Woman happy to be eating a hamburger

Why Healthy Habits Are So Dang Hard To Adopt (And Stick To)!

Welcome back to day 18 of my Happy.Healthy.Whole Project (HHWP)! If you’re just joining me, or you would like to catch up on any of the previous days, Check out the Happy.Healthy.Whole Project Page.

Only one more week of blogging every single day to reach my October HHWP goal of blogging daily (for 25 straight days) until my birthday!

But don’t worry, my project doesn’t stop when my birthday comes, and I’ll still continue to blog about it – I’ll just be bringing other topics back in (HINT: New Year’s Eve is coming up, and I’ve got a lot of exciting things planned to help you keep your resolutions, and make 2021 your best year yet!). 

But our topic for today has to do with a really deliciously named theory of happiness and how it can explain why healthy habits are so dang hard to adopt (and stick to)!

it's not just you, healthy habits are hard to stick to. But do you know why?
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The Two Types Of Happiness

There are two distinctly different kinds of happiness. To feel happy with our lives overall, we must have both.

The first type is a short-term happiness which is about enjoying the present moment. This short-term happiness is often referred to as “pleasure” or “hedonic happiness”.

Some examples of these short-term (hedonistic) pleasures might be chowing down on delicious sugary or fatty fatty foods, hitting up happy hour with your friends, having sex, watching television, playing video games etc. 

The second type of happiness is a long-term happiness which as Aristotle describes as a deeper, “virtuous happiness”. This long-term happiness is about doing the right thing, helping others, having good health, making a difference in the world, having quality relationships etc.

Our habits or behaviors can produce four different combinations of short & long-term happiness. Let’s have a look.

The Hamburger Model of Happiness

The “Hamburger Model Of Happiness” was invented by Tal Ben-Shahar, the Isreli-born, former professional squash athlete turned Harvard Psychology Professor. 

This interestingly named, but very useful theory was named after an epiphany he had while eating hamburgers (and why not?). 

In this theory, he described four different archetypes which are made of the four different combinations of long and short-term happiness as we saw above.

First, the Hedonism Archetype. The hedonist seeks pleasure and avoids pain whenever possible. But they look for short-term pleasure in things that will not bring them long-term happiness. 

Think of poor eating habits, lack of exercise, or any kind of drug or alcohol abuse. It feels good in the moment, but it’s not so great further on down the road.

Second, is the Rate Race Archetype. Rat racers are people that delay current enjoyment in hopes that it will bring them future happiness.

Think of the student who skips every party and social outing in order to get straight A’s and their dream job after graduation. Or the new guy, who works 60+ hours a week trying to pay his dues so that he can make partner at his firm some day.

Third is the Nihilism Archetype. These people have lost all hope. They no longer enjoy the present, and they have no dreams of a positive or happy future. They have given up. This is the worst case scenario.

And fourth, there is the Happiness Archetype. These people enjoy things in the present that also benefit them in the future! 

Think of someone who absolutely loves their job. They are excited to go to work in the morning, and work passionately while there. Because of this, they will also likely have future benefits like career satisfaction, promotions and pay raises. 

The happiness archetype is the ideal, what everyone wants.

Below is a summary of the four different archetypes in the hamburger model of happiness:

Table summarizing the 4 archetypes of the hamburger model of happiness

[If you’d like to learn more about the hamburger model of happiness, check out Tal Ben-Shahar’s New York Times best selling book Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment.]

How the Hamburger Model Can Explain Our Relationship With Healthy Habits

Let’s look a little closer, and see how the hamburger model of happiness can be used to understand our relationship with healthy habits.

Why Healthy Habits Are So Hard For Us To Adopt

If we want to be healthy, it seems that we have to fight this uphill battle against a strong urge to be lazy and eat anything and everything we want. Does this sound familiar? The inner battle of doing what we know we “should” and doing what we want?

It’s downright maddening to be honest. We know those things won’t help us reach our goals, but we’d really love to have them anyway. Why is this?

The reason that healthy habits are so hard to develop, is because the default human nature is hedonistic – to seek short-term pleasure without thought for future consequences.

This makes sense, because when we think about our ancestors who were hunters and gatherers, all their concerns were short-term, immediate. Find food, don’t get eaten by a saber tooth tiger, reproduce before you get eaten by a saber tooth tiger etc. 

They didn’t have very long life spans, so they didn’t really need to consider the long-term consequences. The ultimate goal back then, was just to try to survive the day.

Under those conditions, it was beneficial for our ancestors to stuff their faces with as much food as they possibly could when it was available, because it could be a long time before they are able to wrangle another woolly mammoth.

Likewise, in those days of old, our ancestors needed to conserve energy by being lazy in a cave whenever they weren’t out trying to secure their next meal. 

The advantage of being lazy back then was two-fold: they were less likely to be hunted if they took cover and laid low, and because they didn’t know when their next meal would come along, it was important not to be out burning valuable calories all will-nilly.

So there you have it – back in the day, it was actually beneficial to the survival of our ancestors to eat everything in sight and be lazy lumps.

Oh what a life… except for the saber tooth tigers. And maybe that whole ridiculously short life span thing.

Why We Think It’s Impossible To Enjoy Healthy Habits

Oh how times have changed! We don’t have to hunt for our food anymore, don’t have to worry about where our next meal will come from, and are no longer being hunted by saber tooth tigers (thank goodness!). 

Now that we live in houses and work in office buildings, being sedentary and stuffing our faces with everything we see is no longer beneficial. Plus, we are living a whole heck of a lot longer than our ancient relatives, so it has become important to think of future benefit and long-term happiness. 

So we try to make healthy habits. Sit less, exercise more, eat better, maintain our weight, etc.

But for some reason there is this misconception that the rat racer mentality (delaying all present enjoyment for future gain) is the best way to achieve a healthy lifestyle.

If you need proof of this, just think of the saying, “no pain, no gain”. Over the years, we have come to think that if we don’t hate it, then it can’t be good for us.

And that’s where people get stuck with healthy habits. They feel like they have only two choices, neither of which are very appealing. 

Choice number one, is to remain in that hedonistic archetype. This allows them to be happy now by skipping exercise and eating whatever they want, so that they feel they are enjoying life in the moment. But, these choices will have future consequences – poor health and therefore unhappiness in the long run. Not great.

Choice number two, is to be a rat racer and eat gross health food and do lots of exercise even though they hate it. But by doing this, the rat racers often feel deprived, like they are missing out on the best things in life. They don’t enjoy the present, and therefore often have a hard time sticking to their healthy habits.

There Is Another Choice!

What if long-term happiness and short-term happiness didn’t have to conflict? What if we could eat well and enjoy it? Or exercise more and be excited about it?

What I am describing, is the happiness archetype.

Is it possible to apply the happiness archetype to our habits so that we can enjoy them in the moment AND also get future benefit from them? That is the million dollar question.

I’ll give you a hint – it CAN be done! But… you’ll have to come back tomorrow to find out how.

Thanks for tuning in for day 18 of my Happy.Healthy.Whole Project! Tomorrow I will give you a number of actionable ways that you can eat healthier, exercise more, and still enjoy life!

Until tomorrow,

~Clarissa

Healthy Habits are hard to adopt and even harder to stick to. Here's why
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Author: clarissa.cabbage

Clarissa is a teacher, a coach, and an avid adventurer! Armed with a master's degree in Exercise and Wellness, she is on a mission to teach people how to build healthier habits that support the adventurous lifestyle of their dreams. There is nothing Clarissa is more passionate about than helping people get active and live their lives to the fullest!

16 Replies to “Why Healthy Habits Are So Dang Hard To Adopt (And Stick To)!

  1. Love what you say about it being easy to think healthy habits are not enjoyable! I know that is the biggest reason I was hesitant to change the way I did things, but your reminder is powerful: everything is a mindset. 🙂

    1. I am so glad to hear that you found the shift in perspective to be so helpful Lisa! I like to look at things from all sorts of angles – it can really make a big difference sometimes. 😁

      Thank you for reading and adding to the conversation here!

  2. I have been following your project and really liked your content. Yes it is very tough to stick top healthy food habits. Thanks for sharing this post

  3. I am crap at keeping anything good going. I run on the running machine often but I go through spurts when I have zero days off and then for a random reason like my crazy schedule, I’ll have to take two weeks off!
    I know that consistency is key!

    Great post!

    Rosie

    1. Thank you Rosie! And yes, consistency is definitely really important! I often find that by dialing things down a bit that you can develop consistency, with the same amount of sessions.

      For example, say you orginally aim to go running 6 days a week but you’re on and off again every week like you said. So on one week, off the next for a month would result in 12 runs for the month, but very little consistency, so no habit behind to form.

      OR you could aim for 3 runs a week, be less intimidated about it when you’re busy, and so be more likely to stick to it for the whole month. 3 runs a week by 4 weeks = 12 runs/mo. Same as the scenario above – yet this scenario has consistency, which means it’s starting to become a habit where the other scenario isn’t.

      Hope that makes sense! Thanks for following my project and sharing your experiences!

  4. I love this! I go through various healthy buzzes (on one now!)) and when I do I feel great, so it’s funny that we feel like we won’t enjoy it. Looking forward to finding out more tomorrow 🙂

  5. I am constantly working toward healthier habits. I am pretty good at adding healthy habits, but not so great at dropping unhealthy habits. I just do them both! I’ll look forward to reading more of your posts.

    1. Thank you Karen! My post that goes live tomorrow is an in depth guide on how to kick unhealthy habits! I hope you’ll have the chance to take a look at it as I think you’ll find it rather helpful. Thanks for reading. ❤️

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