The Hedonic set point

So, yesterday’s introspection left me at an interesting place. I’m considering a concept I teach in positive psychology called the hedonic set point. The concept is backed by research, so it’s not new age hoo-ha.

The theory goes like this: whenever something good happens to us, we feel great for a while, but then we get used to that feeling and it fades until we’re back at our set point. When something bad happens to us, we feel bad for a while, but then we start feeling less bad and then it fades until we get back to our set point. 

So, if I get rejected, and I don’t beat myself up over it, I will feel better eventually. If I beat myself up over it, I generate bad feelings and will feel bad for longer. But I will find myself once again at the set point.

Conversely, if I get accepted (for my manuscript or by an agent), I will feel great for a while, and may try to make the feeling last longer by celebrating and telling all my friends, but I will eventually fall back to the set point. 

In other words, it’s folly to look at happy-making moments in order to become happy. In a lifespan, major achievements don’t reset our hedonic set point.

What does reset our set point higher?
  • Practicing gratitude
  • Significant relationships (friendship, family, intimate)
  • Building self esteem = success/hopes and expectations
  • Giving back to community
  • Regular meditation
So, given that, there is one thing about getting published that could permanently put my set point higher and that is building self-esteem. I get that. 

Building self-esteem can be done in two ways: More success and modest hopes and expectations.*  I’m working on it.


* My fantasy of getting published is pretty modest. In it, I have to find an entertainment lawyer, look over a contract, argue the contract, go through all those intermediate steps that might take a year or four, have a modestly attended book party, travel a few places on my money, and make less than $40k. None of my friends will be particularly excited. My university will not count it as academic achievement. I’m okay with this. 

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