The hedonic treadmill, gratitude, and the New York Society Library

One of the most significant factors in happiness is the hedonic treadmill, or hedonic adaptation.

People are adaptable. We quickly adjust to a new life circumstance—for better or worse—and consider it normal. Although this helps us when our situation worsens, it means that when circumstances improve, we soon become hardened to new comforts or privileges. Scoring air-conditioning, a bigger house, or a fancy title gives us only a brief boost in happiness before we start to take it for granted. As Aldous Huxley wrote, “Habit converts luxurious enjoyments into dull and daily necessities.” That’s the hedonic treadmill.

But we can offset this effect by reminding ourselves how much we enjoy something, or how lucky we are. So for the past few days I’ve been reminding myself of the happiness I get from the New York Society Library.

This small subscription library, the oldest in the city, was founded in 1754 by the New York Society. I’ve been working in its top-floor study room ever since the Big Girl was born seven years ago.

The Library gives me an “office,” complete with clean bathrooms, water cooler, periodicals, internet access, and no phone use (far preferable to being able to use a phone). It has a surprisingly deep collection of books, with open stacks for browsing, and I probably check out more than a hundred books a year.

I’ve always loved working in libraries, with their air of quiet purposefulness and possibility. How much I would pay to use this library? A lot. But it costs only $200 a year. And—get ready—it’s two blocks from my apartment.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that when my mother-in-law took me on my first visit, I was shaking with excitement at the discovery of such a treasure. For years, though, I’ve taken it for granted.

But now I remind myself, every time I walk through the doors, how happy this library makes me.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Recently, I rediscovered my love of libraries. I hadn’t been to one in years. I moved to a new city less than a year ago and the biggest library in town is right down the street. It’s fantastic. It’s close enough to walk to, but seems like another world so I can leave my baby at home with her father and get a little me time.
    Also, I just wanted to say that I’m quite enjoying your blog and am working my way through the archives. I saw an interesting post on happiness and whether it is reasonable to desire happiness for your children at another blog recently. If you’re interested, I could try to find it again and send it on to you. I found it just when I found your blog. It’s funny how the universe sends you messages through several sources at once about the same thing, no? Or is it just me that that happens to? In any case, it’s something that makes me happy.

  • Yoga Gal

    I get this completely Gretchen. I love The National Galley, Trafalgar Sq, London, similar perks to your library and free for everyone, however I do have a little further to travel than 2 blocks.

  • Styl Emum

    Gretchen, if you are ever in the UK you would love Bromley House Library in Nottingham, a subscription library like yours in New York. Founded in 1814, it is now housed in a beautiful grade II listed building with a walled garden offering peace and tranquility within the busy City Centre. A little cheaper at £80 per year which does include free wifi and free coffee no less.