Calvinism and the hedonic treadmill

Am I having fun yet?

Calvinism is a branch of Christian thought which subscribes to the concept of predestination. Predestination is the concept that one’s actions do not influence whether one will go to heaven or not – all that has been predetermined. Now, you’d wonder how this could possibly work in a religion, since we normally think of the going to heaven as being determined by one’s actions and thus serving as incentive to do good.

The way it works is that you merely reverse the arrow of causality. Instead of doing good leading to salvation, you state that those who are destined for heaven would inevitably behave in a good way. The idea is that a Calvinist would be hoping to discover himself to be one of the heaven-bound, and thus be convincing himself that he was indeed doing good deeds out of his very core. It’s definitely plausible that this would be more powerful motivation, as someone would be thinking “I’m doing good because I am good” as opposed to “I’m doing good because I don’t like lava”. It seems to be a clever way to avoid motivational crowding and maximize intrinsic motivation.

There is a psychology phenomenon called the hedonic treadmill, which is the observation that people seem to revert to the same level of happiness regardless of what happens to them, be it winning a lottery or becoming paraplegic. Psychologists have observed that people are imbued with levels of happiness that are very difficult to change.

I’ve always thought that it was amusing how much this resembled predestination. I can imagine trying hard to convince myself that my hedonic set point was higher.

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