Research suggests that one of the biggest challenges to lasting happiness is our great capacity for adaptation: We tend to get used to the things that bring us pleasure in life, and before long, their positive effects wear off. We no longer enjoy them in the way we once did.
However, research has identified a way to sustain these little pleasures over time: by temporarily giving them up. That can lead us to enjoy and savor that activity more once we resume it—and the ability to savor the small pleasures in life is a key to happiness. This practice guides you through the process of abstaining from a pleasurable activity for a week as a way to heighten your appreciation of it. Over time, the goal is not only to derive more pleasure from this activity but to recognize how we take lots of pleasures for granted and to try to savor them more.
One week. See if you can give up a different pleasure for one week each month.
Quoidbach, J. & Dunn., E. W. (2013). Give it up: A strategy for combating hedonic adaptation. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 5, 511-516.
People who were instructed to give up chocolate for a week savored it significantly more and experienced greater positive mood when they ate it again at the end of the week, compared with people who either indulged in it extra over that week or received no special instructions and just consumed their normal amount.
One of the greatest enemies to happiness is “hedonic adaptation,” which is the tendency for people to grow accustomed to pleasurable things and therefore appreciate them less. Temporarily giving up pleasurable activities counteracts hedonic adaptation and can thus increase the pleasure derived from those activities.
Giving something up and then coming back to it later can build anticipation and make the experience feel more novel and exciting. It can also make people more likely to focus on and savor the pleasurable aspects of the experience rather than giving in to distractions. We often assume that more is better—that the greatest pleasures should come from abundance and indulgence—but research suggests that some degree of scarcity and restraint is more conducive to happiness.