Here we go again, back to Uni. If you’re like me and did summer school over the break, this wouldn’t be much of a change. But if you’re someone who likes to take advantage of the summer break and chill for almost four months between the end and start of Uni — going from benders over New Years to submitting assignments and meeting deadlines is definitely a big change.
However, when spending that much time on break, the excitement of it could wear off. It’s just your normal, everyday life now. Perhaps for some, to return to, or to start Uni is exciting and new. So let’s consider how these changes from holidaying to going back to school affects your subjective well-being, and how the psychological concept of hedonic adaptation might occur.
Subjective well-being is your evaluation of how well you think your life is going, how satisfied you feel with your life, and how many positive moods and emotions you experience.
Hedonic adaptation is a concept that suggests that our subjective well-being remains about the same throughout our lives, with some exceptions. We always have a stable baseline of subjective well-being that we return to after an exciting or disappointing event happens to us. The adaptation level theory suggests that everyone has their own and different idea of what a neutral event is, and they measure other events in their life against this event. You may react strongly to new events at first, but then eventually those events just become part of your normal life and are used to judge future events.
If you’ve been on break for several months, you might have fallen into your own routine, and that would feel like what’s normal for you to be doing everyday. The initial excitement from being free from Uni and exams would slowly go away as going to the beach or binge-watching the latest Netflix show becomes your norm.
Similarly, if you had travelled overseas for a while (before the Covid-ridden days), a return to Auckland would be a jarring transition — and probably not in a good way. You may reminisce those days for a while, but eventually you’ll just become normalised to your life here.
But what does that mean for your subjective well-being? Depending on what the event is, there are different processes that can affect your subjective well-being.
One process is contrast, which is the shift in your adaptation level after a significant event, and immediate subsequent ordinary events are experienced much differently. This could be if you went to a really good concert, and then came out of it and carried on with whatever you were doing before. Maybe you ride that high for a day or two, but then things may start to feel extremely mundane. Things that usually would’ve interested you, like going out for some drinks with your friends, might feel boring initially, but the feelings of excitement will return. Contrast is a process that only lasts in the short-term, which means the perhaps euphoric feelings of being in a mosh pit listening to your favourite artist will only be transient.
Habituation is a process which affects your subjective well-being in the long-term. The excitement or disappointment from a significant event wears out, and that feeling becomes your new baseline. If you were a celebrity who constantly went to red carpet events and partied with all the Hollywood A-listers all the time, that would become your new normal. But if that becomes your new normal, then things that make you happy will have to be more extreme, which is potentially why we see so many celebrities go off the rails.
So, you might be thinking now: what can we do to maintain our happiness? To prevent hedonic adaptation from occurring, psychologists have found that things like variety and appreciation are key.
Doing the same things in different ways will help to maintain happiness, so spice things up a bit. Falling into a routine might be good for organisation, but it doesn’t necessarily help your happiness or satisfaction. Take the time to appreciate and savour the good things in your life. Feel grateful for the changes that certain events bring to your life, and recognise that some changes might never have happened if the event never occurred.