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Brickman and Campbell coined the term "Hedonic Treadmill" in their essay "Hedonic Relativism and Planning the Good Society" (1971), which appeared in M.H. Apley, ed., ' 'Adaptation Level Theory: A Symposium, New York: Academic Press, 1971, pp 287–302. The theory has consequences for understanding happiness as both an individual and a societal goal.

The concept was modified by Michael Eysenck, a British psychology researcher during the late nineties, to refer to the hedonic treadmill theory which compares the pursuit of happiness to a person on a treadmill, who has to keep working just to stay in the same place.


Concise definition

The tendency of a person to remain at a relatively stable level of happiness despite a change in fortune or the achievement of major goals. According to the hedonic treadmill, as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness.


Humans rapidly adapt to their current situation, becoming habituated to the good or the bad. We are more sensitive to our relative status: both that which we recently have and that which we perceive others to enjoy.

Bottan and Perez Truglia in "Deconstructing the Hedonic Treadmill" (2008) propose a model to explain the emergence of adaptive stimuli. They also test their hypotheses running dynamic happiness regressions.


  • Despite the fact that external forces are constantly changing our life goals, happiness for most people is a relatively constant state. Regardless of how good things get, people always report about the same level of happiness.
  • The theory that the baseline of an individual's happiness is at least partially genetic is bolstered by the fact that identical twins are usually equally prone to depression.[1]
  • The hedonic treadmill theory explains the oft-held observation that rich people are no happier than poor people, and that those with severe money problems are sometimes quite happy. The theory supports the argument that money does not buy happiness and that the pursuit of money as a way to reach this goal is futile. Good and bad fortunes may temporarily affect how happy a person is, but most people will end up back at their normal level of happiness.

See also


  1. ^
  • The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don't Need by Juliet B. Schor [1]
  • The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz [2]

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