I have a great aunt of 94 who has never been married, the other day she said to me that of course she has no first hand experience but as far as she could see the reason most marriages failed was because of boredom.
"They say it's because of this or that reason, but I think people just get bored" was how she put it.
I think she is probably right. In her ted talk Esther Perel reminds us that the important things we look for in long term relationships such as security and certainty are also passion killers.
We have an inbuilt system that reduces the pleasure something affords us over time, we adapt all to quickly to having the things we desire and the initial pleasure wanes with familiarity. This is called the hedonic treadmill and capitalism mercilessly exploits our voracious appetite for pleasure and happiness that consumerism, material acquisition and new experience gives us.
We can become consumers of people too, caught up in the feelings we ‘get’ from other people and sexual pleasure is one of the biggest pleasure/ happiness drugs of all. But like all drugs the effects can become muted over time. The hedonic treadmill can apply as much to our relationships as to anything else.
Most people love being with small children, because we get to see the world anew through their eyes. The child’s pleasure in the sound of wood on metal, a ladybird, their first sight of the sea or snow renews these things for us.
Practicing awareness, appreciating and reminding ourselves of the small everyday pleasures- such as a seat on the bus, melted butter on toast, clean sheets or a good friendship – is a great way to boost and sustain lasting happiness. Waking up to everyday and personal things to be grateful for brings us closer to desiring and finding joy in what we have rather than seeking it only in desire for what we don’t have or in the new.
So here is the issue, we are programed to want new, different and more, to feed our need for pleasure. The pleasure hit is real and necessary.
The more we challenge ourselves, and open ourselves up to new and different things, the happier we are. We need variety and novelty in our lives as much as we need stability and familiarity.
The dance of life is both beautiful in simplicity as it is beautiful in complexity. Reawakening ourselves to past delights requires an effort of perception and a conscious decision. We decide to practice awareness and gratitude for the good things until it becomes a habit and the habit of enjoying what we have becomes part of who we are; it builds character as much as wellbeing.
In our closest and most intimate relationships we also need to choose to build in variety, change and renewed interest.
The hedonic treadmill thrives on laziness and ignorance. Two important ingredients to wellbeing are curiosity and variety. Curiosity encourages interest and variety is good for everything, even varying what you focus on to appreciate.
We all need certainty and uncertainty and most good things hold a measure of both.