This year the UK’s crazy weather began with the ‘Beast from the East’. Plunged into the middle of Siberia everyone was surrounded by cold, beautiful snow, deeper than we had seen in years. Cars were buried beneath mountains of white and yet the sky kept falling as though it would never stop. Road conditions were dangerous and many were stranded; on busy motorways as they tried to get home, or at home, with no way of picking up supplies. And yet, there was something magical about those couple of weeks of extreme weather. Whilst the media panicked, schools and workplaces closed, the roads became silent and families in desperate need of quality time together found themselves, for a couple of days at least, home, with nothing to do and nowhere to be. Children built snowmen and rode sledges, the allure of social media momentarily forgotten. I spent two days reading fiction in front of the fire and actually made dinner with my husband on a weeknight for the first time in weeks. I look back on those brief days fondly, as if they were a magical happy adventure. But I, like almost everyone, adapted to the weather and began wishing for it to change.
This is a common theme for us. Fast forward a few months to summer and the longest heatwave we have seen since the 1970s. For a few weeks this weather was amazing. Finally a summer where it isn’t raining. We can plan barbecues three weeks in the future and actually host a barbecue, rather than an “indoor picnic”, complete with soggy burgers. The holiday clothes came out and everyone commented on what a wonderful summer it has been. A few weeks of this, however, and we all started complaining again. For the first time in decades (for Scotland at least) humidity began to set in. Unaccustomed to properly functioning in hot weather and fed up of applying factor 50 three times a day, we all began longing for a little bit of rain… or wind… or cloud coverage. This week our wish was granted. Spectacular thunderstorms raged across Britain bringing with them a lot of rain and strong winds. As always, this weather has caused havoc in some areas, with flood and wind damage creating chaos. But, I swear, I heard my garden breathe a sigh of relief.
The Hedonic Treadmill
Whilst many of us are grateful for a break in the weather and some nourishment for our crops, many still are not content, wishing for the sunshine to return. We Brits are well-known for our obsession with the weather, always convinced that any weather is better than this.
In simplest terms this is a national manifestation of the Hedonic Adaption or the Hedonic Treadmill. This is where we believe firmly that a change in circumstances will make us happier. Hedonic happiness is the happiness we get from simple pleasures or material things such as designer clothes or fancy cars. Unlike Eudemonic happiness, which arises from leading a virtuous and meaningful life, this type of happiness, although potentially wonderful at the time, doesn’t last. Before long we adapt to our new situation and begin longing for more. Studies have shown that this is why getting married or buying a new house only brings happiness for a few years after which our happiness levels go back to where they had been before. It is why the pursuit of happiness is so often unfulfilled and explains why all too often we are longing for a change in season.
Escape The Treadmill
There are a number of ways to ensure that we don’t get stuck in the trap of the hedonic treadmill. Adopting a daily practice of gratitude can help you to see the positives of the current circumstances and can help prevent you from taking your situation for granted. The next time the weather is getting you down ask yourself what you are being given. The chance to spend extra quality time with family, the opportunity to spend more time in nature or simply some water to help the flowers grow. Similarly, living more mindfully and savouring the positive moments can help to centre you in the here and now and can greatly improve wellbeing.
Hedonic adaption is a part of everyday existence but we can help to combat its affects by filling our lives with things and people that bring our life meaning. Volunteering for a local charity, taking part in community events and sharing experiences with those close to us can all help us to escape the treadmill and, ultimately, lead happier lives, no matter what the weather is up to.
About the author: Katherine Halliday lives in Dundee in Scotland and works in student support at the University of St Andrews. Katherine is currently undertaking the MAPP course at Bucks New University and is loving every minute of it.