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  • Writer's pictureAnya Smirnova

Hedonic treadmill, or 'I will be happy when...' syndrome

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a habitual formula of happiness "I will be happy when..." despite major positive or negative life events. I will be happy when:

  • I earn x much

  • I get x promotion

  • I buy x house

  • the kids sleep through the night

  • the kids go to school

  • I lose x kilos

  • (fill in the blank)

As a person makes more wealth or reaches goals, expectations and desires rise in tandem. The "I will be happy when..." formula gets a new condition which results in no permanent gain in happiness. More money, bigger house, losing those kilos does not increase our level of happiness, not for long at least. The world we live in conditions us. People we interact with, company we work for, ads and social media images - they condition how we see the world and what makes us worthy in this world. Desires of wealth, pleasure and health are not good or bad in themselves. But making our happiness conditional on them pulls us out from experiencing the present. Instead we either crave about the future or worry about the past. How far will you get in pursuit of happiness on an "inflation of happiness" treadmill? Not far. You are not changing your geolocation! (and I hate treadmills, they are so boring!) The lasting feeling of happiness is subjective. It is routed in your core values. People who connect with their values and life purpose discover, to their surprise, that they not only have a lasting increase in happiness when they reach their goals but they also find fulfilment in the hardships of the journey getting to those goals. They experience fulfilment daily! Because they set the goals that feel innately right and they know what they value in each experience. Things that hinder our happiness is

  • setting wrong goals,

  • our conditioned responses to life situations,

  • self-limiting beliefs and

  • low capacity to be with intense emotions, positive or negative. Yes, many of us cant manage feelings of intense happiness. Some are used to one emotion - longing for more.

There is also a theory that subjective wellbeing might be largely determined by genetics. That is, happiness may be a heritable trait. Our upbringing creates habitual responses. These can be altered through cognitive change. So, jump off the treadmill in the pursuit of happiness. Instead, pause and walk the path of self-discovery and building personal mastery. If you don't see it, it will manage you. If you do see it, you can manage it. Start living life, now! Happiness really is within your grasp. Just look inside for answers.


A lawyer-turned-coach, Anya Smirnova has been delivering executive coaching and health coaching since 2015. She loves supporting women to realise their full potential, particularly at times of transition in career/life when choices feel like “either/or” and the temptation is high to trade in dreams and ambitions for the security of the well-known. Her mission is to support more women to have senior positions while being fulfilled in their lives and careers.

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