3 Ideas in 2 Minutes on the Nature of Desire
The Hedonic Treadmill, the Desire Paradox & a Desirable Contract
I. The Hedonic Treadmill
Can you think of a recent, extremely positive event in your life? A promotion, a new job, or a move to a new exciting city? It probably gave you a happiness boost. Though, this feeling probably soon returned to a baseline level. In other words, whatever happened didn’t make you permanently happier.
The theory of the Hedonic Treadmill, or Hedonic Adaptation, suggests that we all have a stable level of subjective wellbeing to which we tend to return. Hedonism is the pursuit of pleasure. Once we’ve achieved something particularly positive, such as more wealth, our desire tends to quickly shift to something else. The good news: This also applies to extremely negative life experiences such as the loss of a loved one. We adapt.
The term was coined in 1970 by Philip Brickman and Donald T. Campbell. They also suggested that the base level of our wellbeing is pre-determined genetically.
III. The Desire Paradox
How can we get off the treadmill? Do we even want to? Here’s late English philosopher Alan Watts on the paradoxical nature of desire:
That’s the bind that Buddha put people in: ‘In order not to suffer you must get rid of desire.’ But then people find out that they desire to get rid of desire.
III. A Desirable Contract
Angel investor and philosopher Naval Ravikant has a more practical way for us to manage the wealth of our desires:
Desire to me is a contract you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want. And I keep that in front of my mind. So when I’m unhappy about something, I look for what is the underlying desire that I have that’s not being fulfilled.
It’s okay to have desires. You’re a biological creature, you’re put on this earth, you have to do something. You have to have desires. You have a mission. But don’t have too many, don’t pick them up unconsciously, don’t pick them up randomly, don’t have thousands of them. ‘My coffee is too cold, doesn’t taste quite right. I’m not sitting perfectly. Oh, I wish it was warmer. My dog pooped in the lawn. I didn’t like that.’ Whatever it is.
Pick your one overwhelming desire. It’s okay to suffer over that one. But on all the others you wanna let them go so you can be calm and peaceful and relaxed.
Have a great week,