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What is Hedonic Adaptation?

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What is Hedonic Adaptation?

Dr. Diana Brecher, clinical psychologist and scholar-in-residence for positive psychology and creator of the nationally recognized ThriveRU resilience program at Toronto’s Ryerson University, helps us make sense of gratitude’s many gifts by explaining what’s referred to as “hedonic adaptation”:

Just as we can adapt to difficult, challenging times, research also makes clear that, through hedonic adaption, we habituate to the good things in our lives—a new romance, a job promotion, even winning the lottery. When we, over time, acclimate and eventually take those good things for granted, we tend to minimize their positive impact or meaning. Gratitude helps us fight this hedonic adaptation and balance the books.
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Web of life

Linda Graham, California-based psychotherapist, mindful self-compassion teacher, and author of Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster (New World Library, 2018), offers this gratitude exercise to “extend our appreciation beyond the most immediate blessings to the larger web of life, including people who keep your life going, even if you’ve never met them.”

  • Recall people you know who are helping you keep your life going in this moment: someone who helped you find your reading glasses; a friend who sent a supportive email; a co-worker who took over your duties for the day when a nasty flu simply wouldn’t let you get out of bed.
  • Take a moment to focus on any felt sense of thankfulness these recollections evoke; notice where you feel any sense of gratitude as you let the sensations resonate in your body.
  • Expand the circle of your awareness to gratitude for the people who also keep your life going but who you haven’t met, or may not meet:
    • people staffing your local hospital right now, in case you slip on a rug on the way to the bathroom, break a bone, and have to be rushed to the emergency room
    • people staffing airports, pharmacies, fire stations, and gas stations
    • people testing water quality at the municipal reservoir so that when you turn on the kitchen faucet you have drinkable water, or the people who fix potholes in the street
    • people growing your food and recycling your garbage
    • the entire web of life that keeps your life going, moment to moment to moment
  • Take a moment to reflect on this experience of practising gratitude and empathy for helpful people in your life and for the larger web of life. Sense the feelings your practice evokes. Notice any changes in your own emotions or thoughts about yourself as you focus on cultivating gratitude.
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