Extending The Honeymoon Period

The 3 Ways I Avoid Hedonic Adaptation

Last week I put my toe into the water by spending 2 days in NYC, thereby ending my 16-month exile to Putnam County, NY. My body’s response to this reintegration took me by surprise until I recognized the “hot stove effect” of my voluntary sequestration. For 16 months I acted as if the entire world were a hot stove, and I did all I could to avoid touching it. How was I to expect my nervous system to reacclimatize instantly?

Despite the tension in my body, I was whole-heartedly delighted with each one of the “firsts” I experienced during my visit. And from that place of jubilation, I made a commitment to myself to push back against hedonic adaptation.

I became familiar with this term thanks to Sonja Lyubomirsky. Her book, The Myths of Happiness, brought into perspective the concept of “the honeymoon period”. Think about the last time you bought a new car, or got a promotion/raise, or started a new romance. You felt great! Your energy was pulsing. Food tasted better, you felt lighter, and you were energized. Then, after a certain duration of time, the elation faded. That edge, that excitement, that frenetic feeling— it all disappeared without you noticing. That, my friends, is hedonic adaptation.

This phenomenon also balances out the negative events in our lives. You can think of it as your own personal contentment level. And while there’s been a lot of research done about our happiness set point and no shortage of views about the ability to reset this biological baseline, I realize there are some ways of being and doing that will affect mine. My hope is that the following insights will help you, too.

Live in Awe: I’m going to enjoy not only the fabulous firsts of post-isolation, but also the perpetual awe-inspiring moments in my life. Such magnificence is all around us, just waiting to be noticed. For instance, I can remember, years ago, walking up 6th Avenue toward Grand Central one evening and being struck by a gorgeous, big, bright full moon. My heart leapt! Then, when I looked around to catch other folks’ reactions, no one else seemed to notice this spectacle, distracted instead by the terrestrial glow of their smartphones. So, as I left NYC last week, I admitted to myself how often I made the trip down the majestic Hudson Line not even noticing the wonderment of the Palisades.

As an older, wiser Deborah, I will now look at each event, each interaction, and the ever-evolving landscape in appreciation. It takes no more energy than not noticing! In fact, it takes presence.

Align Values with Actions: As a driven high school student, my life became one big “should”. I should be involved with various activities to enhance my chances of being accepted at the college of my choice. My interests and enjoyment became secondary. I realize that in some ways (at least until COVID-19), the pattern remained into my adulthood. I should attend certain networking events; I need to pack my days with appointments and cram in as much as possible, etc.

My older, wiser self will now look at perceived obligations differently. I will consider the “why” behind what I’m being asked to do or self-tasked with. It’s surprising how many activities I used to force myself into that I didn’t enjoy or didn’t necessarily add value to my career or personal wellbeing. I reacted thoughtlessly, racing to fill my calendar instead of reflecting on what would best serve DRIVEN’s mission or my personal growth and values. Quite a lesson!

Leverage Mood to Steady Emotion. We are each guided by emotions. Yes, even you! But just like that moon hiding plainly in sight, our emotions can either allow us to shine or can serve to make us and those around us miserable. Just remember that emotions are temporary, lasting only 90 seconds, in a neurochemical respect. But like many, I used to stew in certain negative emotions, causing the neurochemical cycle to repeat. Stress, helplessness, shame and regret were stuck in an endless loop.

My older, wiser self will now vigilantly catch myself as these emotions take over, assessing the “why” behind the “what”. Some negative emotions are appropriate to embrace, such as the loss of a loved one. But my area of improvement will come from the emotions of frustration, defensiveness and impatience. And I will leverage Perspective, Compassion and Humor to maintain a mood of gratitude. Perspective will help me assess situations and come up with options for myself to move through the stressor; Compassion for myself and others will remind me that we’re all doing our best. And Humor, like sugar, helps the medicine go down! Setbacks will happen, but the trick is to avoid unnecessary deep emotional waters.

James Redfield was the originator of the sentiment, “Where Attention goes, Energy flows; Where Intention goes, Energy flows!” It is my intention to pay attention to the above three declarations. Won’t you join me?


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