Beyond the Hedonic Treadmill Revising the Adaptation Theory of

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					Beyond the Hedonic Treadmill
   Revising the Adaptation Theory of Well-Being

 Diener, E., Lucas, R.E., & Scollon
• Recent evidence suggests that 5 important
  revisions are needed in the hedonic
  treadmill theory of subjective well-being.
• The article aims is to put forward these
  important revisions and the evidence for

• Brickman and Campbell’s (1971) hedonic
  treadmill theory.
• Widely accepted model of subjective well-
• ..“No matter how much effort and care
  someone puts into being happy, the long
  term effects are no different than if she or
  he lived a profligate and dissolute life”..
• In 1978 Brickman, Coates and Janoff-
  Bulman offered empirical support for the
  treadmill model.
• 1)Found lottery winners were no happier
  than nonwinners
• 2)Found people with paraplegia were not
  substantially less happy than those who
  could walk.
• The authors themselves also readily accepted the theory,
  and some of Diener’s own work could be explained by it.

• 1)Diener et al. (1993) found income and happiness
  correlated only .13 in the US.

• 2)Diener et al. (1995) found objective physical attractiveness
  correlated at very low levels with well-being.

• 3)Okun and George (1984) found that objective health on
  average only correlated .08 with happiness.

• 4)Suh et all (1996)-bad life events affected happiness only if
  occurred in past 2 months.

• So parts of model have received robust empirical support.
 Revision 1: Nonneutral Set Points
• The original model suggests that following
  major life events people soon return to a
  neutral set point. But…
• 1)A review by Diener and Diener (1996)
  found three quarters of the sample
  reported affect balance scores above
• 2)World Values Survey-80% very or quite
Revision 2:Individual Set Points
•   They vary….
•   Due to inborn personality-based influences
•   1)Level of well-being reasonably stable.
•   2)Well-being moderately heritable.
•   3)Personality factors strong correlates of
    well-being variable. Eg any single
    demographic factor typically correlates
    less than 0.2 with well-being….personality
    much more.
Revision 3: Multiple Set Points
• To further test the separability 0f well being
  components Diener and colleagues looked
  at stability of positive ad negative affect
  over time….
• 1)Various components exhibited differential
• 2) Stability of positive affect declined with
  longer time periods, whereas the stability of
  negative affect did not.
• These findings suggest stable individual
  baselines might be more characteristic of
  positive than negative affect.
Revision 4: Happiness can change
   Further support well-being can
• Longitudinal individual data….
• Lucas et al (2003)
• They found, in accordance with adaptation
  theories, that Germans did not get lasting
  boosts in happiness after marriage.
• However Widows and Widowers, people
  laid off from work, and individuals who
  divorced all reported lasting changes in life
    Revision 5: Individual Differences
              in Adaptation
•   Evidence that size and direction of change in life
    satisfaction differed considerably across individuals.
•   Two important research traditions which focus on
    when people do or do not adapt:
•   1)Utility of specific coping strategies eg.
Reappraisal=more positive emotions, older
•   2)Personality characteristics influence coping eg.
Neuroticism=ineffective coping strategies
Optimism=active coping/ strategies that can change the
• Adaptation should not be refuted completely.
• Instead the psychological processes which underlie
  adaptation must be reconsidered.
• Interventions can be successful….
• Eg. Sheldon and Lyubomirsky-random acts of kindness
• Eg. Seligman et al (2005)-interventions via the internet
• Lasting changes among individuals-worth organisational
• Diener and Seligman-system of national accounts of well-
  being (2004)
• Evidence here suggests such a system to improve
  happiness would not be doomed by the hedonic treadmill.
        Future research…
• A number of issues remain unresolved…
• 1)Why do adaptation affects appear to
  vary across different events?
• 2) Can people slow adaptation to good
  events and speed recovery from bad
• 3)Do some components of well-being
  adapt more readily than others?
• The authors conclude by stressing the
  importance of large, representative
  samples, and longitudinal methodologies.
• Furthermore they point to the importance
  of further research of factors suggesting
  adaptation is NOT inevitable, like
  individual differences, to find effective
  interventions aimed at improving
  subjective well-being.