Remember our first element of well-being, Ephemeral Pleasures?

If you haven’t already done so, go back and give that page a read. There, we explain the role of pleasurable experiences in a life well-lived, covering their importance and, especially, calling attention to their risks.

Hedonic Independence, a subfactor of Perspective, is basically a measure of how well you keep ephemeral pleasures from controlling your motivations.

Equanimity Hedonic Independence Allowing & Acceptance Mental Independence Lucent Emoting

Hey, a friendly reminder: you can assess your Hedonic Independence, the other subfactors on this page, and hundreds of other subfactors of 50+ factors of well-being using the Assessment Center web app. Go check it out if you haven’t already signed up:

The Pleasure Trap

The above video is a simple, moving metaphor for addictive behavior. Addiction, especially in the context of substance abuse, is a complex disorder. You may or may not have experienced it before, but either way, it’s likely that you related in part to the video above. Why? What made it so familiar.

The impulses we feel toward pleasure are deeply fundamental in our neurology. In early animal evolution, brains evolved reward systems to promote survival and fitness, maximizing our exposure to beneficial stimuli—food, warmth, etc.—and minimizing exposure to harmful stimuli.

When we look at the brain we see, roughly, a map of evolutionary history: from the inside to the outer folds, our brains are first similar to our animal ancestors, then more uniquely us.

Notice in the following image how much of the pleasure/reward centers of the brain are focused in the interior.

Chocolate Cake

Can you remember a time when it was near impossible to resist a dessert, despite your “better judgment?” When you sense the rich calories, sugar, and fat of a chocolate cake, certain deeply-rooted parts of your brain start screaming. Your hypothalamus says “We’re hungry!” your ventral tegmental area releases dopamine and says “Go get it!” and your amygdala says “Let’s binge!” These initial signals are just a few of the many systems coming into play that we share with all mammals, no matter the size of their brain.

It isn’t until after these impulses that higher-level areas like the prefrontal cortex play their important role: moderation. The cognitive dissonance we feel when tempted by a piece of cake is literally different parts of our brain competing for power.

So, from a neuropsychological lens, Hedonic Independence is a measure of our higher brain’s independence from our lower brain’s impulses.

Wait But Why has a funny, deeply insightful post series highlighting the internal battle of our lower/higher brain.

Happiness as a Hindrance

What are the long-term implications? What might a lifestyle of more or less Hedonic Independence mean?

Together with Fear, this site draws attention to one other primary hindrance to a well-lived life. Essentially, it is the product of repeated low Hedonic Independence.

Happiness as a Hindrance refers to when the shallow contentment that we receive from Elements 1 and 2 overcrowd our potential for more meaningful, purpose-driven lives.

It is easier than ever, in the abundance of the modern world, to languish in comfort, stagnant and without purpose.

Our section on Happiness as a Hindrance covers the ins and outs of this common struggle. Go check it out, and learn how to overcome the quagmire of happiness.