Riding the Hedonic Treadmill

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the Hedonic Treadmill. According to Wikipedia, the Hedonic Treadmill

is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes. According to this theory, as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedonic_treadmill)

In other words, just like a real treadmill, no matter how fast you go and how hard you push yourself, you will always end up back in the same place.

The Treadmill has been much on my mind myself a bit less happy these days – not really sad, just kinda middle-of-the-road content. I find myself in this situation even though I seem to have achieved a lot of my goals and have created a life that seems pretty good on paper.

Were all the heady thrills of my youth just temporary jolts of happiness before sober adulthood brought me crashing back to my current weak-tea version of contentment? Will I have to keep force-feeding myself a constantly escalating diet of new countries, new challenges, new adventures, and more expensive toys just so I can keep feeling something, even though all I really want to do now is stay at home with my dogs and practice the guitar?

Although the Treadmill seems to be a widespread phenomenon, either due to something inherent in human nature or through the success of demand-driven western capitalism, it all seems more ludicrous when living in the Philippines, a country with so much highly visible poverty. On the one hand, I’ve met plenty of Filipinos who seem happier than I could ever be without a centavo in the bank, and in some cases without ever having traveled more than a hundred kilometres from their hometown. That’s not to downplay the challenges that many Filipinos face – the idea of a life with almost no social safety net is absolutely terrifying, especially for someone from a developed country who is accustomed to universal health care. No amount of positive thinking can erase the pain of losing a loved one due to lack of money for medical treatment or medicine.

But as the economy here continues to boom, buoyed by the country’s amazingly skilled, highly-educated English-capable workforce, you can see more and more people climbing dutifully onto the treadmill to begin their endless ride. Mixed in with indisputably beneficial rewards like good employer health insurance and increased opportunities for travel come the usual trappings of the treadmill: the idea that the higher you climb up the corporate ladder, the more expensive the treats, toys, and gadgets must be to provide a suitable reward for your labours, to make it all seem worthwhile, and to recapture just a bit of the original thrill of getting your very first paycheque all those years ago. In spite of all the obvious benefits of economic growth, it’s a pretty depressing sign in a country where so many people can still find so much happiness – maybe greater than any happiness I’ll ever know – with only their family, their friends, and God.

But the real injustice of the Hedonic Treadmill is that the constantly escalating amount of money that goes into powering people’s treadmill workouts could be used to increase the health, safety and security of those who are not lucky enough to make it onto the Treadmill – increasing fundamental determinants of quality of life, and not just increasingly expensive efforts to stay in their current position on top of the conveyor belt. I’ve met young Filipinos who had to stop their university studies for half a year or longer because they were 1000 pesos (around $25 US) short on tuition. In other words, there are people out there for whom 1000 pesos is enough for them to realize their dreams, to complete the application requirements for a new job, or to avoid being kicked out of their homes. On the other hand, I feel a burning sense of shame when I consider what 1000 pesos really means to me, and how much happiness I could actually buy with at this point in my treadmill ride. (More than you’d think, considering that I’d rather spend it at the palengke than at Vikings, but still not very much.)

I can remember the incredible excitement I felt the first time I stepped on a plane to take a domestic flight within the Philippines – to Cebu, I believe. Or the first time I flew from the Philippines to another Southeast Asian country – Thailand. Now it’s hard for me to get really excited about anything short of visiting a new continent. I still want to see all of the continents, but before I run out of continents, I may have to do a bit of soul-searching. Maybe I’ll have to start giving more to charity before I end up feeling completely like human garbage. Maybe all of us with the luxury of deciding what to do with the money that’s left after we pay for our rent, utilities and groceries – a luxury not afforded to most of the world’s 7 billion human beings – should look past the tired, predictable refrains of “it’s my money, I earned it” and feel a bit garbage-y, too. Because aside from the obvious environmental and social impact of trying to find happiness in disposable consumer products and an ever-expanding carbon footprint, there’s also the damage to – and I kinda hate to use this word – the soul. Maybe by reflecting on the rusted tin cans that clutter up my soul and thinking about what the fundamental, inner determinants of happiness really are, I can get off the treadmill and possibly even help others in the process. And maybe doing that could be worth even more than a new GoPro.

Life On the Fault Line

Recently, PHILVOLCS (the Philippine Institute of Vulcanology and Seismology) released its Valley Fault System Atlas, mapping the West and East Valley Fault Lines that cut directly through Metro Manila. After two years of research, residents of the Metro and nearby provinces can now see exactly how close their homes are to fault lines that have the capacity to unleash earthquakes with a magnitude of up to 7.9.

Considering that the Atlas arrived hot on the heels of the massively destructive Nepal quake, which measured somewhere between 7.9 and 8.1, the new publication has made people understandably skittish. The fact that there have been no major quakes along the Valley Fault System in several hundred years has been taken by many as a sign that we’re past due for The Big One, though I suppose you could just as soon argue that it means the chances of The Big One happening anytime soon are pretty low.

Of course, just releasing an atlas that makes the risks so disturbingly visual doesn’t actually increase the risk to anyone. My house in Muntinlupa City is really, really close to the West Valley Fault, the potentially more dangerous of the two. I really, really love my neighbourhood, and the idea that it could be reduced to a smouldering heap of rubble is pretty upsetting to me. The thought of seeing my beloved dogs buried under piles of rubble from collapsing houses next door, both of which tower over my modest and somewhat rickety one-story house, is not a very nice thought at all. For a while, I thought about moving somewhere safer after my current house lease ends, even if it meant tearing myself away from a place that has truly become my home.

But risk is a funny business in the Philippines. In my home country, wherever that is (somewhere in North America or Europe, I think), really big natural disasters are a rare occurrence. On some years we may see floods that ruin people’s basements (which is probably one reason nobody has basements in the Philippines), but when it happens, it’s considered something extraordinary. In the Philippines the only uncertainty facing us each year is: regular typhoons or supertyphoons? When each year pretty much guarantees flooded streets and houses as a bare minimum, with the risks escalating from there all the way up to death, you have to look at risk differently. No wonder bahala na is such a big hit here.

So, if the Big One does come, I only pray that my fellow Manileños and I will come out lucky and unscathed. And if that’s too much for ask for, I will at least hope for a quick and relatively painless death for me, preferably under something large and heavy enough to squish me without too much wasted time. Not that I’m hoping for anything more than many more happy days in Manila – it’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon, the sun is shining, and it’s finally stopped being so damn humid here. Plus, my dogs are looking really comfortable sleeping on the floor next to me. I’m pretty sure they’re quite happy in their total ignorance of seismology, and maybe I could learn a thing or two from them.

Bloggerbels: High Concept Blogging

By now, most of you are probably already big fans of Dog With A Blog, the hit Disney channel TV show about a dog… that blogs! Wow… crazy!


Whoa… What’ll they think of next?! Pretty weird, huh?! I didn’t even know dogs could type!!!

But then it got me thinking: Everyone loves dogs, but what if we took it to the next level? What if, instead of a dog, we had a human with a blog? I mean, think of all the adventures a human being could have. After all, human beings aren’t even required by law to be on leashes outside their homes. The possibilities are limitless – or at least less limited than they would be with dogs – and that’s what Bloggerbels is all about. Let’s go – It’s gonna be off the chain! Heh, heh, heh!