There is so much confusion, complexity and uncertainty around in the world today we are all looking for some antidote to help us come back into balance and happiness. I was reading a story on the web recently that described the “Hedonic Treadmill Theory” and it explained a lot about what gets in our way of happiness. I used to call this the revolving doorway syndrome and I think the new treadmill metaphor is more descriptive of what occurs inside for each of us.
Successful pursuit of happiness requires intentionally pursuing counter-intuitive life strategies. A growing list of traditional life pursuits are being found to have zero to only small correlations with happiness, well-being, and life satisfaction. Some examples include getting a job that pays more money, going back to school for an advanced degree, investing in new clothes and other items that enhance our sense of beauty and marriage and raising a family. A growing number of longitudinal studies which have tracked people over the decades of their life have found that as their life circumstances have changed, their happiness has remained mostly unchanged.
Human beings are highly adaptive animals. As it turns out, when we have repeated exposure to the same emotion-producing stimulus we tend to experience less of the emotion. We get used to the feelings, good and bad, associated with our experiences. As result we require new stimulus in order to register the emotional impact. The good news about this is that when bad things happen we do have a remarkable ability to rebound. The adage people express, “this too shall pass” is accurate because at first we feel terrible and after a period of time has passed and life moves forward, research shows that people are on average just as happy as everyone else. We are incredibly resilient and motivated to achieve even greater things.
On the flip side, here’s a tip about date nights. We can get so used to a good thing, our partner / spouse, our house, our lifestyle, etc. that we stop seeing the positive and start complaining about what’s missing. If we want to maximize happiness then we must resist this ‘hedonic adaptation’. The next time you are out for date night at what has always been your favorite restaurant and a fight ensues, remember that a pause to declare gratitude is your antidote for the hedonic treadmill!
Over 40 research studies have shown that cultivating gratitude reliably increases our happiness, improves our relationships, and makes us healthier. The benefits are extensive and the research is conclusive. Plus, the process of cultivating gratitude is easy!
Here are some ideas to get you started with incorporating gratitude and step off the treadmill. The first is one I use regularly with clients I am coaching: Habit Change Practice. It is a four-week process on purpose in order to support our brain, an energy conservationist that is highly addicted to habits, to exchange the habit for one with greater positivity. Follow each step for one week and you will change your habit in just 30 days.
Week 1 – COUNT IT
Notice and count how often you have a habit to not be grateful and judge something negatively.
Week 2 – CONFIRM IT
Notice, stop and affirm out loud that you notice the bad habit, follow it with a verbal self-correction with others.
Week 3 – CORRECT IT
Notice and correct real time when you notice the desire for the bad habit and, stop yourself with an internal affirmation for stopping.
Week 4 – CULTIVATE IT
Notice and celebrate who you are as you starting to relax and bring attention toward your gratitude, for you and for the conditions of your life
A second practice comes from a colleague and fellow coach, Mark Thompson which I call the Ripple Effect. This is something I do daily and, I encourage you to find a little booklet or use Notes on your smartphone as this is super easy to do and then to refer back to over time. At the end of each day I take 60-seconds to reflect and this is what I capture.
Bring attention to 3 things that went really well during the day, resulting in more positive energy, and that you are grateful for having those experiences.
Bring attention to 3 people you appreciate for being in your life during the day. Doing this sends an energetic thank you to them that feels terrific in the moment.
After just one month of this practice I began to notice a correlation between the things that went really well during the day and the people I was appreciating. I got curious to see what would happen if I put those people in my pathway more consistently. Might I then have more things I was grateful for in a given day? Fundamentally this practice altered who I was choosing to collaborate with, and who I was attracting to participate in our work at inviteCHANGE. As a result, I was having a whole lot more fun not having to be the one who was picking something up and driving it all the time because I had true collaborators.
When we are cultivating positivity and increasing our energy we are also bringing attention to creating this energy in our relationships with other people. As coaches, we are creating an opportunity to pay this forward with others because we know how to invite people to their own experience. At inviteCHANGE we call that choosing process to be sovereign, to live a sovereign life. That means to be self-ruling in the choices we make in the relationship we choose the conditions of our lives. We sometimes can’t change the conditions of our life and we can always change our attitude, mood, perspective and relationship to those conditions. Let’s look at an example. I might be working with a project I am not all that enlivened by, and I made a commitment to it. What can I be grateful about in that project? Connecting to gratitude assists me to see it through because the value of commitment is high for me and I can be grateful to myself that I honored my commitment. I can also learn from this experience about the commitments that enliven me which further honors my value and ensures that my participation will be intentional and happiness-filled.
Just because you know about the Hedonic Treadmill doesn’t mean you can think your way off the treadmill. First of all, remember that the treadmill metaphor means we have a habit of seeing of what’s missing, not yet enough or necessary for the future to be better. That means we must learn to be choice-full and present in the moment. We want to consider how to increase the quantity of noticing adaptation. With each instance we notice, we choose gratitude and as that transition has higher and higher frequency, a new habit builds. We may also consider the intensity we notice in situations. The relationships and context that have really high stakes keep us alert to be more purposeful in our choices. That emotional intensity supports the new choice and the creation of a more enlivening and happy habit.
So much of coaching is about creating awareness, ICF Core Coaching Competency #8 because our skills and behaviors as a coach support a client to look within and identify the choices that are most true and aligned with an Authentic Self. This internal guidance system knows exactly what choices build energy and positivity, in other words, adaption to gratitude. Once you have a personal experience of incorporating gratitude, here’s a way to begin adopting these practices with clients.
Pay Your Gratitude Experience Forward:
Take a moment to send one or two questions that invite your client to reflect on how gratitude is showing up in their lives. Here are some examples to get you started.
What activities are increasing your energy during the day?
Who are the people that add positivity to your attitude and mood?
How do you sustain connection to these experiences so you see and choose these opportunities more often?
When you meet for the next session, invite the client to share insights and intuition about how this mindset of gratitude is influencing the development goal that is central to your coaching process. Now you are empowering gratitude and that will feel fantastic!
Cheer & Happy Coaching,
P.S. Here’s a link to an easy online Interactive Quiz and 7 Gratitude Practices
Janet Harvey, MCC ,CEO inviteCHANGE, has 30 years of executive and entrepreneurial experience with 12,000+ coaching hours, primarily in organizational and executive leadership engagements.