This website was archived on July 21, 2019. It is frozen in time on that date.

Sonya Mann's active website is Sonya, Supposedly.

Mood-Related Gym Equipment

On the macro “meh” feeling and dragging my feet.

The hedonic treadmill. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. How many of us are just trudging forward? We convince ourselves that we’re making progress, making a better life, but actually we’re walking in place on a level surface. Getting nowhere.

It’s like a depressing scene out of The Phantom Tollbooth, meant to teach clever children to temper their expectations.

Forlorn dog on a treadmill. Photos by Jason Kasper.
Photos by Jason Kasper, here and here.

In case you aren’t familiar, the “hedonic treadmill” concept refers to a set point for contentment, or ennui arising from personal stasis, or some combination thereof. Here’s an explanation from Shane Frederick (bona fide Yale professor! for whatever that’s worth):

The lack of evidence for a relation between objective circumstances and reported well-being has given rise to the concept of a hedonic treadmill, on which humans’ happiness remains stationary, despite efforts or interventions to advance it. The metaphor is also interpreted to mean that humans’ happiness will decline if their material circumstances remain constant.

When I reflect on my state of mind over the past couple of years, it’s obvious that I’m on the hedonic treadmill. My current life is sooooo superior to its previous iterations, and yet I feel existentially dissatisfied.

I’m cheerful enough on a moment-to-moment basis, but ambition is pressing on my back all the time. Constantly I feel driven to do better, to be better. When I accomplish a goal that I’ve been driving toward, the joy is fleeting.

Do I need improve at actively appreciating what I already have?

Shane Frederick again:

The conclusion that material circumstances have no effect on welfare seems implausible and objectionable, because it implies that economic inequality is irrelevant, that the poor would be no better off if they were rich. [But] data showing that subjective ratings of happiness remain constant despite objectively improving circumstances could instead be explained by a satisfaction treadmill, whereby improving circumstances lead individuals to adopt successively higher aspirations for the amount of enjoyment they regard as acceptable.

I guess the idea of a satisfaction treadmill is marginally less despair-inducing. You develop higher standards! That’s an improvement right????? But if it doesn’t improve your subjective experience, what’s the point.

How about you, dear readers? Do you feel like you’re on the hedonic treadmill? Or a satisfaction treadmill, or some other mood-related gym equipment, like an elliptical? Hedonic weightlifting with progressive overload would be the best thing, I suppose.

Please recommend strategies for coping with persistent internal discontent. (I know, I know, I should meditate.)

Originally posted on Substack.

Short Book Review: Scott Adams’ Success Secrets

Dilbert visits the park. Photo by Ol.v!er [H2vPk].
Dilbert visits the park. Photo by Ol.v!er [H2vPk].
Scott Adams, the cartoonist who created Dilbert, is a weird dude. No surprise to anyone familiar with the comic strip. I just finished reading Adams’ autobiographical self-help book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. I don’t agree with all of his advice — do I really need to state that caveat? — but some of Adams’ concepts are interesting and even spot-on.

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert

For instance, Adams asserts that systems are superior to goals. What he means is that it’s smarter, for example, to always be looking for a better job instead of following a five-year plan to attain a certain position. He lays out a bunch of principles along these lines that in his view should lead to success. His through-line is the idea that you should optimize yourself to take advantage of luck when it strikes.

The book is certainly interesting, and I think particularly useful to people starting their professional lives. Here are the two quotes I liked enough to write down:

“Good ideas have no value because the world already has too many of them. The market rewards execution, not ideas. [After realizing that] I concentrated on ideas I could execute.”

“Reality is overrated and impossible to understand with any degree of certainty. What you do know for sure is that some ways of looking at the world work better than others. Pick the way that works, even if you don’t know why.”

I particularly agree with the second suggestion, that you should shape your paradigm to be productive rather than accurate. (This is basically what my therapist wants me to do.) If I dwell on the rottenness and chaos of the world, my realistic perception harms me; I become miserable and can’t get anything done. Far more effective to be an optimist without justification than a pessimist with plenty of proof.

(I like to call myself a cynical optimist. Is that annoying? It’s such a good phrase, and a decent representation of my personality.)

Dilbert visits the beach. Photo by Ol.v!er [H2vPk].
Dilbert visits the beach. Photo by Ol.v!er [H2vPk].

Sign up for my newsletter to stay abreast of my new writing and projects.

I am a member of the Amazon Associates program. If you click on an Amazon link from this site and subsequently buy something, I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you).