What is it? | Hedonic Reset
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What is it?

What is Hedonic Adaptation / The Hedonic Treadmill?

he·don·ic ad·ap·ta·tion

Whatever happens to you in life, you get used to it (habituation).

he·don·ic tread·mill

Hedonic adaptation can lead to a vicious cycle, like we are on treadmill.

hedonic treadmill diagram flowchart

What is a Hedonic Reset?

he·don·ic re·set

Strategically and deliberately enduring a temporary deprivation of certain things we enjoy, to slow down hedonic adaptation and produce a disproportionate gain in happiness.

Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?”
- Seneca

The Classic Hedonic Treadmill

hedonic treadmill diagram flowchart

Adding a Hedonic Reset Speed-Regulator to the Treadmill

hedonic reset diagram flowchart

Amending the hedonic treadmill of ever increasing speed with a “hedonic reset” speed regulator.

Watch This – An Extreme Example Of Someone Post A Hedonic Reset

Why Would I Do A Hedonic Reset?

Are you as excited about your new phone, car, shirt, lover etc as you were when you first got it/him/her? Do you feel like you’re on a hedonic treadmill?

The Hedonic Reset works to change your setpoint and allow you to extract more utility/enjoyment out of things that had lost their shine.

Most of the science tells us that to be happier (as measured by SWB) practices like savouring and gratitude will do a lot of good. Another step, to super-charge your ability to practice gratitude and savouring, is the hedonic reset.

Resetting gratitude

Triggering variety/savouring responses


    Gratitude and savouring have positive effects on their own, but a Hedonic Reset is a simple way to super charges them.

  • Resets Gratitude

    A Hedonic Reset has the effect of resetting gratitude, by losing something for a short time we feel so grateful when we get it back. Many studies show the positive effects on happiness/contentment (SWB) from gratitude.

  • Resets Savouring

    A Hedonic Reset has the effect of retriggering savouring, by losing something for a short time we feel savour it a lot more when we get it back. Many studies show the positive effects on happiness/contentment (SWB) from savouring.

How Can I Take A Mini Hedonic Reset Today?

It’s possible to insert small Hedonic Resets into your daily life. You might already be doing it in some way.

What could you take a break from today? For a minute or an hour or a day?

What are you taking for granted that you might like to appreciate more fully again?

Here’s a few ideas of things that I’ve strategically, deliberately, temporarily removed in order to successfully produce a hedonic reset.

  • Food
    • Avoid eating out all day
    • Eating more simple foods/less elaborate
    • Fasting
  • Shelter/physical comforts
    • Removing pillows/cushions
    • Wearing less expensive/comfortable clothes
    • Turning off air conditioning
  • Transport
    • Walk or bike instead of taking the car
  • Technology (aka “Digital Detox”)
    • Removing computer
    • Removing smartphone

How Can I Take A Full Hedonic Reset?

What can you do as a monthly or annual practice for a bigger reset? You might already be doing something like this.

Here are some common ways to trigger a Hedonic Reset.

  • Camping Trip
  • Retreats
    • Silent retreat
    • Meditation retreat
  • Fasting
  • Visiting a developing country

Desire hath no rest, is infinite in itself, endless, and as one calls it, a perpetual rack, or horse-mill.
- St. Augustine


Tell me more about the Hedonic Adaptation/Treadmill?

/ I don’t experience Hedonic Adaptation/I don’t think I’m on the Treadmill?

Humans are very adaptable. We might jump into a pool on a hot summer day, and temporarily find the water cold initially, but we quickly adjust and soon it does not feel cool at all.

Diminishing Marginal Utility

The law of diminishing marginal applies to all pleasures.

The first bite of the cake brings so much pleasure. But you get much less pleasure from your third slice.

In the same way, we do gain satisfaction and pleasure when strive for and obtain the new car, house, tshirt, lover, job, pay-rise, promotion, however to this we also quickly adjust, and acquire a new ambition.

The type of pleasures we adapt to and that put us on the treadmill in a way that is detrimental to our happiness (SWB) are commonly those sensual or sensory pleasures (mostly dopamine driven – like the pleasure we get from food, sex, drugs & alcohol) or can also be more of a status pleasure (both serotonin and dopamine driven – like the pleasure from the new car, or watch, or clothes).

We get rapid pleasure from some of these things, but unfortunately it doesn’t last not, your brain quickly starts looking for more dopamine to achieve the same effect.  You’ve become habituated to the old reward, and this isn’t always a good thing. It can be a vicious cycle, hence the term hedonic treadmill.

People are exposed to many messages that encourage them to believe that a change of weight, scent, hair color (or coverage), car, clothes, or many other aspects will produce a marked improvement in their happiness. Our research suggests … a warning — Nothing that you focus on will make as much difference as you think.
— Daniel Kahneman

 Hedonic Adaptation

Enjoyment diminishes over time as we habituate.


Reference Points or Set Points

We judge things relatively. Sunshine after a cloudy day is correlated with increased mood. (Known as Anchoring).

If your reference point or set point for something moves higher – things that were once a luxury, can become a necessity.

The good news is, a Hedonic Reset is all about resetting your set point to slow adaptation.


What is Happiness?

I’m using the definition of subjective well being to mean happiness. Subjective well-being is defined as ‘a person’s cognitive and affective evaluations of his or her life’. (reference)

Isn’t this just like we do in my religion (Lent, Ramadan, Buddhist Precepts, Vipassana etc)?

Yes absolutely, a lot of religious traditions have ritual which directly or indirectly, deliberately or undeliberately, help slow hedonic adaptation. Although the Hedonic Reset approach is staunchly scientific and secular, there is wisdom across many religions that is useful to consider.


Can involve fasting and other forms of sacrificing.


Can involve abstaining from food, drink, and other physical needs during the daylight hours.

Buddhist Precepts

Can involve abstaining from wearing certain clothes, make up, perfume, jewellry, sitting on a “high or luxurious throne or seat”, singing or dancing and partial or full fasting.

Isn’t this just like minimalism?

Minimalist practices can definitely assist in getting off the hedonic treadmill.

Isn’t this just like Stoicism?

Yes, a lot of the principles of Stoicism are relevant.

Where can I read more science?







Who are you?

I’m Julia. I got obsessed with hedonic adaptation after noticing that after “bad” things happened to me, I experienced a disproportional “good” hedonic benefit.