The Hedonic Treadmill & The Tyranny of Convenience

Have you already checked out, just after reading that title?

It's fine. I wouldn't want to INCONVENIENCE YOU with my garbled internal musings anyhow. 

(But really though.) 

In psychology, the notion of the hedonic treadmill refers to the general human response of adapting to a plateau of relatively stable happiness/enjoyment after significant life changes, both positive and negative. Like the never-ending nature of mechanized machine cardio, we're running on an endless loop, constantly having to work to maintain that same level of happiness, even as our external circumstances fluctuate. Aka, we habituate. 

You get a raise or a bonus at work, and while initially those extra funds are an added boon, you acclimate to your new budget and your life continues on much as it was before. 

Good things happen, and your expectations and desires increase in tandem, without any significant overall happiness gained. Maybe you're able to travel more or buy fancy trench coats after getting this promotion, but does your day-to-day level of happiness improve all that drastically? 

Maybe bad things happen too, hiccups in your life plan, but somehow, after an eviscerating break up or the death of a loved one or a debilitating injury or a job loss, you continue moving forward and life somehow reassembles itself around you eventually. 

Think of it as a sinusoidal wave. The peaks are the good things that happen to you, the troughs are the setbacks, and midway between them is your base level of happiness. Experiences like parenthood and romantic relationships amplify the wave, but that baseline remains ever-present. 

And this is where convenience, or the tyranny of it comes in. While convenience aims to simplify our lives, doesn't it just end up acclimatizing us so that CONVENIENCE becomes our new baseline, and anything less than that efficiency we've grown accustomed to is irritating and disruptive? 

I remember having a Nokia phone, and being so excited to finallyyy be able to text. 
I remember the days of dial-up internet, and relishing what time I had to hop online and check Myspace once a day after school.  
I remember having to hook up my laptop to ethernet cords in my dorm room because our on-campus college housing didn't have wifi.  

Those things were fine, because that's where technology was at the time, and that's what we were accustomed to. That was our baseline.  

Heck, up until six months ago, I had a freaking DELL laptop, for crying out loud. I had no idea what I was missing out on before I came to my senses and bought a MacBook. 

But now I have a smart phone and wifi and instant streaming. I can get internet on my TV. I can carry my iPad mini around while I do the dishes so I can be constantly entertained, even during the monotony of household chores. I can order a book on Amazon Prime and have it delivered in two days, or no wait, tomorrow! Better yet, I can order the Kindle version and download it immediately. Instead of shlepping myself all the way to the movie theater, I'll just wait until the movie comes to Netflix or Amazon and stream it at my house. Thanks to Amazon Fresh, I don't even have to do my grocery shopping. I have someone else do it and bring all my food to me so I don't have to get dressed or leave my bed. I can have my meals delivered to me through Seamless or Postmates or whatever app the kids are using these days.  

Yes, technology is amazing, yes it makes things so efficient, and yes, it makes everything convenient for ME, The User, The Consumer. Everything is and should be about me. 

And, well, will you look at that. That's my new baseline. 

When I don't have cell service in the basement of the library or when my internet buffers or when there's not a new episode on Hulu to watch or the item I want to buy doesn't qualify for prime shipping, what a terrible inconvenience. UGH. 

So hard, so annoying, so inconvenient. 
Me do my own shopping? 
My own cooking?
Wait in an actual line?
Wait more than two days for something I bought on the internet?
Girl, please. 

And this is where I circle back. 

I've realized, both in the actions, attitudes, and thoughts I see in myself and sometimes in others, that there develops this unrealistic expectation for our lives where, instead of that baseline remaining flat, it gradually starts increasing. At first it's just a small imperceptible rise, but the growing difference in perspective quickly adds up. Over time, we become desensitized and we lose our capacity to be grateful and appreciative of the small positive things in our life because we have to run even harder, uphill, against that ever-mounting incline to reach that same stasis and a comparable level of contentment. 

I'm too inconvenienced that this party doesn't have the type of tortillas I like to appreciate this free catered meal from a really nice restaurant. UGH.
I'm too inconvenienced by the lack of right-hand turning lanes in this neighborhood to appreciate having my own car that I didn't have to pay for. UGH.
I'm too inconvenienced that the technician got nail polish on my cuticles to appreciate that she just spent the last twenty minutes scraping the dead skin off my feet. UGH. 

I know, I know, these are the laments of a #basicwhitegirl and #firstworldproblems, but do you see what I'm getting at? Don't you know what it's like to be around these people who aren't ever satisfied? 

I have, and I know that from time to time, I've been one and I am one. 

Which is why I'm starting to look for ways that a little inconvenience can better help me to appreciate and to be grateful, and to reorient my baseline. 

Cooking isn't always convenient, but I like knowing exactly what goes into my food and it saves me money. 

Baking from scratch isn't always convenient, but I enjoy the process and oftentimes my desserts taste better than if they were pre-made. 

Walking to class isn't as convenient as taking the shuttle to campus, but I enjoy being outside and moving my body. 

Sewing my own clothes is DEFINITELY not as convenient as shopping, but again, I enjoy the creative process and having custom clothes made to fit me. 

So I guess what I'm getting after is that maybe a little inconvenience isn't the worst thing that could happen to you. Because really, it's not all about you anyhow. 


Just a Number?

Yesterday at church, a little kid told me he was 4.1 years old. He asked me how old I was and I told him I was 27.75. 

Regretfully, I only have 3 months left of this age. Aaaaand it's causing me major stress.  

Last year when I was 26, I watched the TV show Younger about all these 26-year old working professionals, and I felt hip and relevant because their age was my age and we were all cute and fun and wrinkle-free and kind of the same. 

Now I'm 27 and watching My Best Friend's Wedding and realizing that in this movie, Julia Roberts is also supposed to be 27. When her character was in college, she made a pact with Dermot Mulroney that when they were 28, if they weren't married, they would marry each other. Similar boat, here. I, too, have always been in love with my best guy friend who also doesn't want to be with me, but I have yet to attempt to break up any weddings, so maybe that's a point in my book? 

What I'm getting at is that after I age past 27, I'm already feeling like I'll be able to relate less to pop culture because such a significantly higher portion of people will be younger than me, little baby youths, frolicking about in their early 20's. 

But also, 27 has probably been the most interesting and boldest year of my life, one of doing the most traveling on my own, trying the most new things, and making some of the biggest changes. I'm already sad to leave this age behind. 

At the beginning of a new birthday year, you feel like time is inconsequential and irrelevant--you have so much of it at your expense and you'll be this new age for such a long time, there's no sense worrying about it right then. But inevitably, as you start nearing the end of that year, in a kind of Faustian way you realize that the time will pass regardless, and fretting about getting older is like paddling against the current. 

Maybe age is also bothering me because I just rewatched Hello, My Name is Doris recently and I was thinking about the implausibility of the storyline. The movie revolves around Sally Field’s character being interested in a younger coworker, Max Greenfield, and is a kind of coming of age film for an older woman. I relate to that movie on a spiritual level because not only is being single a major part of my life and foreseeable future, but also misconstruing innocuous social interactions as flirting is and always has been my brand. 

But the whole movie, I felt this twisty sense anxiety, almost akin to guilt, because the dramatic irony to which I, as a viewer, was privy was that a young, hot man would not be interested in an woman twice his age. (During filming, Max was 35 to Sally’s 70 years old.) The idea of a younger man coupled with a much older woman (I'm talking an age gap of +10 years) feels so taboo in our culture that it legitimately made me uncomfortable to watch at times. 

Wait, what is it you see confidently striding in to interrupt this conversation? 

Oh right, the pervasive double standard that makes it much more permissible for older men to date younger women. 
For your interested little eyeballs: 

Hugh Jackman’s wife: 13 years
Geena Davis: 15 years
Mary Tyler Moore: 18 years 
Demi Morre: 20 years (when she was married to Ashton Kutcher)
Carol Burnett: 23 years
Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s wife: 24 years

Matthew McConaughey: 14 years
Tom Cruise: 16 years
George Clooney: 17 years
David Schwimmer: 19 years
David Cross: 19 years
Jason Statham: 20 years
Kevin Costner: 22 years
Harrison Ford: 22 years
Bruce Willis: 23 years
John Stamos: 23 years
Michael Douglas: 25 years
Alec Baldwin: 26 years
Celine Dion’s husband: 26 years

You get the picture. I realize that the sample size I’m pulling from is biased racially and socio-economically to the Hollywood elite, and while yes, of course it's possible to find instances where a woman is much older than her partner, the trend seems to be that men marry significantly younger women much more often than women marry significantly younger men. 

(I also realize that I’ve reported stats for twice as many men here as women, but I found abundant cases of prominent well-known Hollywood actors currently alive and currently married to younger women that considerably outnumbered the information I could find for older women marrying younger men, hence the inclusion of the late Mary Tyler Moore to beef up my list.) 

I warrant that this trend is closely related to our society’s tendency to quickly label women as looking “old” and discard them when they are no longer sexy enough for our judgmental consuming gaze, while male celebrities are often singled out for looking more handsome, refined, and distinguished as they age. 

Just today I saw a post on Twitter comparing these photos of Matthew 
McConaughey alongside the caption “aged like wine” or something equally as inane. While I would have much stronger antagonistic feelings about a similar meme portraying a female celebrity because of how such images propagate the objectification of women, we don’t see the same kind of appreciation given to women’s aging bodies first of all, but aging women in general.


Someone else who was more culturally sensitive tweeted:

Thus the implication seems to be that women are less desirable as they age. 

And maybe that’s where this anxiety is stemming from, in part. 

I’ve gotten this far in my life feeling perpetually unwanted and undateable, as if being single is some cruel and unusual punishment I have specifically been called to bear. I fear that, as restricted as my dating pool already is, its size will continue to diminish in negative correlation to my age each year I grow older. Believe me, it’s not lost on me that in my church culture, upon turning 31, you transition out of being a “young single adult” and are abruptly lumped with the “single adults.”

But I think the biggest part of this anxiety tsunami is about losing touch with my youth. No longer being a young adult and just being a (sigh) regular adult. 

Someone who has insurance and buys her own plane tickets and has the "we have food at home talk" with herself when feeling tempted to eat out too much. Someone who squeegees the shower to prevent mildew and is proud of her cloth napkins. 

Maybe all of this is silly. Maybe age is arbitrary and I’m just struggling with this innate and intense need to categorize and classify. And just because both Emma Watson and Dev Patel are only days older than me, I don't need to feel like my life accomplishments are any less noteworthy simply because I've never been in any Oscar-winning or Harry Potter movies. 

I really like this quote from the movie The Guardian (whose two male leads have both been in marriages of substantial age differences): 

Ben: When the heck did we get old?
Maggie: Hell, I've always been old, Ben. You know what though? I don't mind. I mean, if my muscles ache, it's because I've used 'em. It's hard for me to walk up them steps now. It's 'cuz I walked up 'em every night to lay next to a man who loved me. I got a few wrinkles here and there, but I've laid under thousands of skies with sunny days. I look and feel this way, well, 'cuz I drank and I smoked. I lived and I loved, danced, sang, sweat, and screwed my way through a pretty damn good life if you ask me. Getting old ain't bad, Ben. Getting old, that's earned. 


Little Things

  • Bagels
  • Going through the car wash
  • Amazon Prime
  • Positive feedback from a superior
  • Spelling games
  • When people are good at telling stories
  • Delicate gold jewelry
  • Stretching
  • Reading other people's to-do lists 
  • Lemon-scented hand soap
  • The Olympics
  • Giving someone a present they're truly excited about 
  • Cheesecake
  • Covered parking 
  • The smell of coffee in a bookstore 
  • Learning new words
  • When a baby falls asleep on you 
  • Free pens 
  • Untangling a big knot
  • Modern art
  • Going to the temple 
  • Pigs
  • Lots of pillows
  • Happy hour at Sonic
  • Jacket collars
  • Dimples
  • Using a new toothbrush 
  • Jumping jacks
  • Audio books
  • Celebrating silly holidays 
  • Root beer floats 


Two Thousand Heaven-teen

Politically: 2017 was a doozy.

Personally: it was actually pretty great.

And I say that in retrospect, because while it was good in the overall sense, it was also one of the most difficult and challenging years for me. It was a year of newness, of learning to accept change, of stretching outside my comfort zone, and trying lots and lots of new things.

But hey, that builds character, right?

I learned to be more adventurous, creative, spontaneous, and bold.

My three biggest accomplishments were:
1. Going back to grad school
2. Moving across the country by myself
3. Learning to embrace my independence

That third one is really just code for me really growing up and learning how to better be an adult, to live on my own, and to come to terms that I'm no longer a flighty co-ed in her early 20's.

I rented cars for the first time.

I bought my own plane tickets.

I went to Ireland, Canada, Mexico, and Ecuador, all without having to receive permission from my parents!

I quit my job, moved out of my apartment, and left my Arizona support system of five years.

I drove across the entire United States by myself, effectively from Southern California to Pennsylvania (though not all at the same time).

I secured my own independent health insurance.

I moved into an apartment, sight-unseen, in a brand new city to go to a brand new college, and have been exceptionally content to live by myself for the first time.

I jumped out of a freaking airplane!

I went to the gynecologist for the first time.

I learned how to drive in the snow.

I stood up to scummy guys who treated me poorly and took back my sense of female empowerment after unwisely giving it to them.

I went to a circus, met Clinton Kelley, and won a sewing contest on Instagram.

And I sewed 37 garments, made 19 cakes, read 33 books, and made 194 recipes.

So while it definitely wasn't the easiest year, it was one of discernible growth, change, and adaptation. I started out the year not knowing where I would be at the end of it, and here I am once again, starting 2018 in the same way.

Let's all give a hearty toast to the books we have yet to read, the boys we have yet to kiss, and the pizza we have yet to eat this year. Hear, hear!