No Matter What Intense Feeling You’re Currently Having, Eventually You’ll Return to Your Norm

a cat sitting on a treadmill
Image by I am R. / CC BY

The good news is that no matter what difficult thing you’re going through, odds are that eventually things will swing back the other way for you emotionally. And even though it can take a lot longer than we want sometimes, it’s basically inevitable that you won’t feel quite that bad forever.

The bad news is that no matter what thrilling or fun things you’re currently experiencing, odds are that eventually things will swing back the other way for you emotionally. And you’ll get used to the rush. It won’t be making you insanely happy anymore.

This is because of a little something called the hedonic treadmill.

The Hedonic Treadmill

The hedonic treadmill, or the happiness set point, is “the tendency of a person to remain at a relatively stable level of happiness despite changes in fortune.”

The effects of the hedonic treadmill are double-edged: Lottery winners aren’t thrilled forever, but people experiencing stress or setbacks aren’t forever overwhelmed by them either, once enough time had passed (Brickman, Coates, & Janoff-Bulman, 1978).

How much time? For most events on average, there are noticeable sharp recovery points at roughly 6-month and 1-year intervals.

It’s important to note, however, that there are life events that can take 5-8 years to recover from, including widowhood, divorce, and job loss. However, those, too, do seem to move through similar patterns on the way there, with marked improvements at 6-month and 1-year intervals — even if full recovery is a long time coming.

Human beings are very resilient. For better or worse.

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This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

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