In this fast-paced modern world, people tend to take everything for granted. We live as if our life will never end, treating our friends and our loved ones as if they’re gonna be there for us forever. We suck at reminding ourselves how temporary life is.
It’s a fact of life that we are never satisfied with what we have. Every time we pursue something new: a raise, a new fancy car, a new home or any other possession, this satisfaction eventually fades after a while and we return to our stable level of happiness, looking for the next big thing to acquire.
This tendency to return to our stable levels of happiness after positive or negative events in our life is called: Hedonic Treadmill or Hedonic Adaptation, a theory by Brickman and Campbell, two psychologists who introduced the term in 1971 in their essay: “Hedonic Relativism and Planning the Good Society”.
Hedonic Adaptation is not a bad thing though, it helps us get more advanced and improve our living conditions. If we were constantly happy, there would be no reason to improve ourselves and move forward technologically. The bad thing is that this stability makes us getting used to things pretty easily, we tend to take important things for granted: our health, our loved ones and even some of our possessions. It makes us forget of the importance of the small things in life until it’s too late.
“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” –Tyler Durden (Fight Club)
The good thing is that we can override this adaptation proccess by using the ancient stoic technique of Negative Visualization. Stoics used to spend some time of their day visualizing that they’ve lost something of value from their lives: a limb, the ability to breath, a loved one etc. This technique helped them to be mindful of the importance of those things thus creating a sense of gratefulness.
However bleak this may sound, whenever you find yourself being ungrateful or when you think your life sucks, when you’re stuck in traffic or when your battery phone is low, before you start complaining, just stop and imagine how your life could be so much worse.
When you fight with your loved ones for insignificant reasons, stop and think how would it be if that person wouldn’t be alive the next day. When you don’t feel like going somewhere by feet, imagine that you had no legs and so on…
The main concept of this technique is to make you aware of the blessings around you and stop being ungrateful of those valubable things in your life. It will make you appreciate your life more.
Take a moment and look at your hands, open and close them gently, see how they’re working perfectly for you to be able to feel, touch and grab things, move your arms slowly up and down, feel the motion. Now imagine yourself having no hands or arms and being unable to touch or feel anything. Take a moment and imagine you’ve lost your legs, does this feel worse? Think about your life without limbs, how would it be?
Imagine yourself having no sight. How would your life be if you couldn’t see anything? Imagine you’ve lost your hearing, unable to listen to anything. How would it be if you couldn’t smell or taste your favourite food?
“We should love all our dear ones…, but always with the thought that we have no promise that we may keep them forever—nay, no promise even that we may keep them for long” — Seneca
This should work as a daily reminder that you have to keep in your mind. Whenever you find yourself treating your people like shit, stop and think about it. Spend more time with your loved ones, if you live in distance call them on the phone more. The presence of our loved ones is not guaranteed in this life.
I know some of these visualizations are really hard to imagine and most people try not to think about it. Unfortunately you can’t hide from life. These techniques will bring you to a whole new level of appreciation of life.
Some may argue that this technique is for those who have it all right in their lives and how about those people who are already in bad situations. Apparently this technique works for everyone because everyone could be in much worse situations than they already are.