top of page

The Hedonic Treadmill

It is 6PM on a Tuesday. You hit the gym and decide to get a run in on the treadmill. Ear buds in, a good stretch and then off you go. Bumping up the speed little bit at a time until you get into your rhythm and pace, always keeping in mind that if you slow down without pressing the speed button, you will be thrown off the back and onto the ground. So you keep going. Sound familiar?

This feeling, for many, is everyday life. Most of us in our pre-retirement working years are on some sort of treadmill, running toward something and also away at the same time. We run toward more. More money, more satisfaction, more stuff, more success, more notoriety. At the same time we are running away from perceived failure, having less than the next person, being looked at as lazy or unaccomplished.

Satisfaction = Continually getting what you want

Success = Continually having more than others

Failure = Having less

Celebrated psychologist, Philip Brickman, invented the term “Hedonic Treadmill” to explain this infinite mission that most of us are accustomed to. Mr. Brickman was a student of human nature and known for his study showing the fact that, for most, winning the lottery brings no lasting satisfaction, but a series of quick dopamine hits that pushes us to try and get the next hit.

Dissatisfaction in life, careers, personal appearance, etc. pushes us to chase ever-greater heights. Falling behind creates fear. Therefore we chase more. We don’t want to fall off the back of that treadmill.

But, everything is relative. Live in a neighborhood of homes valued at $1 million dollars but your friends live in the $2 million dollar neighborhood. Maybe you should press that speed button up a notch? Do your friends care? No. Do you? Probably.

Where we see the imminent struggle is in the second half of life. We have trained our minds to keep pushing, chasing more, trying to impress. It is what we are used to and have gotten pretty damn good at it. We are also bad at accepting the fact that the dopamine hit that comes with it becomes much more watered down. Some accept it, get off the treadmill and see the small things they have been missing. Then, live a simpler yet more rewarding life that seemed unattainable during their working years. Some hit the speed button.

Bestselling Author, Arthur C. Brooks discusses these two different routes that folks take in his book ‘From Strength to Strength.’ He poses the question of ‘what makes some folks age happily and some age with increasing un-happiness?’

Famed Author and Optimist, Simon Sinek, covered some of this question in his bestselling book ‘Start With Why.’ At any stage in life we must ask ourselves ‘what is my why?’ Whether you are a college student, on the career treadmill, or entering the second half of life, what is your why? Why are you doing what you are doing?

We hit the gym to be more fit, we eat good food to be healthier, we are kind to others because it brings us happiness. This ‘why’ question could be asked in just about every facet of our lives, personal and professional. Our time is finite. We should be asking this question. Therefore, challenge yourself to spend a week and ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing at the moment. This practice may be very eye-opening.

Buying my first $3000 car at 17 years of age was not to impress anyone. Far from it. It bought me freedom. It confirmed that I could work toward something that gave me (nobody else) joy. Buying a $60,000 Lexus at age 43 will likely not give me the same joy as the $3,000 Honda and I have already attained that elusive freedom that a vehicle brings. But I guarantee my peers will be impressed. Or will they? Should I care?

The more we have the more we want. It is literally in our DNA. We believe it gives us an edge. The caveman who had more food found more mates, found more control over others who had less. But, in the end did it bring him joy in the long-term? We won’t know the answer to this, but we can sit back, think about what truly makes us happy and use our finite energy to get more of it. No amount of things can make us as happy as ourselves and those around us. It's our choice.


From Strength To Strength - Arthur C. Brooks

Start With Why - Simon Sinek

Picture: Creator: HOFRED


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
bottom of page