I came across an interesting concept called hedonic adaptation. It is also known as "’hedonic treadmill theory’"…which compares the pursuit of happiness to a person on a treadmill, who has to keep walking just to stay in the same place” (Wikipedia). As life progresses we expect it will either stay the same or be better – it is part of the human condition and a very interesting topic in the field of positive psychology. It also explains why there is so much “work” involved in maintaining the status quo; life is constantly changing and evolving, the one thing it doesn’t do is stay the same. Sometimes we initiate the change and sometimes our environment brings the change to us (welcomed or not), but there is little doubt that the majority of us expects, once the dust has settled, we’ll be the same or better off than we were before. But is this always the case? Even with the changes in life we welcome, sometimes there is less sustained joy, and more confusion, than we anticipated.
As an example, maturing is a welcome change for most of us; we are happier when we know we have achieved a measure of self-determination, allowing us to face more in life, and to do so in ways that feel positive and true to whom we are becoming. Finding our foothold in adulthood is often a relief and a very large part of the shared human experience, we all mature (one way or another). Maturing is a complex process and a confusing time in our adolescence because so much changes so fast. One day you are sitting at the kiddie table and the next with the adults, unable to feel a part of either group. So we are required to constantly re-asses where we are, what is there for us, what feels comfortable and what we want to stretch towards (or leave behind). These are acts of “translation”, taking stock and seeing what holds meaning for us, and why, from a “new” vantage point (being older, more aware, experienced, etc.). Many of us expect that it is a much lighter journey from the completion of our adolescence on (another great example of hedonic adaptation by the way) - this is seldom the case. While the translations we undertake in adulthood may not be as fast-paced or dramatic as the ones we needed to make throughout adolescence, we are constantly making translations, some of them deeper and more complex then ones we’ve had to make in the past.
This explains why something you enjoyed doing in your youth may not hold as much appeal for you now, or you may still be committed to doing it, but for very different reasons. I have a friend who plays piano, and does so beautifully, but he will be the first to tell you he got into it because his parents wanted him to learn an instrument (and he wanted their approval). He keeps doing because he finds the thirty minutes of daily “me” time a “calming island” in the midst of a very busy life. If you think about all the things in your life you have started and stopped (or chosen to continue), you’ve had to make decisions (consciously or unconsciously) about what to do with each of them through several periods of personal evolution, requiring you to “translate” what you were getting out of that activity or connection. From vocations to relationships, hobbies to food preferences, we are constantly evolving and, in so doing, often expecting that everything gets better, or easier.
Sometimes when we have grown we end up unintentionally leaving some things behind, like friends or professional pursuits, and this may bring a measure of angst and confusion. Sometimes we can clearly trace the shift in direction we undertook in our past that seemed to change everything, and made it all seem… harder, baffling, unclear, etc. Perhaps when we feel like this we haven’t finished that journey and the good stuff is yet to come, but in the midst of it you are confused, lost, untethered. This is not a comfortable feeling, but it is a necessary one. That “lost” feeling signals that you are transitioning your awareness around some part of your life (large or small) – you are right in the messiest part of translating something, even though you may not know what it is. Think of it as cognitive growing pains as you stretch into something new. In order to restore your equilibrium it takes time, and self-compassion; rush it and you risk contracting back to where you were before (which may also be the right thing to do, depending on where you are in life). This process is designed to help you maintain well-being by providing a path to consistently re-gain equilibrium over time. It is also a way to adapt to unchangeable circumstances. This very subtle and on-going assessment that comprises translation helps us to figure out what we are motivated to pursue (or not pursue) even when faced with circumstances not of our own making. In mentally healthy individuals equilibrium consistently returns when the unchangeable happens, and often does bring tangible benefits with it in time. This evolution provides new perspectives and ways of seeing the world that allow you deeper access to your own goals, helping you to identify what you want and need in life, driving your potential while in the midst of change. Sometimes the act of being “found” first requires us to be “lost”. Happy translating.
Want to learn more about the power of positive psychology? Check out this TEDTalk by Shawn Anchor. https://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work?language=en
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I believe in giving back to others in many tangible ways. When I learn something new, or see something that might help others, I share it using my blog and website. You can always find my latest blog entries here, on Facebook or Linked In.