Habituation: Why Does the Initial Excitement Always Wear Off?
If you are an avid watcher of the reality television program Alaska State Troopers, and I admit to being one of those, you probably saw one episode in which an officer who patrols the wild areas talks about how he never tires of the beauty of where he works. Can this be true? A young couple marries. In the excitement of their romance, they vow that they will always be in love and never lose their passion for one another as happens for so many others. Can this happen? Someone gets a huge promotion at work with a significantly higher salary that will change his family's and his life. He always wanted to have plenty of money and was convinced that he would forever find happiness if he could earn lots of money. He now feels a sense of enthusiasm for work that he knows he will never lose. Can his newly found promotion with it's substantial salary increase money sustain his happiness and is it true that he will never lose his enthusiasm for work now that he has his promotion?
So many of us believe that "if only I had a boyfriend, spouse, money, promotion, fame, etc., then I would be happy." In point of fact, studies show that success, money and marriage do not necessary bring about happiness. Psycologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, in her book, The Myths of Happiness, defines and explains a concept called "hedonic adaptation." This term explains why none of the enthusiastic predictions mentioned by the people above are likely to last. As Lyubomirsky explains, hedonic adaptation means that we become habituated to all life changes. In other words, the initial excitement or disappointment that we experience when we win or lose wears off after a certain amount of time. Despite a young couple passionately vowing unending love and romance, after about two years the relationship settles into a daily routine. Whether it's the beauty of working in the pristine wild of Alaska, making passionate love to our partner, earning or winning huge amounts of money, it all becomes routine after a time.
Does this mean that we are hopelessly doomed to live boring lives with no excitement? The answer is no but we have to work at keeping things alive in our work and relationships. This translates into building excitement into life by planning to do things that change the routine. Perhaps it's planning a trip to trip some place interesting, going out to dinner with our spouse, getting tickets to a concert or doing something that will surprise and excite our spouse and or our children.
In a very fundamental way, Lyubomirsky is saying that we should avoid waiting and hoping for the "what if" and accept what we have with the added proviso that we act to "spice up" our relationships and work experience. In other words, we have more ability to control many things in our lives than we give ourselves credit for.
Your comments are welcome.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD