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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 them.

Brickman and Campbells (1971) hedonic treadmill theory. Widely accepted model of subjective wellbeing. ..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 JanoffBulman 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 Dieners 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 neutral. 2)World Values Survey-80% very or quite happy.

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 stability 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 change.

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 satisfaction.

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 individuals=humour. 2)Personality characteristics influence coping eg. Neuroticism=ineffective coping strategies Optimism=active coping/ strategies that can change the situation.

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 changes? Diener and Seligman-system of national accounts of wellbeing (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 events? 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.