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

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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.

 

From 2006 through 2014, as she wrote The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, Gretchen chronicled her thoughts, observations, and discoveries on The Happiness Project Blog.

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