People often say "money can't buy you happiness," but what about a new pair of sneakers? Well, as it turns out, neither can that. At least not for long, as Ollie Stallwood explains...
Last June – as he hurtled around the Earth at 17,100 mph, 250 miles above its surface – astronaut Reid Wiseman felt compelled to send a Tweet. "7 days ago the thought of being in space gave me chills of excitement. Now it seems completely normal" he wrote, staring down at us all from the deck of the International Space Station, arguably one of the greatest views mankind has ever known.
The message struck the Earth like an intergalactic laser beam of ennui. How could Wiseman's dream of becoming an astronaut – cemented after seeing his first space shuttle launch from the side of a road in Cocoa Beach in 2001 – become so normal so quickly? If such a life-changing event could become so mundane, what hope was there for the rest of us with such decidedly ordinary lives?
Image via NASA
You may be wondering what relevance the existential concerns of an astronaut have to a contemporary men's lifestyle publication. Well, here's the kick: experts believe the swift normalization process Wiseman underwent is a similar experience to that felt when buying a pair of sneakers – or, in fact, doing anything regularly that's designed to elicit a rush of pleasure. Illegal drugs are the same, as is using Facebook, driving fast cars – all these things give us a short, but fleeting, reward that is doomed not to last.
The phenomenon is known as the "hedonic treadmill," a phrase originating from an essay by Philip Brickman and Donald Campbell in 1971, entitled Hedonic Relativism and Planning the Good Society. However, the underlying concept has fascinated thinkers for thousands of years. The core idea is that everyone has a predetermined happiness point – an internal cheeriness thermostat – that will return to a stable level despite positive or negative events in your life. In other words: if you win the lottery and buy a castle, a private island and 12 Lamborghinis, the initial spike of happiness you experience will quickly wear off and you will eventually return to your pre-windfall levels.
Even some 2,500 years ago, the Buddha had theorized about this same phenomenon. He believed that the default state of the human brain is dissatisfaction, or "dukkha," and it was his ambition to help find a way that could lead people out. The very first of Buddhism's defining Four Noble Truths recognizes that "suffering is universal" – so no matter how hard you try to make yourself happy, it will ultimately fade.
Image via Weibo.com/photoshi
Nick Jankel is a Cambridge-educated psychological coach who has helped over 50,000 individuals and hundreds of Fortune 500 and FTSE 100 companies to unleash inner happiness. As a life coach he had his own TV series in the UK, and has been a guest on both MTV and Radio 1. His new book, Switch On: Unleash Your Creativity & Thrive with the New Science & Spirit of Breakthrough, talks about the hedonic treadmill.
"The hedonic treadmill is based on one of the most powerful traits of the human species: our ability to adapt to change and maintain a sense of stability, safety and control," he explains. "Our nervous system gets used to whatever is going on so that it can remain alert and attentive to change. So, as you read this, you have already habituated to the feeling of your socks and shoes, or the feeling of the mouse on your finger. That means you have more attention to spare on something exciting, like this article, or worrying."
Jankel argues that through shopping addiction and excessive consumption (including obsessive sneaker collecting), we very quickly become used to the feeling of enjoying a new pair of kicks, and so become desensitized to how awesome they actually are. As a result, we end up chasing "the feeling of change" rather than the object itself. Then, before you know it, you end up with 100 pairs, but they don't give you the pleasure you thought they would, and the process becomes more about habit or compulsion than genuine pleasure release.
This, he says, can also happen with some drugs, especially ones that focus on short-term feelings of happiness like heroin or cocaine, as opposed to those that some believe give a more long-term insight into life, such as LSD.
"As a psychological coach, I would suggest that anyone with a large sneaker collection – and that includes me a while back – might have got more attached to the short term buzz of buying and acquiring a new pair than to the long-term enjoyment of actually wearing them," he adds.
But it's not as simple as this, argues Kitty Cowell, fashion stylist and editor and founder of The Unisex Mode – a sneaker and streetwear lifestyle blog. With over 100 pairs in her collection, she says she wears 95% of them; the remaining 5% were a gift and are the wrong size. Whether it was Spice Girls photos or Pogs, Cowell has always been a collector of some sort, but sneakers have changed her life for the better.
"For me it started as an expression of style, especially as a girl," she says. "There are loads of guys that collect, but there weren’t as many girls when I started and I guess I wanted to show that I had the knowledge and the interest too. But it has led to a career for me. I run a blog, I’ve styled for Nike, I run the social media for Saucony Originals and do PR for them too. You can be a geek and just personally collect if that makes you happy; there’s nothing wrong with that. But, for me, why not take that obsession and put it to good use; earn money from it?"
Image via FiveThirtyEight
Josh Luber is the mastermind behind Campless, a sneakerhead data resource that monitors 13 million eBay auctions to get a comprehensive understanding of the market. He has 220 pairs of sneakers, he thinks, although he has stopped counting.
"I have few vices, but I engage in retail therapy," he says. "But everyone has something they are interested in, or has a hobby – even if that's just watching TV. Collectors are builders; they are building something, whether it's every Jordan 1 or a range of blue sneakers. Just because they are spending their money on it, doesn't make it worse than anything else."
Luber spends an average of $300 a week on shoes, or roughly $15,000 a year. Even with so much data at his fingertips he says he is first and foremost a collector, rather than a sneaker trader. His interest in collecting sneakers has just this week (June 6, 2015) taken him to his dream of running Campless full-time, leaving his job at IBM. He keeps his sneakers on a shoe wall in his house and from time-to-time will sit and look at them.
"I am a collector like any other, but sneakers are kind of unique," he says. "They have a functional purpose; I can actually wear them. I have a pair to go with any outfit. And then they are collectable, so you can make a lot of money out of it."
Image via Hipsterwave
Dr Rebecca Spelman is a Harley Street expert on the psychology of happiness. The excitement of coming home with something shiny and new can be considerable, she says, and all the feelings we learn to associate with shopping can become very addictive. The feeling can be the same as we have when connecting on Facebook or Twitter, or constantly checking for messages or updates.
"If you feel that you can’t be happy unless your credit card is maxed out and your hands are full of shopping bags, what’s really going on? The odds are high that that real problem lies in an area of insecurity, or where you are not being emotionally fulfilled."
And, if you're just having problems appreciating those new pair of kicks, Jankel has a practical exercise for you. "I would suggest people hold off buying a new pair and play a game with one that they have just bought. Every time you look at them, appreciate something more about them – the design or work put into them, what they mean to you from your past and future etc. Bring this kind of mindful attention to the moments when you are actually wearing them, so you boost enjoyment of the wearing, not just the buying."
Written by Ollie Stallwood for Highsnobiety.com