David Strittmatter

Gratefulness – a secret weapon to a happy life

Be thankful for what you have and you’ll end up having more – Oprah Winfrey


  • Unfortunately, our minds are built to get used to joyful things
  • Thus, they stop bringing us the happiness that we expect
  • A super weapon against this issue (hedonic adaptation) is practicing gratefulness

Practical advice:

  • Gratitude is all about being thankful and appreciative of the things that we have
  • To induce gratitude, there’re various ways, which require little time and no money
  • Maximize the benefits of gratefulness by making exercising it a habit

Dear friend,

Recently, I realized that I was once again a victim of hedonic adaptation.

Since high school, I was working towards my current job. I wanted to become a strategy consultant so badly. Yet, when I finally got the job with the employer I always wanted to work for, all the joy quickly diminished – thanks to hedonic adaptation.

Hedonic adaptation – the process of becoming accustomed to things – is one of the few culprits that strongly affect our happiness. Because of this inherent process, you will get used to whatever you obtain or achieve, bringing your boosted happiness level back to normal.

Can we do something about this villain?

In today’s article, I will write about why we’re unhappier than we could be, how practicing gratefulness can help us to overcome hedonic adaptation, and how we can apply this concept easily to our lives.

Why hedonic adaptation impedes our happiness

Hedonic adaptation is our tendency to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite positive or negative events or life changes. As we achieve our goals (more money, a better job, better look, marriage, nice house, etc.), expectations and desires rise simultaneously, resulting in only a temporary gain in happiness.

Unfortunately, our minds are built to get used to stuff. The problem with all the seemingly awesome things – for instance the job I was working towards – that once we get them, usually they stick around. They become the new normal. And thus, they stop bringing us the happiness that we expect. The major reason why lottery winners aren’t significantly happier.

But we not only get used to things but also obtain new reference points when life changes occur. For example, when I was still in university, I didn’t care how much money I’d be earning in my first job. I was a student and every entry-level job was paying more than I could spend. Now, because of my new job, I’ve adopted a new reference point. Earning less in my next job/position would somehow hurt my happiness. Not because I wasn’t satisfied with this amount of money but because it’d be relatively less than my new reference point.

How gratitude helps to enjoy a happier life

A super weapon against hedonic adaptation is gratefulness. Gratitude is the feeling and expression of thankfulness and appreciation. When someone does you a great favor and you feel a great desire to return that favor as you’re so thankful, that’s gratitude.

But gratitude isn’t something that just comes over us, we can also make a conscious effort to trigger it. For example, right now, you could write down three things you’re grateful for and why you’re appreciating these things. You’d trigger the same feeling as when you felt naturally grateful.

In the research of positive psychology, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps you to feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, and improve your health. It allows you to retrieve positive memories, be thankful for past blessings, take good fortune not for granted, and maintain a hopeful and optimistic attitude.

By reminding myself of how I was cheering for myself to land that job, how great I felt after getting that offer, and what a great time is ahead, I can strongly inhibit the effects of hedonic adaptation. Fortunately, the power of gratitude can be applied to everything subject to hedonic adaptation.

Practicing gratitude – high impact, low effort

Gratitude is all about being thankful and appreciative of the things that we have. To induce this feeling, there’re various ways, which require little time and no money. The more effort we spend to express it, though, the more we will get out. Here are some gratitude exercises and activities you can try out:

  • Make a list of 5 things you’re grateful for right now (health, family, friends, achievements, etc)
  • Send your parents, friend, partner, teacher, boss, … a thank you message
  • Note down 7 things you love about yourself
  • Think about a challenging situation and how you’ve overcome it
  • Contemplate 3 people who had a great positive impact on your life
  • Re-experience a snippet of your life when you cheered for the things you’ve got today
  • List 3 mistakes you are very grateful you made

What greatly helps me to maximize the benefits of gratefulness is to make it a habit. I incorporated gratitude exercises into my systems so that I don’t have to remind myself to regularly practice it.

For instance, every night, I reflect on the past day and ask myself four questions, including the two questions: What were my achievements today? and what are the things I can look forward to tomorrow?

Additionally, every Sunday I ask myself what were the highlight moments of the week? to remind me of all the things that made my day. And, at the end of every month during my monthly reflection, I read and enlarge the list of all the things I’m grateful for.

These activities greatly help me to fight the effects of hedonic adaption, making my life a little more joyful.

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