Happiness: There’s No Place Like Home.

I’m home from vacation. We had a great time, but ah, it’s nice to be home!

The return from vacation reminded me of a significant factor in happiness: 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 (people are astonishingly resilient), it means that when circumstances improve, we soon become hardened to new comforts or privileges. Scoring air-conditioning, a nicer car, a bigger TV, 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.

Salt used to be a rare luxury! Talking long distance used to be a huge indulgence! But now we take these things for granted.

To offset the effect of the hedonic treadmill, you can remind yourself how much you enjoy something, or how lucky you are to get to experience it – and one way really to feel this is to deprive yourself of something you usually take for granted. Deny yourself something, and your pleasure in it will be re-activated when the denial stops.

One nice thing about a vacation is, no matter how wonderful it was to be away, there are always little homely pleasures that make it lovely to return.

I loved being away from my computer, but now I’m so happy to be back in front of my three big monitors! I loved having breakfast outside in the morning while we were away, but I love being back my own kitchen, with my own weird foods available to me whenever I want. I enjoyed having a break from my usual routine, but now it feels great to be back in the usual swing of things.

So often, we only appreciate things after we’ve lost them — even for just a short time.

* I enjoy checking out the Style Maniac blog — “live laugh learn listen read decorate dress entertain…with style.” Addictive!

* Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at gretchenrubin1 [at] gmail [.com] — and don’t forget the “1”. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Gretchen, thanks for the mention! Glad I can return a bit of the enjoyment your blog and book give me and so many others.

  • Polly Campbell

    Good Reminder today, Gretchen, thanks. Sometimes I get so “stuck” in the routine and worn out by the daily habits and demands. But, after a break, I’m glad for all of the little habits and pieces that make my life MY life. Today, I will remember to enjoy them as I go, instead of after they are gone.

  • Gretchen – such a great take on charging one’s batteries. It’s not just about getting away, it’s about coming back – with new appreciation. Thanks!

  • volpino

    The comforts of home are often appreciated from a distance. I just returned from two weeks in South East Asia. I attended a destination wedding there with a lot of friends. Afterwards I intended to take an intrepid solo adventure into another country. I got there, met my friend who lives there and spent 3 nights. The lure of home and saw me return 2 days early and while I may have missed a couple of sights I knew as soon as my bum hit my couch it was the right decision.

  • Zyada

    Wanted to point out a blog post you might like:


    “I’ve been grumbling and complaining a lot lately. These sour little seeds are hard to dig out once so intentionally planted. As I sit and write I find for every gratitude, I can think of two things which annoy me or make me want to write my own diatribe against people, things, animals, life, air… you get the idea. So I will not lie and say “All is well!” nor will I be sour and shout “All happiness is a facade!”..instead, I look for the middle ground of acknowledging, coping and then living a full life.”

  • Marelisa

    It’s so true about the hedonic treadmill. If you look for happiness in things outside of yourself you’ll be constantly chasing something bigger and shinier. And I completely agree that getting away and traveling is lots of fun, but there’s nothing like coming back home. 🙂

  • discoveredjoys

    The hedonic treadmill exists, and I wonder if one of the paradoxes of happiness is that feeding the treadmill itself is a source of unhappiness?

    I’ve been thinking about the happiness = heat metaphor as I’ve got older. Some of you won’t know of the joys of a good coal fire, so I guess you’ll have to think of bonfires or campfires or barbecues:

    You’ve a good fire going… so you chuck on some more wood or coal to make it bigger. Flames shoot up and it is exciting (you feel a burst of heat and happiness), but unless you keep feeding the fire, the flames and heat (and happiness) will die down. That’s the fire tending treadmill.

    But if you let the fire settle down to coals, you will get a great deal of heat, without all the flames and smoke, and the need to fuel continuously. You can keep the coals going with the occasional lump of coal or wood (a little joy or gratitude). Perhaps this is the ‘contentment’ level of happiness, and a level of quiet enduring happiness that you don’t have to work the treadmill for?

    Not as exciting, but very comforting. Plus you can make great toast.

  • I have a 2.5 month-old baby, and when she is crying crying crying and won’t stop, or when I’m up in the middle of the night (like right now…it’s 3:30, and I’ve been up for an hour), I remember that I’m lucky to have a baby at all. When Sadie was born we spent a week in the NICU. She wasn’t breathing when she came out and we were told she had significant brain damage. We were told IF she survived, she’d be a vegetable, and we brought her home holding hands with hospice, ready to say goodbye. And now here we are 2 months later with an almost perfectly normal child. She cries, she pees and poops, and she’s developing normally. And while the smiles and coos and bathtime are all fun and enjoyable, I have to remember, that whiny babies who cry all day are too…because at least I HAVE a baby to experience these things with.

    THank you for this post to remind ALL of us to be thankful for what we have even in the face of annoyance and irritation, or despair and grief.

  • Welcome home, Gretchen. Being deprived of something can be a great way to realize how important it is to you. I’ve also found that simply pondering the things we take for granted can be amazing. A friend and I often talk about the wonders of our technological world. I got off the phone yesterday after speaking with my son. He’s visiting Alaska. When our conversation was over, I looked at my friend and said “Think about what just happened. He’s in Alaska. I’m in New York, and we can communicate through texting, sending emails to each other or talking real time.” My friend and spent several minutes talking about how that’s spossible, each with wonder and awe at what is available to us.

    Thanks for your great reminders!

    • gretchenrubin

      So true! It’s easy to take the basics of our lives for granted, without
      reflecting on how fortunate we are.

  • I woke up today really excited applying what I’d learned from The Happiness Project (I even blogged about it today: http://bit.ly/9ILfLd).

    But then I read some very sad headlines about miners in southern West Virginia, and I’m having a hard time shaking it. I know we can’t be happy all of the time, but I’m curious if anyone has suggestions for finding happiness when the world feels dark.

  • TracyW

    This is what I like about hiking. I get all the pleasure of hiking, and then all the pleasure of stopping and getting back to the luxury of hot showers and the like.
    I remember one day multi-day trip we got on the fourth day to a hut with a sink! No running water, but a sink! We could wash the dishes in far more space than the big billy afforded – what luxury!

  • Gretchen, I found your blog thanks to Doreen @ Style maniac. She enjoyed my post on having a gratitude journal and suggested I check this out. I am thrilled that she did! We are very much on the same page!

    • gretchenrubin

      Excellent! HAPPY minds think alike.

  • Michael Yanakiev

    I can’t stop marveling about your ability to always show up with a real story
    that holds all your attention and makes one want to reflect deeper on the
    the issues. This needs a true talent and beyond. I have never seen anybody write with such an ease on happiness,making you love every bit of the story. Your post was another beauty from your impressive collection. You never skip anything do you ? You really had me quoting
    The Style Maniac. The French kiss gave a very interesting insight.

  • Ah, the hedonic treadmill — I remember you talking about this several times before, and I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s the motivation behind why I got back into the Lent tradition — because I get such a HUGE happiness boost when I can have my guilty pleasure back. This year I gave up all alcohol, and as a wine enthusiast (well, all-drinks enthusiast) you can imagine how difficult it was. But Easter Sunday was filled with the best mimosas I’ve ever tasted!

  • This reminds me of the great saying that says something to the effect that, the more we have of something the less we appreciate it, the less we have of something the more we appreciate it. You younger girl pays attention to the guy who pays her NO attention but she ignores the guy who even looks her way.

    We’re drawn to things that we can’t have… what about those things and people who are close and dear to us. True happiness lies in appreciation for what we have. It can all be taken away in an instant!!

    Great post Gretchen!!

  • Rose Ann

    My husband & I just returned from a cross country train trip to visit my daughter & her family. It took us 3 days from New York to California & I would do it again in a heart beat, but it sure was great to come home to our own bed, showers & the simple pleasures of every day living 🙂

  • Yes, happiness is truly an inside job. Those new shiny objects, can soon become just another thing to dust and take care of.

    Vacations can often help us see our life in a new way.

    Thank you for your support for us all finding happiness.


    Dr. Jennifer Howard

  • Gretchen,

    I’m thrilled that I found your blog (heard about it from Doreen/Style Maniac) and I am loving this post! Yes, gratitude is everything – even for the miniscule and everyday bits we all take for granted, like the simple act of washing our face (as there are millions who go without clean water to drink).

    I tend to be a stress-case most days, but when I stop to smell the coffee beans, I realize that happiness and gratitude are key elements to a rich life – and the more you’re aware of them, the more you’ll get in return. Sounds like a winning combo to me!
    ~ Lee

    A bit of insanity, with a pinch of Italian

  • I always find everything looks strange Gretchen when you go away and come back. Somehow fresh and vibrant and alive. It’s like being in the present moment all the time and feels kinda cool.

  • tilehmsomar@yahoo.com