and that you’re going to be stuck with the old one. Someone else, in other words, has it better.

Happiness, if it is to last, has to be more than things. More than having what is hot or holding what we want in our hands. Something good to remember at this time of year…

Tags: journal

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 elizabeth grigg // Dec 23, 2004 at 12:01 am

    this is what I’m talking about

    How great to read this from KC Lemson! Excellent example of someone creating her own world from all the great stuff around. Julie is writing about happiness too. Perhaps I should explain what I mean by happiness. There’s the American…

  • 2 Ernest Prabhakar // Dec 27, 2004 at 3:56 pm

    I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness this year. I think I’m finally starting to understand it, on both a conceptual and expiriential level. My best characterization so far is:

        The happiest people in the world
            are those who can enjoy doing good for those they love
                and are appreciated for it

    Does that jibe with your experience?
    Merry Christmas, Ernie P.

  • 3 Julie // Dec 29, 2004 at 1:40 am

    Thanks, Ernie. I think that definition is a good one. Do you see happiness as different from joy?


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  • 4 Julie // Jan 1, 2005 at 12:17 am

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