Hedonic adaptation: how to modulate our quest for well-being?

We live in a world where it becomes easier to have “fun”, even though that pleasure is fleeting and slips through our fingers like sand in the desert. On the other hand, life also puts us in the face of situations that make us suffer, and sometimes we have no choice but to accept it.

Hedonic adaptation is a concept that encompasses these two elements: pleasure and adaptation. People tend to revert to a previous state of pleasure regardless of the number of obstacles and difficult situations.

In this article, we will go into detail about this concept and think about its implications and repercussions on humans.

    What is hedonic adaptation?

    What is hedonic adaptation? It is defined as the ability we have to adapt to the different situations we go through throughout life, whether they are good or bad. To illustrate, let’s take an example: we want a motorcycle, and we want the best on the market. We bought it.

    We feel great satisfaction and pleasure (hedonism) in doing it, especially in the early days. But little by little, and over the weeks, you get used to the bike, to the situation (which is no longer innovative) and to the initial feeling. What happened? We have adapted to it; there was a hedonic adaptation to the situation.

    In other words, hedonic adaptation is the tendency we have to return to a relatively stable level of pleasure and happiness, despite the events and situations, both positive and negative, that we experience in our lives.


    Before we dive into the curious world of hedonic adaptation, we’ll talk about the basis it is built on: hedonism.

    What is hedonism? It is a philosophical doctrine based on the idea that the purpose in people’s lives is the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of suffering. Hedonism originated in Greece, and its main promoter was the philosopher Epicurus. For this reason, hedonism is also called “epicureanism”.

    Epicurus, in particular, held that the pursuit of pleasure must come through the pursuit of wisdom; thus, we see how the term has changed slightly, since today we consider hedonistic a conduct of constant search for pleasure through the senses, that is to say through food, sex, drink. in short, through “material things (materialism).

      Hedonic adaptation in negative situations

      As we saw in the introduction, hedonic adaptation this happens in both positive and negative situations.

      Thus, the nature of the human being allows him to adapt at the same time to the situations which give him well-being, and to those which make him suffer (logically, this can vary from one person to another, but in general the hedonic adaptation consists of this).

      Let’s give another example to illustrate hedonic adaptation in negative life situations. If, God forbid, a person suffers a car accident and loses an arm, their first reaction will surely be one of suffering and despair.

      However, over time, he is likely to adapt to this new situation in which he had to live (Hedonic adaptation), and even to find pleasure in another way, in other things, etc. There are even people who overcome these traumatic situations and who, moreover, come out stronger: we know this phenomenon (or trait) as resilience.

      Mind and brain

      The human brain is configured to adapt to the environment and to the disparate situations in which the person may be involved. In other words, the brain is programmed to survive in the environment.

      Often, it is the mind itself that plays a trick on us, making us believe that we will not be able to face or overcome a certain situation when the reality is not this one.

      The key is in the mind, which has a lot of power; in reality, the mind is a kind of muscle that you can train and learn to control, So that she is not the one who dominates us, through negative and catastrophic thoughts.

      What does happiness depend on?

      Talking about the hedonic adaptation that everyone experiences at some point in their life leads us to ask ourselves the following question: what does our happiness depend on? Each person will have a different answer to this question, because each is based on a series of things to “achieve” happiness.

      However, it can be said that as a general rule, happiness depends on health, because if we lack health, it is of little use to us to have a lot of goods, Or many social relationships … although these elements help improve our well-being, the truth is that enjoying health is better, because we can truly enjoy life.

      This does not mean that people who are not in good health cannot enjoy life; simply, they will have to face their situation, and acquire a series of coping strategies which will allow them to face the difficulties without ceasing to seek this happiness or this well-being, in large part through hedonic adaptation.

      On the other hand, it is important to keep in mind, that happiness it doesn’t depend so much on the things that happen to us in life, but rather how we react to it, How we take them and how we treat them. Here is the key to personal well-being; that is to say in us and not outside.

      The concept of happiness

      In psychology, the concept of happiness takes on many meanings, and in fact it is not exactly the same thing to speak of well-being, happiness, pleasure, enjoyment … Suddenly, we can consider what follows: happiness ?? Is it something that can be “done”?

      Opinions vary widely on these issues, while it is true that for many, happiness is not so much something that is “accomplished”, but something that is enjoyed at specific times in life. If we are talking, however, of a more generalized state of pleasure or joy, perhaps better to use the term “well-being” or “quality of life”.

      In search of pleasure

      Human beings, like many animals, seek pleasure in their lives; very much, constantly. It is a natural mechanism of the human being, on which hedonism is based. Who likes to suffer? One could say, without risk of error, that practically no one (unless it is someone with a fetishistic or sadomasochistic disorder, for example).

      Instead, joy, pleasure, satisfaction, pleasure … we love it all, and that’s why we yearn for it and seek it. If we move away from that, what happens? Let this hedonic adaptation process be reactivated, which is sort of a survival mechanism.

      So our body, mind and brain, they act in unison to bring us back to that relatively pleasant original state, or at least emotional tranquility.

      That’s why even if traumatic situations or events happen to us (or just negative everyday events), we usually survive them, get ahead of ourselves, and successfully reorganize our lives and emotions. This is what this is the hedonic adaptation that we are talking about.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Auletta, N. and Dakduk, S. (2013). Consumer wellness: a journey through health, hedonism, spirituality and relationships. IESA Debates, 18 (2): 10-14.
      • Botto, S. (2008). Contemporary hedonism. Virtual and Digital Magazine of the Lacanian School of Orientation.
      • Trujano, MM (2013). Of hedonism and fleeting congratulations. Sociological (Mexico), 28 (79): 79-109.

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