Hedonic Adaptation and the Higher Self

Higher Self Yoga Editors
February 20, 2024
A woman is considering with shopping bags

Think about the last exciting big purchase you made. Something like a cutting-edge TV, a fancy new outfit, or a brand-new car. 

Whatever it was, you wanted it so badly you couldn’t go a day without thinking about it. Deep down, you knew that it would improve your life and make you happier, and you found yourself counting down the days until you could get it. 

When the day finally came, you were over the moon. It was just as great as you thought it would be, and it was the first thing you tell your friends about when you see them. 

But over time, that feeling starts to wane. You’re still happy with your shiny new thing, but it doesn’t necessarily bring you unbridled joy like it used to. You slowly become used to having it as a part of your life, and eventually, you completely forget what it was like to live without it. After a while, it becomes just another thing in your life, and before long, you start thinking about the next thing that you can’t live without.

What you have just experienced is called "hedonic adaptation." 

What is Hedonic Adaptation? 

“Hedonic adaptation” is a fancy phrase for a simple and familiar concept. Building off of the concept of hedonism, which is the mindless pursuit of pleasure, hedonic adaptation refers to the temporary spike in happiness we feel after a positive event like buying or experiencing something new.

But after the initial joy wears off (which can take days, months, or even years), your brain will stop receiving as much enjoyment from the new thing because it has become used to the pleasure and joy it provides.

We start going through this process very early in childhood when we’re convinced that a new toy or that tantalizing ice cream sundae will make us happy forever. Most of us continue this cycle well into adulthood, and it is precisely why so many people who have so much can still feel unhappy or unfulfilled in their lives. 

It’s not easy to put a stop to a behavioral pattern that we have been subconsciously repeating our whole lives. Breaking this cycle requires mindfulness, self-reflection, and no small amount of willpower. But with the help of our Higher Selves, we can create a path to sustained, unconditional contentment. 


Using the Higher Self to Break the Cycle of Hedonic Adaptation 

Hedonic adaptation is yet another symptom of the way we chase instant gratification. As spiritual practitioners, it is our path to see beyond this pursuit for what it is: a mindless distraction from a path that will bring us real fulfillment.

Real fulfillment comes from living a life aligned with our deepest values. One where we balance work, rest, and play in a life that is rich with true and lasting meaning. In this state of mind, we have a vocation that is true to our unique skills, family and friends who love us for who we truly are, and an intuitive, deepening relationship with our spiritual path.  

The Higher Self is our guide in helping us realize this potential. When we feel as though we are getting lost in the weeds, we can connect with our Higher Self and return to our true path. 

For each of the following steps, ask your Higher Self the given prompt and wait for a reply.


1. Shift from Happiness to Contentment

What do you mean when you say the word, “happy”? You likely associate it with an intense emotion of joy and exuberance. When you picture the happiest times in your life, you probably picture huge life accomplishments like landing your dream job or the birth of a first child.  

Pure happiness is truly one of life’s pleasures, but happiness is a fleeting emotion, and all too often it relies on external circumstances and gratification. If your goal is to feel happy all the time, you will spend most of your life feeling unfulfilled.

Contentment, on the other hand, is a different form of happiness, one that is more sustainable over the long term. Contentment can come from within and doesn’t require us to chase new material goods and the gratification of experiences. Instead, it flourishes in moments where we are able to rest in the simplicity of the present moment, where we have everything we need and are consciously thankful for it.

Ask your Higher Self…. What would it take for you to be content in life? Next, think about what the answer to that question would have been five or ten years ago. How much of that do you already have now? Make a list of the good parts of your life that you are taking for granted simply because you’ve gotten used to them.

2. Try Going Without

Much of the diminished joy we get from the things in our life is that we get to experience them any day, any time. We only become truly aware of how much we enjoy something when we lose access to it, even for a brief period of time.

Ask your Higher Self… what things do you take for granted that you can live without, even just temporarily? Using your list from the last prompt, see if there are some luxuries or pleasurable routines in your life that could benefit from occasionally being placed out of reach. Try shifting these out of casual, everyday life and instead, set aside a distinct time to mindfully engage with them, that way you truly understand their value.

3. Put People Over Things

Our close relationships can also suffer from a sort of hedonic adaptation.  It’s all too easy to take good friends for granted, especially when they’ve been with us for years. But a good, cherished friend can bring more joy into our lives than any material possession.

Ask your Higher Self… What would my life be like without one of my closest friends? What would it be like if I had never met them, or if they were to disappear forever today? Focus on the sadness and emptiness you feel when picturing life without them and allow it to sink in.  When you bring yourself back, you will feel a renewed appreciation for them.

Awareness as the First Step to Sustained Contentment

When we solve for hedonic adaptation by connecting to the Higher Self, we achieve an inner sense of peace and contentment that comes with knowing the freedom from desires, shame, and insecurities. When we make the choice to shift the focus from the status of ever-changing external circumstances to our inward capacity to be comfortable in the present moment, we free ourselves from a cycle of desire, grasping, and dissatisfaction.

Once you have begun to cultivate awareness for these tendencies, you have already taken a huge step forward in overcoming the urge to indulge. With practice, these steps become a regular part of your mindset, and you will be less tempted to fill the holes in your life with more material goods.

The Higher Self can support you on your path to true, sustained contentment. At its core, hedonic adaptation arises when we have become out of step with the present moment and are seeking to escape through pleasure and distraction. Through the power of awareness present within our Higher Self, we have access to the antidotes of gratitude, simplicity, and satisfaction.