More on How to Make Happiness Last

ceramic figure of old couple smiling

Thanksgiving is round the corner and you’ll be counting your blessings and relishing the happiness that they bring. Is there a way to make happiness last? With a little bit of thought and preparation, it can happen.

Remember the excitement of that first car purchase? The heady scent of fresh flowers? These things leave you feeling good for a while. But notice that the good feeling fades. Psychologists call this phenomenon hedonic adaptation—the idea is that no matter how good something makes us feel (or how bad), most of the time we drift back to where we started. In other words, we get used to it.

Fleeting pleasure

Which things make us feel happy, but lose their luster quickly? In other words, which things are more likely to be subject to hedonic adaptation? Researchers have a label for these things: they call them pleasures. “The pleasures are delights that have clear sensory and strong emotional components, what philosophers call ‘raw feels’: ecstasy, thrills…delight, mirth, exuberance, and comfort. They are evanescent, and they involve little, if any, thinking,” says researcher Martin Seligman. You feel good for a short while. And you get used to the pleasure. That’s why there’s no use in having a Thanksgiving feast every day. Trips to the park, fresh flowers, drinking good scotch and listening to a symphony are fun…for a short time. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do these things,

Lasting gratification

So much for pleasures. Now let’s move on to something that Seligman calls gratifications. These are activities that give us a sense of meaning. They get us into a feeling of “flow” where we don’t notice time passing, where we’re thoroughly engaged in what we’re doing and lost in the activity. When does this happen? When we face a task that we enjoy and that challenges us on our level. Gratifications are more immune to the effects of hedonic adaptation. That means the enjoyment we get from them doesn’t fade away. On the contrary, the more we engage in gratifications, the more we enjoy them! Think of painting, knitting, writing, learning how to dance, or building a freindship. The more we do these things, the more we enjoy them. That’s not all…gratifications can be great stress relievers. And the less stress, the healthier we can be.

Putting it together

This Thanksgiving let’s put fleeting pleasure together with lasting gratification. Enjoy the turkey and take the time to build friendships with those around you. That way, the happiness will last.