Remember the time you craved the latest iPhone. After saving a few months of money, you finally bought one for yourself. You enjoyed it in weeks to come but after a few months you no longer as excited as you were when you have first had it. Hedonic adaptation is our natural tendency to return to level happiness after an initial surge of positive emotions (usually pleasure). After some period of time, we get to “adapt” to this new level of happiness. When we get used to it its effect on us is the same as if what we have is the older version of the iPhone.
Hedonic adaptation has a wide range of applications because our desires are limitless. It could happen in our romantic relationship, wealth, power, etc. Seneca has an early description of his kind of human behavior.
“At last, then, away with all these treacherous goods! They look better to those who hope for them than to those who have attained them “Letters from A Stoic
To counter this insatiable human behavior, the Stoics has a habit of imagining losing things they value. Here is the Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius,
“Do not indulge in dreams of having what you have not, but reckon up the chief of the blessings you do possess, and then thankfully remember how you would crave for them if they were not yours.”
Epictetus, a former slave turned Stoic philosopher, has also a habit of reflecting things that we are destined to lose.
“When giving your child or wife a kiss, repeat to yourself, ‘I am kissing a mortal.’”
This is a subset of a popular Stoic practice which modern practitioners would call negative visualization. The goal is not to scare us that we could lose these things. Counterintuitively, it’s a way for us to appreciate and savor the things we currently have.
It is easy to get lost in this habit so I always include it in my Stoic journals. I have a habit tracker journal that I get to write on a daily basis. You can check on my previous article How I Write my Stoic Journals. It’s a 5-10 minutes reflective writing process that definitely changed my life for the better.
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