The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, is the tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive (or negative) life changes. According to this theory, as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness. For example, a person excitedly drives a new car home from a lot. They’re marginally happier. But a few weeks later it’s dirty and the driver has adapted to the improved interior, handling, and quietness. The loving feeling dissipates.
Now that you’re an expert on the hedonic treadmill, you’re ready for a March Madness story about our tendency to think the grass is usually greener on the other side. Let’s title the story “Why is contentment so elusive?”
UCLA, my team, got schooled in the opening round. A few days later, the coach got whacked. The backstory to why is an interesting case study in leadership, but that’s peripheral to our story.
Along with many others, Mark Few (Gonzaga) and Brad Stevens (Butler) have been mentioned as possibile replacements. Because of a new Pac-12 conference television deal, UCLA can triple or quadruple their current “small market” salaries. Both coaches, young and very successful, have been sought after by other schools in recent years.
UCLA just spent $138 million renovating Pauley Pavilion. Stevens is going to be able to negotiate, not just a top salary, but also facility upgrades (the Bruins need a practice facility), length on the contract, security on that contract (Howland got a buyout for the remaining four years on his deal), and assurances that this coach can run the program as he sees fit.
You give Stevens all of that, coupled with the lifestyle that living in Beverly Hills (just a long jump shot from the UCLA campus) brings, and all of sudden Butler fans have a very legitimate reason to be nervous.
I don’t question Stevens’ love of Butler in any way. I love my alma mater, as well. But when he visits the UCLA campus and tours a renovated Pauley Pavilion, visits the private school where his children will attend in Beverly Hills, eats lunch and plays golf at Bel-Air Country Club (just across Sunset Blvd. from the campus), takes Tracy and the kids shopping along Rodeo Drive, and has them (second) home-shop in Hermosa or Manhattan Beach, where they’ll spend their weekends, I can’t fathom that Stevens doesn’t give pause before waving it off.
The same reporter acknowledges:
There is no doubt, Stevens’ love of raising his family in Indiana, his love of Hinkle Fieldhouse, his love of his players, coaches and administration, his affection for everything about his position at Butler, is going to be tested if the UCLA Athletic Director calls.
Finally, he writes:
Stevens has always said “No, thanks” to job offers. And perhaps he will again. But an opportunity to coach UCLA is different. I told him he’d be crazy to turn it down.
I fully expect Stevens to say “thanks, but no thanks” again. And while he’d be a great coach, I’m actually rooting for him to stay off the treadmill. The writer is projecting his desire to live large in some place like Los Angeles onto Stevens. I suspect Stevens knows money changes you. Sending your kids to a Beverly Hills private school will definitely change them and probably not for the better. And if Stevens wanted a second house twenty miles from his primary residence, he would have probably jumped on the elite program coaching treadmill already.
Few’s the same way. Prefers Spokane, Washington over West Los Angeles. Some people are like moths, attracted to the bright lights of big, celebrity filled cities, but both Few and Stevens are reported to be “intensely private” and know there’s a cost to lost anonymity. Nearly everyone thinks they’d be a lot happier if they made a lot more money. A preternatural minority knows that’s not the case.
I applaud Few’s and Stevens’ self-understanding, wisdom, and willingness to not just say “no” to a lot more money once, but repeated times. Here’s hoping they keep daring to be different.