Ascetic Adaptation

Simple living, extreme early retirement, being wealthy, ...
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Ego
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Ascetic Adaptation

Post by Ego »

We often talk about hedonic adaptation in the context of becoming accustomed to increasing levels of spending, luxury, or comfort and constantly needing to increase the input to maintain the same level of happiness. Of course, the opposite is true as well. I came up with the term ascetic-adaptation. Does that accurately describe the opposite of what we commonly refer to as hedonic-adaptation?

A few years ago while on a bike tour in Asia we ended up in some unimaginably horrible flea pit guesthouses because they were the only place to stay within riding distance. Pit toilet out back with the pigs below squealing for their dinner that was about to be delivered to them from above... that bad. Last night we stayed in a hotel that was, according to internet reviews, supposed to be absolutely horrible. It was cheap and well located for our needs so we ignored the ratings and booked it in advance, expecting a disaster. We loved it. I think the staff was genuinely surprised when we told them so at checkout.

- What areas of life have you encountered ascetic-adaptation?

- To what extent can this "skill" be exercised and developed?

workathome
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Re: Ascetic Adaptation

Post by workathome »

Interesting!

This is rather modest, but the past year I kept the thermostat at 65F during the winter. Previously we always used about 72. I became used to it and found going places, like leaving the house to visit the Grocery store, very uncomfortably warm because of the higher temperatures they keep the buildings at.

Seneca
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Re: Ascetic Adaptation

Post by Seneca »

"Ascetic adaptation"

Love it!
workathome wrote:Interesting!

This is rather modest, but the past year I kept the thermostat at 65F during the winter. Previously we always used about 72. I became used to it and found going places, like leaving the house to visit the Grocery store, very uncomfortably warm because of the higher temperatures they keep the buildings at.
This is a huge one.

I have had this conversation with 2 family members today. One was my younger brother who was bitching about his $500(!!!) power bill, and had his AC set at 72 (in TX). "Dude, good news, we found your problem..."

I do find letting house temp swing widely is important "ascetic adaptation" as Jacob describes in the book- it saves money and I find I'm comfortable in many more environments.

I won't have stories like many here, but I got down to an extremely spartan diet due to financial troubles in college, basically raman, spaghetti noodles and vitamin tablets. I finally moved back home with my parents for the last 6mos of school, and their high fat/junk diet created extraordinary GI distress at first.

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jennypenny
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Re: Ascetic Adaptation

Post by jennypenny »

When I read this article, I thought of this thread.
http://www.slate.com/articles/health_an ... ting_.html

I've never understood why people feel heating is a right, but cooling is an extravagance. It's so much easier to make yourself warm with appropriate clothing than it is to cool yourself down.

Seneca
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Re: Ascetic Adaptation

Post by Seneca »

jennypenny wrote:I've never understood why people feel heating is a right, but cooling is an extravagance. It's so much easier to make yourself warm with appropriate clothing than it is to cool yourself down.
Heat definitely kills people even in the US.

The preference is different for everyone. I find keeping the house at 62deg much more unpleasant than 82deg.

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jennypenny
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Re: Ascetic Adaptation

Post by jennypenny »

@Seneca--I don't mind the heat. We keep the thermostat on 62 in the winter and 80 in the summer. On days like today though (heat index 100+), I'm happy to have AC.

To answer the original question, I've tried to lower my expectations regarding my environment. A big part of consumerism is convincing you that everything should look great, smell great, feel great, taste great, or be the exact widget you were looking for. I don't skimp on quality, but for most things I find "good enough" is usually good enough.

Really, do my garbage bags need to be scented?

workathome
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Re: Ascetic Adaptation

Post by workathome »

Our current range is 65F to 78F. Wife starts to get upset below 65 and above 78. Still, better tolerance than for many :-)

Spartan_Warrior
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Re: Ascetic Adaptation

Post by Spartan_Warrior »

55 in winter (+ space heaters), 82 in summer. I can handle the cold a lot better than heat, but I like pushing my limits either way. I usually don't use A/C at all while driving, unless it's a day like today (heat index 100+) and I need to look impeccably neat and non-sweaty. At this point it's become more about challenging my mind and body than saving money.

I haven't been to any kind of restaurant by myself or for a non-special occasion in over a year. This makes it a much more special experience for those times when I do go, so I'm almost always very satisfied even while others nitpick.

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TheWanderingScholar
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Re: Ascetic Adaptation

Post by TheWanderingScholar »

After coming back from the Philippines countryside were AC was luxury and the weather was easily in the 90s day in, day out Texas felt lukewarm really.

Chad
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Re: Ascetic Adaptation

Post by Chad »

Spartan_Warrior wrote:55 in winter (+ space heaters), 82 in summer. I can handle the cold a lot better than heat, but I like pushing my limits either way. I usually don't use A/C at all while driving, unless it's a day like today (heat index 100+) and I need to look impeccably neat and non-sweaty. At this point it's become more about challenging my mind and body than saving money.

I haven't been to any kind of restaurant by myself or for a non-special occasion in over a year. This makes it a much more special experience for those times when I do go, so I'm almost always very satisfied even while others nitpick.
jennypenny wrote: I've never understood why people feel heating is a right, but cooling is an extravagance. It's so much easier to make yourself warm with appropriate clothing than it is to cool yourself down.
+1,000,0000

There are only so many clothes I can take off, but plenty I can put on. I would take AC over a furnace if I had to choose. In my old apartment that was on the second floor of a 3 floor building with only one outside wall I wouldn't even turn the heat on unless it was below freezing outside. Other apartments heated it fine.

JasonR
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Re: Ascetic Adaptation

Post by JasonR »

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Ego
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Re: Ascetic Adaptation

Post by Ego »

JasonR wrote: But to the original premise (HVAC issues aside) I wonder if we do/can adapt to the opposite of pleasure? If you eat a berry and get dog puke sick you don't ever go back and try it again. When you eat a strawberry, however, you want more and then the hedonic adaptation kicks in. Maybe hormesis helps with the poisonous berry, but because of the bad experience you wouldn't go back and "expand your threshold for pain" as Henry Rollins once said in some Tool song. Plus we're primed for loss aversion according to Kahneman. Maybe it's good that we never get tolerant of pain/bad/negative things. It keeps us from being food. Adapting to pleasure takes decades to kill us.

I'm not saying we can't adapt to a "bad" thing (per Camus's's's' quote above) but that it's just adaptation. The guy in the quote won't eventually want a smaller tree trunk. Or less sky to watch. It's just that once you have a greater variety of experiences your baseline shifts. IDK.
Part of it has to do with how we define bad and good, and part of it has to do with whether we should even apply good and bad to a thing. Using your example, there are some who have learned to derive pleasure from getting kicked between the legs. I once heard a story about a long-term homeless woman who decided to get her life together and went to a shelter. They gave her a cot. She couldn't sleep in it for a long time. She was so accustomed to the feeling of lying on the cold, hard earth that she couldn't sleep otherwise. She learned to love the very thing that would have driven most to a shelter. I'd imagine that for some here who keep their furnace turned way down during the winter, they may experience something similar.

We know for a fact that we can learn to love something that is not "good". Let a kid puff a cigar or gulp a shot of whiskey. Their natural reaction is to cough or spit it out. Not good. Yet later in life they may learn to enjoy it and may even need it to be normal.

So, yeah, I guess it is similar to straight adaptation, but with a little added boost. That boost is the resulting psychological hormesis. With the thermostat example we not only recognize the dual financial and physiological benefit of keeping it at 62, we also recognize the added psychological strength we gain from enduring the cold. We can use it to provoke the response that allows the kid who learned to love whiskey as an adult and we can apply that to other aspects of life. With practice we get better at learning to love what was once considered unthinkable.

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jennypenny
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Re: Ascetic Adaptation

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The idea of ascetic adaptation has been pinging around in my head since Ego started the thread. The more I thought about it, the angrier I got and I couldn’t understand why. At first I thought I was resisting the idea that I had to dial back my comfort level any further, and I’m sure that’s a part of it. We’re all a bit smug when it comes to our ERE living style. We live more austere lives than most (in the US at least) so why push ourselves to adapt any further?

The more I thought about it though, I realized it’s not the idea of ascetic adaptation that is bothering me. As a doomer, I assume things are going to get worse and I have prepared for it. It’s the idea that ascetic adaptation is necessary that is bothering me. If there is a natural disaster or zombie apocalypse, I expect to have to adapt to lower living standards, but that’s not the case right now. Ascetic adaptation is necessary because we are constantly bombarded with opportunities for hedonic adaptation. It’s like trying to tread water in a strong current—you have to swim the other direction just to stand still. That seems so wrong to me.

Consumerism is a big part of this, but it’s not just about buying stuff. Food shows convince you that every meal should be an experience. Botoxed, super-skinny celebrities convince us of what we should consider attractive. Social media changes our view of what kind of social life we should expect. Modern medical intervention changes our expectations of what we should tolerate from our bodies (no pain, no acne, no deformities, no hormonal issues, no disease, no periods). Even porn changes our expectations of what sex should be. All of those constantly increase the speed on the hedonic treadmill.

If I have one criticism of ERE, it’s the focus on the “extreme” aspect of it. I think that plays into the cultural push to constantly raise the bar. If one reads through the entire book and adopts the overall concepts, the extreme part would be a natural result of following Jacob’s teachings (or at the very least, a person’s life would seem extreme to others). If one adopts an ERE lifestyle just because of the “extreme” aspect though, I think they’ve missed the point.

Blah, blah, blah … sorry about the rant. I know I'm just stating the obvious to all of you. And I freely acknowledge the hypocrisy of typing this while sitting in my air-conditioned office :). Like I said before, I just miss when good enough was good enough.

Hottentot
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Re: Ascetic Adaptation

Post by Hottentot »

This is one of that priceless threads.

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Ego
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Re: Ascetic Adaptation

Post by Ego »

jennypenny wrote:Ascetic adaptation is necessary because we are constantly bombarded with opportunities for hedonic adaptation. It’s like trying to tread water in a strong current—you have to swim the other direction just to stand still. That seems so wrong to me.

That's a great analogy. It is tempting to frame it as a battle. I like this way better.

We like to swim in the eddies at the edge of the river and avoid the main-stream current. Every so often we jump into another river flowing in a different direction for swim practice. I think it is somewhat easier for those of us without kids to avoid being dragged into the strong current.

Some people do extreme things for the sake of being extreme. Many of us have to go to what others consider extreme in order to feel normal. If it only seems extreme when comparing ourselves to others, is it extreme at all?

For those happily floating along in the center of the main stream, Jacob's message in the book comes across as would a lunatic screaming from atop a soap box in the park. I suspect that if he failed to label it as extreme himself many would mark him as lacking in self-awareness and dismiss his message altogether.

When we zoom out and compare ourselves to most of the human beings on the planet, we are probably far above the mean in spending/consumption/environmental footprint and far below in our ability to cope with discomfort. When we zoom out further and compare ourselves to every human being that ever existed, comparisons become absurd. By pulling ourselves toward the worldwide mean we are not only doing a service to humanity as a whole, we are also making ourselves stronger in the process.

workathome
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Re: Ascetic Adaptation

Post by workathome »

JasonR's example is of something which is physically harmful, not quite ascetic adaptation. Anti-hedonic adaptation, as all things, would have a golden mean. You shouldn't start eating nails and hitting yourself in the head with a hammer to see if you can adapt to brain damage.

If you look at hedonic adaptation, you will find many instances of harm being caused from hedonic adaptation - just as you could find examples of ascetic adaptation taken too far. Society as a whole has just gone so extreme towards worship of materialism and comfort that the golden mean appears extreme.

A modest example - I enjoy drinking plain room-temperature water. This is good for me and healthy, but many people hate doing it and find it uncomfortable. Years ago, I would drink several cans of Coca-Cola per day and couldn't bear the thought of drinking room-temperature water. Had I hedonically or ascetically adapted to Coca-Cola? Either way, it was causing me real, physical harm. The same would be the case if I started a habit of regular heroin use, though the initial pleasure and long-term harm more greatly amplified.

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jennypenny
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Re: Ascetic Adaptation

Post by jennypenny »

Add this to the current we're all swimming against...
http://www.universityherald.com/article ... -shows.htm (h/t ran prieur)

From the article ... "Why would you punish the people who are doing the most -- especially when it benefits the group? It doesn't seem to make sense on the surface, but it shows the power of norms. It may be that group members think it's more important to conform than for the group to do well."

JasonR
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Re: Ascetic Adaptation

Post by JasonR »

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Ego
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Re: Ascetic Adaptation

Post by Ego »

JasonR wrote:However, it looks like my understanding of hedonic adaptation was flawed.
Yeah, I agree. It seems we use the term in a very different way than it is actually defined on wikipedia. We usually think of it in terms of moving upward (more wealth, bigger house, faster car, larger screen television). The idea that we can lower our needs yet we manage to quickly return to our set-point is a powerful one in its own right. I figured it deserved a term that communicated the idea without the baggage.
JasonR wrote:Anyway, to develop that skill follow the positive psych people and do what their research says. Or if the original definition is closer to what we're talking about then I would recommend putting yourself in crappy situations (travel even!) to expand your frame of reference. ........ I would guess you have to live it or experience it, as this is an area where thought experiments wouldn't work.
Many Digambara (Jain) monks have renounced everything, even clothing. Sure, taking it to that extreme is, well, crazy. Often there are interesting lessons to be learned in the crazy extremes. If nothing else they are so much more interesting than creamy middles.

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jennypenny
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Re: Ascetic Adaptation

Post by jennypenny »

Couldn't we just go change the definition on wikipedia? I like our definition better :)

Something doesn't seem right about that definition. Do we just go back to what we were? Or do we realize that we didn't have it so bad in the first place? Or after having a few experiences of wonderful highs and terrible lows, do we realize the "creamy middle" is a nice, stable place to be?

I'm not convinced. How does that jive with ideas like affluenza and lifestyle creep?

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