Hedonic Adaptation to Positive and Negative Experiences

Sonja Lyubomirsky

in The Oxford Handbook of Stress, Health, and Coping

Published in print November 2010 | ISBN: 9780195375343
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 Hedonic Adaptation to Positive and Negative Experiences

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Empirical and anecdotal evidence for hedonic adaptation suggests that the joys of loves and triumphs and the sorrows of losses and humiliations fade with time. If people’s goals are to increase or maintain well-being, then their objectives will diverge depending on whether their fortunes have turned for the better (which necessitates slowing down or thwarting adaptation) or for the worse (which calls for activating and accelerating it). In this chapter, I first introduce the construct of hedonic adaptation and its attendant complexities. Next, I review empirical evidence on how people adapt to circumstantial changes, and conjecture why the adaptation rate differs in response to favorable versus unfavorable life changes. I then discuss the relevance of examining adaptation to questions of how to enhance happiness (in the positive domain) and to facilitate coping (in the negative domain). Finally, I present a new dynamic theoretical model (developed with Sheldon) of the processes and mechanisms underlying hedonic adaptation. Drawing from the positive psychological literature, I propose ways that people can fashion self-practiced positive activities in the service of managing stress and bolstering well-being.

Keywords: hedonic adaptation; happiness; subjective well-being; positive emotions; aspiration level; variety; surprise

Article.  19456 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Health Psychology ; Social Psychology

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