It’s true…riding really does make you happier

I’m reading the rather splendid “59 Seconds – Think a Little, Change a Lot” by Richard Wiseman at the moment. It suits me because I have developed the attention span of a goldfish with ADHD and a worrying tendency towards narcolepsy. But I digress…

Chapter 1 is all about happiness. Materialism is not the route, it seems, to long-term happinss. We might feel happy after buying a new thing, but it soon wears off. This is known as “hedonistic habituation.” Wiseman explains: “humans derive a great deal of enjoyment from any new form of positive experience. However, give anyone the same wonderful experience time and again, and they quickly become familiar with their new source of joy and cease to derive anywhere near as much pleasure from it.”

The path to lasting happiness is to create “a constantly changing psychological landscape” in which “the brain is fed with ever-changing positive experiences that prevent habituation and so prolong happiness.”

Now, I’m not going to argue that buying a new bike isn’t a new source of joy(apart from having to endure Haylock’s first law of meterology for the week subsequent to purchase). But it’s not an end in itself. They stop being shiny and bits start to fall off. But they fall off in pursuit of that cornucopia of “ever-changing positive experiences.”

Just as you can never step twice in the same river, you can never ride the same road twice – particularly in the big-sky country of the Fens, where I am mostly riding at the moment. Every ride is different, from the weather to the light, the changing levels of muppetry of the other road users, or simply the time of day.

But for me the best ride is always the one that brings the unexpected. Riding down to Swansea for a meeting last month I left the A-road, chicaned through the traffic calming, passed the GLF sign, crested a rise and laughed out loud at the sheer outrageous glory of the vista in front of me: two lanes of perfect black-top, twisting away across some of Wales’s most rolling and wooly hills, and totally, serenely and beatifully empty (except for the sheep).

Hedonistic habituation, my arse. As I don’t think Professor Wiseman would say.



Filed under Riding

11 responses to “It’s true…riding really does make you happier

  1. Hmm. Thanks for food for thought. Well I get the idea of unexpectedness adding joy to riding & agree that it contributes to happiness – but unfortunately in my case it is more often as a double negative of preventing me going completely round the swerve – than beamishness inducing moments. Regrettably, most of my riding currently is on the Streets of London – where the unexpected has to be expected constantly – but this mostly involves the twatty antics of bozos. Tops are pedestrians, cyclists and bus drivers who go hither & thither in blinkers or with eyes quite shut. Next are mobile talky-boy in van or texty-girl in Sharon-mobile.

    So I guess I'll have to try and add a few more “positive experiences” into my constantly changing psychological landscape…

  2. Absolutely right. Motorcycling is the antidote to many ills. Tonight I rode home in a gale and rain, and I was laughing all the way with the fun of it. If I'd done the same in the car, I'd have been depressed with the weather and angry with the PM programme. As it was, I arrived home in a great mood, if a little damp.

    “Never the same road twice.” I like that.

  3. Rob

    I have found that attitude dictates my experience more then scenery.

  4. I'm reminded of the gold fish bowl paradox first postulated by Lucius Apuleius Platonicus: if your attention span is only 59 seconds and your short term memory is 58 seconds then you will not remember whether you have stepped in the same river twice, so as you did not say – hedonsitic habituation my ass.

  5. XRR – i love London riding – it's Darwin in action, though one day if I don't watch out I may become extinct!

    Richard – is that the gale lifting your front wheel in your icon? 😉 I am wimping out and taking the car at the moment becuse I can practice all the neighbour-unfriendly aspects of bluesharp like throat vibrato and fast bends. Yes, I know I should have both hands on the wheel…

    Hi Rob! I agree – but it's chicken and egg. Sometimes if I'm pissed off it needs an amazing vista or comedy sheep to snap me out of it so I can enjoy the ride.

    Nikos – thanks for proof that my short attention span is also a positive advantage in life 🙂

  6. Did I say that?…I don't remember

  7. When is your book coming out? Can't wait to read it.

  8. chewy

    Speaking of coming out…. Did you get in on any of the flooding in your area? News says most of the U.K. is all wet. Wait…. let me rephrase that. Most of the U.K. is flooded. There, much better.
    Hope you are high (?) and dry.

  9. ElD – you say the nicest things! What kind of book should it be?

    *waves* hi Chewy! The worst of the floods have been in the Lake District and the North East, I'm puzzled by this as the Lake District is where all the mountains are and I didn't think mountains could flood! The rivers have had too much rain to cope with, according to those who know about these things. It's been wet and miserable in my parts of the UK (West Midlands and East Anglia) but the rain has done what it is supposed to and go away on landing. Sad for all those who have lost lives and homes 😦

  10. HWL – I was thinking along the lines of “Motorcycle musings” but of course you'd use a much more esoteric title. I think its time for a modern version of “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance” and you're the one to do it.

  11. @donbleecker

    Great post. You speak of materialism not being the route to happiness, and I couldn't agree more. Through painful experiences, I finally discovered that there is a void inside all of us, which can only be filled with God. We spend all our time and energy making money to buy things, and soon after the purchase, we feel “empty” again, and begin the pursuit once more. I feel this is why so many rich and/or famous people are still unhappy. Perhaps more poignant are the rich and famous who say that they were much happier poor and unknown.

    All that said, there's nothing wrong with having nice things. A warm and comfortable home, a vacation or a new motorcycle all can bring us closer to ourselves, closer to family, and, ultimately, closer to God. If we keep our hearts on God in all that we do, challenge ourselves, and keep ourselves humble, we will create that “constantly changing psychological landscape” our souls crave.

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