By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Richard O’Connor, PhD
Narrated by: Fred Stella
In 1971, Brickman and Campbell coined the term Hedonic Treadmill to explain that people have a baseline level of happiness, regardless of what occurs in their lives. That definition infers winning the lottery or being diagnosed with cancer have opposite happiness quotients, one joyfully positive; the other horrendously negative. The Hedonic Treadmill theory suggests happiness will return to a baseline level of individual happiness when initial joy or sorrow subsides.
Toward the end of Richard O’Connor’s book, Rewire, the term Hedonic Treadmill is used to infer that America’s materialist predilection is like a psychological cul-de-sac; i.e. a mental trap with only one exit. O’Connor explains, early life experiences can imprint memories that become automatic responses to current events. O’Connor argues that rational behavior is unconsciously modified by subconscious imprinting from life experience. The only exit from the cul-de-sac is to leave the way you came, recall how and why you entered, and teach your brain not to take that turn again.
More fundamentally, O’Connor infers American society is more materialistic today; and, as a consequence, more mentally unbalanced than in the past because happiness from material acquisition is a road to nowhere, a Hedonic Treadmill.
Rewire offers a great deal of information about causes and cures for individual mental dysfunction in America. A reader or listener may disagree with O’Connor’s causal analysis or its cures, but his examples of psychological dysfunction can be seen in one’s self and in others. What makes Rewire interesting is O’Connor’s belief that the subconscious mind can be re-trained to reduce or eliminate psychological dysfunction.
O’Connor endorses the belief that the brain’s sub-conscious functions can be rewired at any age with repetitive practice.
As an example, he explains the utility of the 12 step program designed by Alcoholics Anonymous for addicts to avoid being trapped in a mental cul-de-sac. The AA steps are 1) Admit powerlessness, 2) find hope, 3) surrender, 4) take inventory, 5) share your inventory, 6) become ready, 7) ask God, 8) make a list of amends, 9) make amends, 10) continue your inventory, 11) pray and meditate, and finally, 12) help others.
Though AA presumably requires a Supreme Being at step 7, the point of the treatment is to train one’s mind to act differently when confronted with influences that make a person turn into a cul-de-sac rather than back to their individuated baseline happiness.
O’Connor suggests drugs may be used to treat mental illnesses like depression for immediate results but underlying causes need to be revealed to change longer-term aberrant psychological behavior. O’Connor suggests drugs are sometimes used incorrectly and become part of the patient’s problem.
With knowledge of triggering events for depression or addiction, behavior can be retrained to make the mind react differently. O’Connor cautions the reader/listener to understand that negative triggers may be ingrained over years and will not disappear without repetitive behavioral training. The key to success is enough behavioral repetition to make curative responses to triggers for aberrant behavior automatic; i.e. behavioral responses generated by the subconscious, as well as rational mind.
O’Connor offers several mental exercises to change how the mind works. Rewire is an insightful book but one wonders if O’Connor is not on the Hedonic Treadmill he criticizes. After all, one presumes the book is selling to people who can afford it, and read it. Rewire seems unlikely to help all who are on the real American treadmill–those who cannot afford the book, pay a therapist, or practice its contemplative methodology.