Written by Emily Hruska ’18
This blog post is written in response to Emily’s 2017 fall 3-week trip to New Zealand with Professors Doug Brattebo and Acacia Parks
In preparation for our voyage to New Zealand, my class studied concepts of positive psychology and happiness in the 12-week session. When first reading The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky, I was immediately struck by the concept of hedonic adaptation or the tendency for people to grow accustomed to events, happenings, and changes that they think will make them significantly happier, thus dropping them back down to their original state. Basically, people get tired of the things that make them happy, showing the human desire for change and excitement. In my naïveté, I thought I would experience hedonic adaptation rather quickly when coming to New Zealand and rapidly grow bored with the excitement that comes with travel in a new country. I don’t think I could have been more wrong. While it is true that I’m not built extroverted enough to spend extended lengths of time with mass groups of people and grew increasingly exhausted, I would definitely say that I have not reached a point where I am becoming quite accustomed to my time in this country. I think this is probably because we have been moving around so much to a variety of different areas with a wide range of things to do.
But as I thought about this concept, I realized it might actually be easier for Kiwis to avoid hedonic adaptation in their general lives (not just on vacation like me). Living in such a small country with such a variety of activities in relatively local ranges means that anyone here can experience what we’ve been experiencing with some financial savings and a little spare weekend time. While I’m sure the United States can offer the same concept to some people, the vastness of our country means it’s a little more geographically difficult to have the same amount of varied fun. In the course of just three weeks, we’ve traveled through two huge islands making up an entire country. We’ve gone on ten-mile hikes right before visiting the Parliament building. We’ve zip-lined through ancient forests after drinking champagne at high tea. We’ve even army crawled through tunnels in a cave to look at some insect feces that glows. In the span of 24 hours, I climbed Mount Doom from The Lord of the Rings story and cuddled with a baby lemur. Because of colonization patterns, each city has a different tone and atmosphere, from the English-descended Wellington to the very Scottish Dunedin. New Zealand is a country that has it all, and I can’t quite imagine getting sick of any of it.
Thinking about all of this has helped me understand my grandparents’ retirement plan that I once thought was crazy: buying a camper and traveling the country as nomads. Sometimes it seems that I get so preoccupied with some societal construct of what I should be doing with my life: go to graduate school, get my Ph.D., work all day to make a living, live forty years just to work, and then eventually relax on a beach when I’m ready to slow down and spoil my grandchildren. Being in New Zealand has shown me that every day can be different and exciting without ruining this big grand plan. I can take time to enjoy the world around me and all the adventure it has to offer without feeling guilty, and that is a lesson I will always treasure.