Bryan Caplan  

Bumps on the Treadmill

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This piece in American Psychologist documents five weaknesses of the "hedonic treadmill" hypothesis:
First, individuals' set points are not hedonically neutral. Second, people have different set points, which are partly dependent on their temperaments. Third, a single person may have multiple happiness set points: Different components of well-being such as pleasant emotions,
unpleasant emotions, and life satisfaction can move in different directions. Fourth, and perhaps most important, well-being set points can change under some conditions.  Finally, individuals differ in their adaptation to events, with some individuals changing their set point and others not changing in reaction to some external event.
The sad highlight for me:
Authors of a number of recent reviews have concluded that individuals with spinal cord injuries are less happy than are people in the general population, with effect sizes in the moderate to large range (Dijkers, 1997, 2005; Hammell, 2004). However, the studies cited in these reviews are often published in rehabilitation journals and are rarely cited in psychological literature on adaptation.

Finally, Lucas (2005a) used two large, nationally representative panel studies to examine adaptation to the onset of disability. Participants in this study (who were followed
for an average of seven years before and seven years after onset) reported moderate to large drops in satisfaction and very little evidence of adaptation over time. For instance,
those individuals who were certified as being 100% disabled reported life satisfaction scores that were 1.20 standard deviations lower than their nondisabled baseline levels.
Thus, although people with paraplegia and other individuals with disabilities usually are not subjectively miserable, happiness levels do seem to be strongly affected by this important life circumstance.
I've long been convinced that I would not adapt well to any grave misfortune.  Maybe I'm not as weird as I thought.


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COMMENTS (3 to date)
Lori writes:
I've long been convinced that I would not adapt well to any grave misfortune. Maybe I'm not as weird as I thought.

More likely you have a worldview that only works for the fortunate.

D writes:

Another positive psychology tenant bites the dust. How lame.

agnostic writes:

"Another positive psychology tenant bites the dust"

Not just them either. It's in Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments. Someone who loses a leg will put himself in the minds of others, who will feel some sadness or pity or compassion but not lose lots of sleep over his lost leg. Sympathizing with these sentiments of others is supposed to give him a wake-up call and make him Stoically take it like a man.

It's not always clear whether he's being 100% serious in his empirical claims like that, or is just using them to teach the reader how he should respond to adversity.

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