When women are depressed, they eat or go shopping. Men invade another country. It’s a whole different way of thinking.  ~ Elayne Boosler

There may be some truth in this quotation for both women and men! Our Auto Response kicks in and before we know it we respond: by shopping, invading!, or whatever else it is we normally do to satisfy our desires. Is this something that we want to do though? As I mentioned before: ‘if you always do what you’ve always done you’ll always get what you’ve always got.’ What have you noticed when you’ve been shopping as a result of feeling let down by something or someone? How long did the feeling of pleasure last after the purchase or event?  If it lasted only a short time psychology may well have the answer to the reason why, as well as how, you can achieve a more satisfying long-lasting feeling of happiness.

Psychologists Sheldon and Lyubomirsky (2007) used the phrase: ‘Hedonistic Habituation’ to refer to a condition where the mind increasingly gets used to a particular experience and so craves a greater stimulus the next time. Hedonistic Habituation could arise as a result of buying new clothes or a new car in response to personal changes; getting drunk or eating a lot of chocolate, as a coping mechanism for something that has happened; or anything that you believe meets your need. Psychologists refer to these as circumstantial changes since they tend to come about based upon our circumstance or situation at any given time. However, the next time these circumstantial change purchases or experiences are encountered they seldom produce the same levels of euphoria that they produced at the point of purchase (and shops know this, by the way!) and so the result can be feeling deflated and let down.

It’s not that anything’s specifically wrong with these actions per se (getting drunk might not be such a good idea though!); rather, the process of seeking satisfaction via circumstantial change is often, as described above, short-lived and so requires a greater stimulus next time. Our solution is to go and buy something better, indulge more than we did last time, experience even more thrill-seeking adrenaline. The one thing that can be assured of though is this: the happiness derived from the circumstantial change won’t last and will lead to ever increasing levels of dissatisfaction and disappointment – probably guilt too – and compel us to buy bigger, better and then better again.

Making intentional changes (changes that require effort and commitment to undertake) rather than circumstantial ones appear to offer solutions to longer lasting happiness. Such intentional changes might be joining a new club, starting a healthier lifestyle or beginning a new hobby. Unlike circumstantial changes, intentional changes appear to offer longer lasting happiness since the ‘map’ before you: what you’re experiencing is constantly changing: you’re making new friends, your skill level is improving or you continuously experience something new (an ever-changing vista, as you walk in the countryside or gaze at the clouds in the sky: I have a penchant for doing both).

What are your particular interests? There are transferable skills that you could utilise. If you enjoy puzzles: Sudoku, what new puzzles can you find to test yourself with?: crosswords, chess puzzles or maybe IQ puzzles? Do you play badminton? How about taking up tennis? Do you enjoy cooking? Is there a new recipe you’ve wanted to try or a membership that you could enrol in? Whatever it is do something different that requires some effort and commitment on your behalf. The evidence shows that doing that, unlike the long-term outcomes from purchase buying or drinking, will bring lasting happiness.

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