Do you feel like you’re never happy? Managing the Hedonic Treadmill of Happiness

Hedonic treadmill

Do you feel like no matter what you do, you will never be happy? Are you always thinking of greener grasses? Are you always buying the newest thing to make you feel good? Do you feel like you are never satisfied? I am all about striving for new goals and growth, but if you are like me, you struggle with feeling content.

Let me introduce you to the Hedonic Treadmill of happiness.

Hedonic treadmill is the idea that the average human stays at a baseline of happiness. If something exciting happens such as winning the lottery, buying a new car, or starting a new job, after a few weeks that person will likely return to baseline. A person’s happiness level returns to normal after the “honeymoon phase” of increased happiness.

The same thing is true if something bad happens: getting a speeding ticket, a job loss, or loss of a loved one. Eventually, the person will return to their baseline level of happiness.

However, most people approach this the wrong way. Many people constantly try to increase their overall happiness. Think about buying a new car. How excited are you once you first drive off the lot? Then think about a few months down the road, that initial enthusiasm wears off. This is an example of the hedonic treadmill of happiness.

What does this mean for nurse practitioners?

Understanding the hedonic treadmill can help in your personal life as well as overcoming nurse practitioner burnout.

Are you the type of person who is never happy, or that is constantly looking for the next best thing? Maybe you are always wanting to buy the latest gadget, or the fancy car, or seeking a new relationship/friendship to bring your happiness level up. This is also true for nurse practitioners who are constantly looking for a new job. When the initial excitement of their current job wears off, that person is always looking at new job postings. This is an example of the hedonic treadmill of happiness.

Ways to manage the Hedonic Treadmill.

First we need to take a step back and do some self reflection. Nurse practitioners need to identify where they are coming from and how they can make changes. We need to figure out what we can control to raise our overall happiness level. Nurse practitioners need to understand the hedonic treadmill of happiness concept. I want you to use these following tips to reflect on your own happiness. Take out a piece of paper or journal and write down your answers!

Reflect on what actually makes you happy.

Be honest about this. If an iced caramel macchiato from Starbucks or an extra cheesy piece of pepperoni pizza makes you happy, write it down! Maybe you are most happy taking your dog for an evening walk. Maybe you are content spending time with your family. Or seeing your grandmother in the nursing home. Or working with diabetic patients. What kind of small, meaningful people, places, or things bring you happiness. Whatever happiness is to you, do that thing! Implementing the little things that make you content will help raise the happiness bar and continue on the hedonic treadmill of happiness.

Demonstrate gratitude.

If you are a nurse practitioner who has followed The Burned-out Nurse Practitioner for a while, you will know how important gratitude is! For more information on gratitude and contentment, check out these previous blog posts:  Article #1    Article #2   Article #3 . This just goes to show how important being grateful is. Work on noticing small things (or large things) that you are thankful for. It is amazing how much your happiness can improve when you practice daily gratitude! Being thankful can keep nurse practitioners on the hedonic treadmill of happiness.

Delayed gratification.

It is human nature to seek immediate gratification. So many people want a quick fix or instant rush. We see this as nurse practitioners. Many patients are looking for a pill or procedure to fix their symptoms/complaints. They want a drug for weight loss instead of doing diet and exercise. They want an antibiotic to start feeling better now, instead of waiting for symptoms to improve spontaneously.

Nurse practitioners need to remember that all good things come with time. We did the work and made it through the years of nurse practitioner school. That achievement took time. In a world of instant access, we forget about delayed gratification. Seek things that bring long term happiness. When we shift away from instant access and remember delayed gratification, we shift to increased happiness. We continue to ride the hedonic treadmill of happiness.

Change the way you think about material things.

It’s ok to buy things, but change the mindset. If you think buying the latest electronic will bring you happiness, find ways to be grateful for that. For example, acknowledge the fact that talking to your mother on the latest phone brings you happiness. Or be grateful your income allows you to purchase new electronics. I also suggest avoiding impulse buying, especially on large things. Take at least a couple days, and if you don’t feel the urge to buy that thing anymore, don’t do it! Refer back to the delayed gratification tip.

These are examples of ways we can avoid staying on that hedonic treadmill of happiness. Realize this concept of baseline happiness is true for most people. If you struggle with never feeling satisfied, use these tips to steady your state of happiness!

Erica D the NP is a family nurse practitioner and burnout coach. Erica created The Burned-out Nurse Practitioner to help overwhelmed APRNs create work-life balance, overcome nurse practitioner burnout, and advocate for themselves. The Burned-out Nurse Practitioner offers online courses, coaching, and support. Learn more at

For time management and charting tips, check out The Nurse Practitioner Charting School– The one stop for all documentation resources created specifically for nurse practitioners. Learn more at

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