Stepping off the hedonic treadmill

Chase your passion & money will follow. How many times have we heard this line? Yet if we are put in a position where we need to decide between chasing something that brings more money and something that we are more interested in, the decision may not come to us that easily.

The following experiment may help us see things in perspective. A pot was filled with dried leaves, post which a trail of Arizona ants, which are known to have over 400 smell receptors were left on the rim of the pot. While all the ants were able to smell their favourite food i.e the dry leaves, the experiment showed that they continued to follow their leader, who in turn went around in circles following the trail of the smell. No marks for guessing that the ants eventually fell dead on the very food that they were trying to feed on. It was the smell generated by the leaves that deceived the ants and led them to an activity trap, leading to their subsequent exhaustion.


So it is with many of us. Often, in our desire to chase money (dry leaves) we are set up in an activity trap (going round in circles), until we drop dead of exhaustion. What might also happen as a result of chasing money is that you may end up in an additive cycle of chasing more & more of it till no amount seems enough. In short, you would have stepped on a hedonic treadmill and it is extremely difficult to step off.

Wouldn’t it work far better if we spent time becoming really good at one skill or an area of interest and see money follow as a result of this? In fact, meaningful work has a bearing on many other aspects of our life. Gallup conducted a comprehensive global study of more than 150 countries that gave us a peek into the well-being of more than 98% of the world’s population. The survey found that a feeling of well-being had a lot to do with a feeling of purpose and meaning at work. In particular, individuals who liked what they did everyday were twice as likely to fare well in all other areas of their lives. The Bates-Gallup study of purposeful work showed that individuals who had high purpose in work were ten times more likely to experience overall well-being. 

Does that essentially mean that we need to almost always completely overhaul our careers? Not necessarily. Researchers have found that we can also enhance our sense of engagement in our work through the following:

  • Changing our thoughts, or what is known as cognitive crafting

  • Changing our tasks or task crafting

  • Changing our relationships with co-workers, customers & more, what is also known as relational crafting

A study conducted by organisational psychologist Adam Grant, found for example, that cognitive change can be brought about if we reflect on why we are doing a particular task. For instance, for someone who is involved in raising funds for a cause, letters from the recipients of the fund can go a long way in making those seemingly tedious phone calls, meaningful. 

Clearly then, meaning in work can be derived in several different ways. How do you find meaning in your work? Do feel free to leave a comment and let us know. Here’s to making our lives more meaningful!
#empoweredvoices #girlstudents #lastmileNGOs #positivethinking #achievement #success #perseverance #discrimination #COVID19 #education #financialsupport #GoldHeartFoundation #RukmaniTrust #TamilNadu
Jai Shankar

Jai Shankar

Shankar is a post-graduate in Business Management and has comprehensive experience of over three decades in behavioural training and sales & distribution management. Shankar is passionate about career guidance and counselling and has assisted over 500,000 students in making informed career choices.
“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.” – Oscar Wilde

Leave a Reply