Why Lent Provides a Huge Happiness Boost

Regular treadmill: Good. Hedonic treadmill: Bad.

I hope you had as happy an Easter as I did. While I don’t necessarily believe in the Easter holiday itself, I do believe in the tradition of celebrating with friends and/or family. So that’s exactly what Mr. Man and I did.

Easter also marks the end of Lent, the 40-day period (technically 46 because Sundays are “cheat” days) of fasting, moderation, spiritual discipline and self-denial. Typically Christians pick something they really enjoy to sacrifice for Lent.

Ironically, it was only once I embraced my agnosticism that I was able to fully appreciate Lent and really make a committed effort to it. Last year was my first successful Lent when I gave up meat and red wine.

This year, I upped the ante and gave up all alcohol.

For some people, this might not be much of a sacrifice. For me, however, this was a sacrifice of Biblical proportions (pun intended). Granted, it can be argued as to whether I completed this year’s Lent successfully, but I’ll save that for next time as well as what I learned from this year’s experience.

Get a Happiness High

No matter what your religion, I encourage you to participate in Lent. If you successfully achieve your goal of abstaining from whatever you’ve denied yourself for 40 to 46 days, then you will be rewarded with a happiness boost unparallel to any other delight.

This happiness boost occurs because it releases us from the hedonic treadmill effect, which I learned from Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project book and blog.

The hedonic treadmill effect partially explains our need for more, more, more. When horrible war conditions occur, we can adapt to that as the new normal, which benefits and protects our mental health.

However, the opposite is also true.

When we land a new promotion, buy a new car or win a prize, we adapt to the amazing, positive new normal just as quickly. Sure, we get a short happiness burst when we initially make the purchase or start the new job, but we quickly adjust and are on to the next new desire.

So when you participate in Lent and “deny yourself something, your pleasure in it will be re-activated when the denial stops,” as Gretchen explains.

This explains why the Easter Sunday mimosas were the most delicious ones I’ve ever tasted and why my first glass of red wine last night tasted like sugar plum fairies dancing on my tongue.

Did you have a successful Lent this year? If you didn’t participate, how do you stay off the hedonic treadmill?

If you liked this post, please share it with others. Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment. Thanks!

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8 Responses to Why Lent Provides a Huge Happiness Boost

  1. i failed at Lent this year. and then went off the edge completely. (had a week-long sugar binge that included massive amounts of candy and an entire package of Newman-Os that i ate in 3 days by myself). oh well…better luck next year!

  2. Laura Lee Bloor says:

    Hey, it’s all good — Lent is hard work! I did not come even a fraction of the way close to completing NaNoWriMo last year. As you say, better luck next year! (I bet your sugar binge tasted incredible though! Haha)

  3. babymom says:

    I had a case of falling of the wagon and back again the entire Lent season. It’s REALLY hard work but I tried my best to abstain from meat. Hope to try again for the same period some time later this year. Who says we have to wait for lent, right? 🙂

  4. Laura Lee Bloor says:

    Hey, at least you succeeded half of the time! And I’m sure you’ll make it a little further each time you try. And yes, by all means, create your own Lent experience anytime of the year! I just choose Lent out of convenience — it’s already all mapped out for me. It’s not when you do it that’s important, it’s why.

    Good luck on your next try!

  5. Alex Monroe says:

    Lent is just the perfect way to get you to set a goal. I think you’re absolutely right and it should be practiced by anyone. I always seem to forget about it though and then when I think about, I can’t really think of anything I should really give up. Maybe Facebook?! Haha. Seriously though, I think Lent and other goal setting (eliminating something in your life) is a very building exercise.

  6. kadee84 says:

    Absence makes the heart grow fonder! haha. The hedonic treadmill effect makes sense.. especially with things like credit cards increasing our comfortable levels of spending and our ever-expanding portion sizes.

    I think setting limitations, instead of a period of deprivation, can help too. You’ll still increase appreciation for the pleasure, but will probably be less likely to gorge when the fast is over. Then again… there’s something about that feeling of victory when the 40 days are met 🙂

  7. Laura Lee Bloor says:

    Oh credit cards — don’t even get me started on those suckers! But yes, I agree that setting limitations can help … it’s just sticking to them that’s the difficult part. I’ve set up so many budgets only to blow right past them. At least I’ve learned that I work best under a strict plan — one that is created by someone else and who holds me accountable.
    The only reason I’ve been able to do Lent (mostly) successfully is because I made it personal. Once you find the right motivation for you, it’s much easier to stick to your goals.

  8. Laura Lee Bloor says:

    Thanks, Alex. Yeah, Lent is a great exercise in goal-setting. It gets you thinking about what’s really important to you and why you set goals for yourself in the first place.
    Giving up Facebook would be a really good one — that would be hard for me, too!

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