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Enjoy the middle

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Lami Phillips | Photo: Bellanaija

The other day, Nigerian soul singer and a good friend Lami Phillips shared a note on Instagram as part of her ‘Sincerely speaking’ series.

“We talk about the beginning and end of a thing or phase, but we hardly talk about the middle, the tough parts, the ugly season. The middle of anything is where the juice is! Where the learning occurs, where the mind is transformed. Please don’t quit in the middle. Keep pushing.”

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She captioned the post with the following:
“You know when you buy a sandwich, you’re not excited about the bread bun. You get tickled about the “filling.” the sauce, the extras!!!

I think life should follow the same theme. You see, we rush to start and can’t wait to arrive. Here’s the thing; once you arrive, then another journey begins.

Also, the middle is TOUGH. The middle is where consistency, faith, hope, gratitude, affirmations, and such are VITAL.

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I’m not sure what your journey is or what you are hoping for; joy, love, success, deliverance, healing, money, friendships, weight loss, promotion, opportunities…

The middle is also where sifting happens; you know who is who and what is what. See, people show themselves in the middle. Observe keenly.

You also sift through your own character, you hone in on the good and you work on letting go of the bad.
Please keep pushing, keep moving forward.

Most importantly, try to enjoy the middle. Try to be present. Try to learn, unlearn, unpack whatever is needed for the next phase. I’m rooting for you, as I am for myself.”

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These were the words I truly needed to hear, after a few months of being stuck on the ‘hedonistic treadmill.’ For those not familiar with the term; hedonistic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes. Simply put, you chase the dream, you get the dream, you enjoy a heightened sense of joy for a while after having achieved the dream, then you revert to your default levels of happiness.

Two psychologists, Brickman and Campbell, first wrote about this concept in 1971 with their essay, “Hedonic Relativism and Planning the Good Society.” In the 1970s, the concept was known as hedonic adaptation. It was 20 years when Michael Eysenck compared hedonic adaptation to a treadmill, a more modern and understandable example. Thus, the hedonic treadmill was born.

I am not sure when I first became aware of this theory, but recently I’ve been pondering on this following a set of life events that caused several spikes in my levels of happiness following which I found myself reverting to chasing the next big milestone instead of basking in the middle, which is exactly what Lami advised in her post.

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In the thick of midwinter, while still in lockdown, our only socialising a brisk walk outside with friends, speaking of my next set of goals with a friend who’d been made redundant a few months back and hadn’t yet found a job, I felt quite silly. Looking back to only a year ago, everything I had been striving towards had come to pass, and regardless, instead of enjoying the middle, here I was pushing for the next set of goals, all the while trying to be sensitive to someone whose only goal was to find a job.

Such is the fickle nature of humankind. We are in a constant state of chasing the next high; sometimes it is a career, sometimes marriage and a family, sometimes a house or a holiday. If you have ever experienced working towards a goal that you were certain would make you overjoyed, only to achieve it and then instead of taking the time to enjoy it found yourself already plotting your next goal, then you too would have experienced the hedonistic adaptation.

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How do we get off this treadmill then?
You can’t always predict the major events that will shape your life. Nor can you change the genetic factors that influence your basic happiness set point. But the good news is you can increase your capacity for long-term happiness.

Researchers think you may be able to choose behaviours and activities that can influence as much as 40 percent of your sense of well-being.

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A study by Barbara Fredrickson and colleagues Cohn, Coffey, Pek, and Finkel showed that the stream of positive emotions induced through loving-kindness meditation can outpace the effects of the hedonic treadmill (2008).

Other ways through which you may be able to increase your long-term sense of well-being are mindfulness, personal growth, gratitude, and investing in relationships. Learning to savour simple pleasures as they happen may also help you hang onto happiness a little longer. Essentially, the best way to get off the hedonistic treadmill, is simply, as Lami advises, to enjoy the middle.

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