To read Part One of this article, click here.
The hedonic treadmill, or ‘adaptation’ as its been coined, is the human ability to quickly return to a baseline of happiness regardless of emotionally traumatic or even physically traumatic experiences. Researchers have found that statistically, it does not matter if you win the lottery or lose your ability to walk and are confined to a wheelchair. The hedonic highway is paved from prior experiences and guides you back to a baseline state of existence.
I use the term ‘highway’ in place of the term ‘treadmill’, as a treadmill is fixed and perpetual. Neuroplasticity, introspection, philosophy and such can change and increase your baseline of happiness. My view of the hedonic highway provides an opportunity to set checkpoints as if you had a GPS with a log of destinations once traveled that re-calibrates the route that you find most enjoyable. Knowing that I will naturally adapt to any circumstance given enough time drives me to accelerate the process as if there is a nagging kid in my head asking “are we there yet?”, which offers no value to the experience. So how do we kick the kid outta the car? How can we avoid wasting time and emotionally pit stopping at every metaphorical exit on the road to recovery and discovery?
David Pearce has articulated this idea with his hedonistic imperative;
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Emotions are set points along the highways of the mind, paved from the experiences we have had. Jealousy, hate, resentment and so on become the emotional roads that I am excavating, decommissioning and eliminating. These hedonic set points need replacing with newly paved roads based on what brings me peace, authenticity and tranquility. To say I am repaving these roads might be taking the analogy too far. However, let’s look at the chemicals that fuel these emotions as we travel down them. Pearce offers in his manifesto “Enhanced dopamine function makes one’s motivation to act stronger, not weaker. Hyper-dopaminergic states tend also to increase the range of activities an organism finds worth pursuing.” Neurologically speaking then, calibrating our synapses to fuel emotions with dopamine would be more beneficial and efficient as I operate this perceptual vehicle; and that’s just one chemical. What’s great about the knowledge we have at our disposal now, and continue adding to, is the ability to calibrate all emotional states according to your preference. If we take the wheel of our cognition, it gives us the opportunity to use these brains and not be used by them.
Part 3 of this series will go into how we can metaphorically pave new highways of amplified emotional and conscious states.
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