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

  • Ed Diener
  • Richard E. Lucas
  • Christie Napa Scollon
Part of the Social Indicators Research Series book series (SINS, volume 37)

Abstract

According to the hedonic treadmill model, good and bad events temporarily affect happiness, but people quickly adapt back to hedonic neutrality. The theory, which has gained widespread acceptance in recent years, implies that individual and societal efforts to increase happiness are doomed to failure. The recent empirical work outlined here indicates that 5 important revisions to the treadmill model are needed. First, individuals’ set points are not hedonically neutral. Second, people have different set points, which are partly dependent on their temperaments. Third, a single person may have multiple happiness set points: Different components of well-being such as pleasant emotions, unpleasant emotions, and life satisfaction can move in different directions. Fourth, and perhaps most important, well-being set points can change under some conditions. Finally, individuals differ in their adaptation to events, with some individuals changing their set point and others not changing in reaction to some external event. These revisions offer hope for psychologists and policymakers who aim to decrease human misery and increase happiness.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Aspinwall, L. G., & Taylor, S. E. (1997). A stitch in time: Self-regulation and proactive coping. Psychological Bulletin, 121, 417–436.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Biswas-Diener, R., Vittersø, J., & Diener, E. (2005). Most people are pretty happy, but there is cultural variation: The Inughuit, the Amish, and the Maasai. Journal of Happiness Studies, 6, 205–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bolger, N., & Zuckerman, A. (1995). A framework for studying personality in the stress process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 890–902.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bonanno, G. A., Wortman, C. B., Lehman, D. R., Tweed, R. G., Haring, M., Sonnega, J., et al. (2002). Resilience to loss and chronic grief: A prospective study from preloss to 18-months postloss. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 1150–1164.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bonanno, G. A., Wortman, C. B., & Nesse, R. M. (2004). Prospective patterns of resilience and maladjustment during widowhood. Psychology and Aging, 19, 260–271.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brickman, P., & Campbell, D. T. (1971). Hedonic relativism and planning the good society. In M. H. Appley (Ed.), Adaptation level theory: A symposium (pp. 287–302). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  7. Brickman, P., Coates, D., & Janoff-Bulman, R. (1978). Lottery winners and accident victims: Is happiness relative? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 917–927.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Campbell, A., Converse, P. E., & Rodgers, W. L. (1976). The quality of American life. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  9. Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (1990). Origins and functions of positive and negative affect: A control-process view. Psychological Review, 97, 19–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Carver, C. S., Scheier, M. F., & Weintraub, J. K. (1989). Assessing coping strategies: A theoretically based approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 267–283.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chang, E. C. (1998). Dispositional optimism and primary and secondary appraisal of a stressor: Controlling for confounding influences and relations to coping and psychological and physical adjustment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1109–1120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Diener, E., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2002). Will money increase subjective well-being? A literature review and guide to needed research. Social Indicators Research, 57, 119–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Diener, E., & Diener, C. (1996). Most people are happy. Psychological Science, 7, 181–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Diener, E., Diener, M., & Diener, C. (1995). Factors predicting the subjective well-being of nations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 851–864.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Diener, E., & Lucas, R. E. (1999). Personality and subjective well-being. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, & N. Schwarz (Eds.), Well-being: The foundations of a hedonic psychology (pp. 213–229). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  16. Diener, E., Sandvik, E., Seidlitz, L., & Diener, M. (1993). The relationship between income and subjective well-being: Relative or absolute? Social Indicators Research, 28, 195–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Diener, E., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Beyond money: Toward an economy of well-being. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 5, 1–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Diener, E., Wolsic, B., & Fujita, F. (1995). Physical attractiveness and subjective well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 120–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dijkers, M. (1997). Quality of life after spinal cord injury: A metaanalysis of the effects of disablement components. Spinal Cord, 35, 829–840.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dijkers, M. P. J. M. (2005). Quality of life of individuals with spinal cord injury: A review of conceptualization, measurement, and research findings. Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development, 42, 87–110.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Easterlin, R. (2005, June). Life cycle happiness and its sources: Why psychology and economics need each other. Paper presented at the International Conference on Capabilities and Happiness, Milan, Italy.Google Scholar
  22. Economist Intelligence Unit. (2005). The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Quality-of-Life Index. Retrieved July 17, 2005, from http://www.economist.com/media/pdf/QUALITY_OF_LIFE.pdfGoogle Scholar
  23. Eid, M., & Diener, E. (2004). Global judgments of subjective well-being: Situational variability and long-term stability. Social Indicators Research, 65, 245–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377–389.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. European Values Study Group, & World Values Survey Association. (2005). European and World Values Surveys Integrated Data File, 1999–2002, Release I (2nd ICPSR version) [Computer file]. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research.Google Scholar
  26. Feinman, S. (1978). The blind as “ordinary people.” Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 72, 231–238.Google Scholar
  27. Ferguson, E. (2001). Personality and coping traits: A joint factor analysis. British Journal of Health Psychology, 6, 311–325.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Fordyce, M. W. (1977). Development of a program to increase personal happiness. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 24, 511–520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Fordyce, M. W. (1983). A program to increase happiness: Further studies. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 30, 483–498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Fredrick, S., & Loewenstein, G. (1999). Hedonic adaptation. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, & N. Schwarz (Eds.), Well-being: The foundations of a hedonic psychology (pp. 302–329). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  31. Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). What good are positive emotions? Review of General Psychology, 2, 300–319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Fujita, F., & Diener, E. (2005). Life satisfaction set point: Stability and change. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 158–164.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Gilbert, D. T., & Wilson, T. D. (2000). Miswanting: Some problems in the forecasting of future affective states. In J. P. Forgas (Ed.), Feeling and thinking: The role of affect in social cognition (pp. 178–197). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Gross, J. J., & John, O. P. (2003). Individual differences in two emotion regulation processes: Implications for affect, relationships, and well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 348–362.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hammell, K. W. (2004). Exploring quality of life following high spinal cord injury: A review and critique. Spinal Cord, 42, 491–502.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Headey, B., & Wearing, A. (1989). Personality, life events, and subjective well-being: Toward a dynamic equilibrium model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 731–739.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Headey, B., & Wearing, A. (1992). Understanding happiness: A theory of subjective well-being. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia: Longman Cheshire.Google Scholar
  38. Helson, H. (1948). Adaptation-level as a basis for a quantitative theory of frames of reference. Psychological Review, 55, 297–313.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Helson, H. (1964). Current trends and issues in adaptation-level theory. American Psychologist, 19, 26–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Inglehart, R., & Klingemann, H.-D. (2000). Genes, culture, democracy, and happiness. In E. Diener & E. M. Suh (Eds.), Culture and subjective well-being (pp. 165–184). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  41. Kahneman, D., & Thaler, R. H. (2006). Anomalies: Utility maximization and experienced utility. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 20, 221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Larsen, R. J., & Ketelaar, T. (1991). Personality and susceptibility to positive and negative emotional states. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 132–140.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Lucas, R. E. (2005a). Happiness can change: A longitudinal study of adaptation to disability. Manuscript submitted for publication, Michigan State University, East Lansing.Google Scholar
  44. Lucas, R. E. (2005b). Time does not heal all wounds: A longitudinal study of reaction and adaptation to divorce. Psychological Science, 16, 945–950.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Lucas, R. E., Clark, A. E., Georgellis, Y., & Diener, E. (2003). Reexamining adaptation and the set point model of happiness: Reactions to changes in marital status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 527–539.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Lucas, R. E., Clark, A. E., Georgellis, Y., & Diener, E. (2004). Unemployment alters the set point for life satisfaction. Psychological Science, 15, 8–13.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Lucas, R. E., Diener, E., & Suh, E. (1996). Discriminant validity of well-being measures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 7, 616–628.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Lyubomirsky, S., King, L. A., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131, 803–855.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Myers, D. (1992). The pursuit of happiness. New York: Morrow.Google Scholar
  50. Oishi, S., Diener, E., Choi, D. W., Kim-Prieto, C., & Choi, I. (2005). The dynamics of daily events and well-being across cultures: The declining marginal utility of daily events. Manuscript submitted for publication, University of Virginia, Charlottesville.Google Scholar
  51. Okun, M. A., & George, L. K. (1984). Physician- and self-ratings of health, neuroticism, and subjective well-being among men and women. Personality and Individual Differences, 5, 533–539.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Riis, J., Loewenstein, G., Baron, J., Jepson, C., Fagerlin, A., & Ubel, P. A. (2005). Ignorance of hedonic adaptation to hemodialysis: A study using ecological momentary assessment. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 134, 3–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Scheier, M. F., Matthews, K. A., Owens, J. F., Magovern, G. J. S., Lefebvre, R. C., Abbott, R. A., et al. (2003). Dispositional optimism and recovery from coronary artery bypass surgery: The beneficial effects on physical and psychological well-being. In P. Salovey & A. J. Rothman (Eds.), Social psychology of health (pp. 342–361). New York: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  54. Scheier, M. F., Weintraub, J. K., & Carver, C. S. (1986). Coping with stress: Divergent strategies of optimists and pessimists. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1257–1264.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Scollon, C. N. (2004). Predictors of intraindividual change in personality and well-being. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.Google Scholar
  56. Scollon, C. N., & Diener, E. (2006). Love, work, and changes in extraversion and neuroticism over time. it Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 1152–1165.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410–421.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Sheldon, K., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2004). Achieving sustainable new happiness: Prospects, practices, and prescriptions. In P. A. Linley & S. Joseph (Eds.), Positive psychology in practice (pp. 127–145). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  59. Silver, R. L. (1982). Coping with an undesirable life event: A study of early reactions to physical disability. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.Google Scholar
  60. Staudinger, U. M., & Fleeson, W. (1996). Self and personality in old and very old age: A sample case of resilience? Development and Psychopathology, 8, 867–885.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Suh, E., Diener, E., & Fujita, F. (1996). Events and subjective well-being: Only recent events matter. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 1091–1102.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Tellegen, A., Lykken, D. T., Bouchard, T. J., Wilcox, K. J., Segal, N. L., & Rich, S. (1988). Personality similarity in twins reared apart and together. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 1031–1039.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2005). Making sense: A model of affective adaptation. Manuscript submitted for publication, University of Virginia, Charlottesville.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ed Diener
    • 1
  • Richard E. Lucas
    • 2
  • Christie Napa Scollon
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of IllinoisChampaignUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyMichigan State UniversityUSA
  3. 3.School of Social SciencesSingapore Management UniversitySingapore

Personalised recommendations