in Culture

The Hedonic Treadmill

I came across an article recently that made me pause. Exceptions to well found rules or theories are interesting to explore. In this article the author explores a loophole to the hedonic treadmill theory, the lasting level of satisfaction and well-being that accompany plastic surgery.

The concepts behind the argument here are universal

  1. Of course we adapt or get accustomed to things – Makes sense to me
  2. We get accustomed to what brings us happiness – Yes, its hard to find anything that brings lasting happiness
  3. Money doesn’t buy happiness. A truism intensely debated but overall born to be true

The “hedonic treadmill” theory makes sense. It makes sense from an almost common sense perspective but also from a biological perspective. I see evidence for it all the time and I have an innate sense of its veracity. It also makes sense to me based on our understanding of neuroscience and neuroplasticity. However, despite the truths here, I’m bothered.

The Loophole

Out of all loopholes to the hedonic treadmill, the one cited is plastic sugery. Are you bothered as well?

The premise of the hedonic treadmill would suggest to me that happiness is always a work in progress. I’m never satisfied as I’m constantly adjusting. After getting a level of success, happiness doesn’t last. It speaks to a human tendency to always strive for more. However, the studies cited in this article suggests that after plastic surgery a person’s happiness endures (the loophole in the hedonistic treadmill).

Questions

That observation raises several questions. Does it mean people value looks more than money? Is this a fair comparison to begin with? What about things like fame/success, pleasure, status, family/friends? Is outward appearance something like spirituality, parenthood, intellectual vitality or so many other things that bring people long periods of happiness? Are there things about physical appearance that make it different? Is there a cap on what level of happiness we can attain from appearances?


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In a world more public than ever, people are increasingly interested in boosting the image they relay to others. Looking successful in itself brings one success in multiple life arenas – for both men and women. It brings success in one’s career, romantic endeavors, social interactions, and other life pursuits. As a result bloggers, consulting businesses, and companies have all catered towards helping folks with fashion, grooming, fitness etc. Is this a good thing? I would argue yes. But, isn’t this putting on a mask, copying others, buying into a “superficial” mentality? Perhaps, but that is they way we operate.

I actually think that people worry too much about being “real” and rebel against being “fake,” as the connotations related to those states are so strong. In reality its true that deception has become an expected fact of life.

The best way to improve your life is to become more confident. Consumers of this “lifestyle” content are there to boost their confidence. One of the easiest ways this is tackled is by changing outward appearance.

So maybe appearances do matter a great deal. And looking your best makes a huge difference. Attractive people get the world. Ugly people unfortunately are left behind.

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