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.