Back to Podcast Index →

How to Appreciate Today More

  Listen in to hear my advice for expanding the magic moments we enjoy each day, and also to reduce the amount of frustration we feel day to day.


In the business of high school classes and activities, it can be easy to lose sight of just how incredible it is to be alive and to be working towards a better future.

In fact, because of hedonic adaptation, we generally return to our set baseline of happiness.

But we don't have to settle for that.


Ready for the Ivy League Challenge?


Take the Challenge


Too many people are overwhelmed, stressed out, and frustrated about college admissions prep. I created this podcast to help you build a standout college profile and boost your confidence. Enjoy!

– Steve Gardner, Founder

Listen to my podcast

Listen to other podcasts 

Success Mindset

The right mindset can ensure your success. Listen to begin building your own winning mindset now. 

Start listening

Build Your Confidence 

When everyone else is trying to fit in or go with the flow, learn how you can develop the confidence you need to blaze your own successful path. 

Start listening

Reduce Stress & Anxiety 

Stories, research, real-life examples... Listen to learn how my Harvard peers and I faced stress and overwhelm. 

Start listening

How to Stand Out 

Hard work and great test scores are not enough- but what kind of admissions prep activities will help you get in? It's not what you think... 

Start listening

Admissions Strategy 

Essays, rec. letters, curriculum choices, college visits, research, test scores, and more. Don't wear yourself out with a bad strategy.  

Start listening

Succeed In High School 

The best college prep will ensure you thrive in middle school & high school. Don't settle for stressful, unhelpful college prep advice. 

Start listening

Would you like to be notified when new episodes are launched in your favorite category?

Yes, sign me up



Welcome back to season two of the Ivy League Prep Academy Podcast. Equipping you to successfully pursue the college of your dreams. We believe everyone deserves to reach their full potential and the admissions process shouldn't hold you back.

So last week we talked about the the five stages of burnout that I've observed in high school students from around the world. Of course, I've taught in high schools on three different continents and I've taught all kinds of different classes, from the most rigorous A level or IBDP classes to really enjoyable and pretty chill classes like the IBMYP or regular courses. And based on that, I talked about what I consider to be the five stages of burnout and what you can do in the middle of all of that stress or at the end of it to recover, whether you're at the end of the semester or in the middle of the storm.

I love this quote that I read since then. It's by John Cabot Zine who said, you can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf. And I loved that.

But I also love how that applies directly to the idea that I want to talk about today, which is Hedonic adaptation and how we can hack that Hedonic adaptation to enjoy today and appreciate today more than we have before. So, once again, that quote, you can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf. And that's so true, isn't it? We can't control so many of the things that are happening around us, but of course, we can control how we respond to those.

That's not a new idea, but I love how he puts it. Let's learn to surf. I actually just spent some time in Bali and my two young children, one is aged five, the other aged seven, they both learned to surf, and I got video of them on their surfboards up on the waves.

It was really, really fun. But this idea of the Hedonic treadmill or Hedonic adaptation, you may have heard about this before, but this is this idea that when something new happens, you think it's going to dramatically influence the rest of your life. So, for example, if you start earning more money, you think that you're going to be happier for the rest of your life, but what actually happens is you're happier for a very short period of time and then your expectations adjust.

Interestingly enough, the opposite is also true. If you lose your job, if something dramatic happens that you think is going to create sadness for the rest of your life, you adjust pretty quickly. So at first you do experience that sadness, the grief, the loss, the pain.

But very quickly, you adapt. You adapt your expectations and you find new ways to experience life and to experience happiness. In fact, this was really driven home to me when I read some research by Dan Gilbert.

Just fascinating when I talk about this with my students. I first show a picture of someone who just won the lottery $314,000,000. This person obviously would be pretty happy.

But then I show another picture. And this is someone who just went through an accident and has become a quadriplegic. Most of the body has become paralyzed.

They cannot move their arms or legs for the rest of their lives, even though they began their lives being fully able to do so, right? And I asked the question, which of these two people do you believe is going to be happier one year from today? If today is the day that person A won $314,000,000 in the lottery and person B is the person who today got in an accident and became a quadriplegic, lost the ability to control their arms or legs forever, which one would you assume would be happier one year from today? And it's a reasonable assumption that person A is going to be happier, but the reality is they're both exactly the same one year from today, they will both be at the exact same level of happiness. Now, if that dramatic example does not drive home this idea of hedonic adaptation, right, the idea that we adjust our expectations and we revert back to our baseline happiness, we decide internally how happy we choose to be, and our external circumstances generally have little to do with that set baseline. Now, what does set that happiness baseline? That's not the point of today's podcast.

There's some tremendous research out there and it's clear that some people have a natural disposition that's more optimistic and more positive and more happy. So some people have massive advantages here. Other people learn how to be more mindful and be more intentional with their lives.

And that can help tremendously. And there is excellent research out there and developing research, this is an incredible field to get into. If you love this sort of thing, it's a great field to dive into because there's still a lot to be discovered.

But what I want to talk about today is regardless of where your set point is, where your internal expectations for your own happiness are, what can we do today and what can we do this week? What can we do now to appreciate what we have and increase that level of happiness? And I want to challenge you as a listener to this podcast. You listen to this podcast for a reason, right? You listen to this because you want to be more, do more, be better as a person. You want to be more and be more authentic.

And at your core, there's a whole bunch of gratitude. There's a whole bunch of love and optimism and there's a whole bunch of connectedness to nature and to the people around you that you care most about. But over time, we kind of COVID up that core and we want to protect ourselves and our ego.

And we've talked about that before. So here's the challenge that I have for you. Challenge number one, no phone time.

The reason for this is I want you to disconnect from your phone so you can reconnect to everything else around you. This again is something I talked about last week in the podcast about burnout and how to recover from that burnout. But instead of disconnecting for an entire day or two, which is what I recommend if you are trying to recover from a long period of burnout, like at the end of a semester or the end of a school year, I just want you to pick a time where you can give yourself 6 hours without your phone.

All right? 6 hours where your phone is off. That means you can't connect to internet. You cannot get messages, you cannot send messages.

You can't do any of the things that you reflexively do when you reach for your phone and in a completely subconscious way, pull it out and check whatever apps you always check over and over and over again for. 6 hours and just experience how awkward that is for the first few hours and then experience how wonderful it is for the last few hours to really see the world around you. All right? So during your recovery time, during these 6 hours, no phones.

The next challenge that's also a no phone challenge is relationship time. Choose the times where you want to build a healthy relationship and let go of your phone. Decide that that is a no phone time.

So turn the phone off, put it in your pocket, or put it in your purse, away from view, away from each other, and spend that time really connecting with the person. So what is that? No phone time? Number one, choose a six hour period of time where you can just kind of detox from your phone. And number two, choose relationship time.

So during relationship time, disconnect from your phone, turn it off, get it out of there. Beyond that, I have three other ideas. You probably have some ideas that you really enjoy instead of doing all of those ideas at once.

When you have time, is it possible for you to break up that activity and do a little bit and then stop and do a little bit later on? The theory behind this idea comes from economics and the law of diminishing returns. Say, for example, you love ice cream. When you take your first bite of your favorite flavor of your favorite kind of ice cream, it is heavenly, right? Or substitute whatever food you love more.

That first bite is amazing. The second bite is still amazing. And for a while it's just absolutely delightsome, right? And then over time, the next bite just becomes another bite.

And eventually, if you keep going and you don't stop at all, then you're going to feel like eating this ice cream is making you sick. And if you're forced to eat more than you want to eat, you'll start to dislike eating the ice cream. This is the law of diminishing returns.

And it just means that at first, the activity is wonderful, but over time, as you continue to do it, it gives you less and less of a reward. Well, what happens if you just take a few bites of the ice cream and you have the discipline to put it back? The next day, you can have a few more bites, and it's magical again. And we can do that same thing with activities, all right? We can do that same thing with the activities that you really, really love.

So what are these things that you truly enjoy doing? And is it possible to spend less time at any given time and break it up so you can do it more frequently? The second idea is the exact opposite of this. Consolidate your less enjoyable activities. Are there activities that you really try to procrastinate, that you really want to put off? You just don't enjoy doing them? And can you consolidate them? Can you choose to do them all at once? Because the same situation works in reverse.

You have to work up the willpower to begin doing this activity that you don't enjoy. But if you just choose to get started, then it doesn't feel so bad and you get it all done, and then it feels amazing, right? I talked about this in detail in a podcast over a year ago. The name of the podcast is Play Like a Champion today, when I said that one of my hacks at Harvard was to intentionally schedule my Wednesdays to be very, very challenging.

So I started my Wednesdays early in the morning. I didn't finish until late at night. I had classes all day.

And during the break, I usually had a long break, depending on the semester, of course. But during that long break, I would plan to do my homework. I would schedule myself in classes that were far away from my dorm or far away from where I lived so that I would go to a library and focus.

And Wednesdays became the day of champions. I knew it coming in. Monday would start my week.

Tuesday, I'd enjoy myself. But Tuesday afternoon, Tuesday evening, I'd start mentally preparing for my Champions day. And then Wednesday was all about playing like a champion, right? I imagined myself slapping the plaque that's above the locker room.

In my high school, I used to play high school basketball. And before every game, I'd jump up and slap that plaque that said, play like a Champion Today. So every Wednesday morning, I'd wake up and I'd psych myself out.

I'd say, this is going to be amazing, right? Playing like a champion. This is the day that champions step up. We've got this class.

We've got that class. We've got the test prep. We've got that project we need to work on.

We've got this and that, and today's going to be amazing. And I would psych myself up for it because all of these less enjoyable activities, I would knock them out in one go. And then something unusual happened, something I never could have expected when I first began.

Over time, I actually began to look forward to Wednesdays, even though that was the Champions Day, even though that was the day that I really had to step up and be on my A game and do my best, or else I'd get swallowed up in the avalanche of activities that I had to complete that day. Despite the reality of every Wednesday, I grew to love Wednesdays, celebrate Wednesdays, and look forward to Wednesdays. Why? Because of the third piece of advice that I have for you today in Hacking Hedonic adaptation.

And that is, I began to celebrate the completion of my work. I began to get excited for Wednesdays because I knew that I was going to get more done on Wednesday than I probably would the whole rest of the week. So one day was more productive for me than the other six days combined.

And that was exciting. I grew to love that and to celebrate that. And that's the third thing that I want you to do to appreciate today more than before.

Celebrate the completion of work. Talk to yourself as if you were a tennis player on the other side of the net and no one was around you to talk to you. You have to talk to yourself, right? You give a good shot, you have a great return.

You tell yourself, Nice shot. Great return. You celebrate your success.

Well, you can use that same self talk when you're not on the tennis court. You can use that self talk to psych yourself up and to get excited before your activities. And then to celebrate when you complete things, when you complete work that really deserves your admiration and your celebration, go ahead and congratulate yourself.

Okay? So today is all about the reality that we set our internal expectations for how happy we're going to be. But there are some things that we can do to appreciate today and to increase our level of happiness today. Number one, get rid of the things that frazzle your mind, and that's going to be your video games, your social media, your Netflix or Disney Plus or whatever streaming devices you use.

The phone that gives you a literal computer in your pocket can also be the thing that makes it difficult to be happy. And so spend some time detoxing from that, especially when you're with other human beings. All right? Connect to human beings.

Connect to nature. And in addition to getting disconnected from your phone that can frazzle your brain and reconnecting to nature and to other human beings around you, I hope you try out the three things that I suggest today. Number one, take the enjoyable activities that you love and see how you can break them up so you can do less at a time, but do them more frequently.

Number two consolidate the less enjoyable activities so you can take that thing and see if you can pile it up on top of itself and then get it all done. Knock it out at one go. And number three celebrate.

Celebrate the completion of work. Well done. You deserve the celebration.

Give yourself that celebration. And even though you truly can't control or stop the waves, you can learn to surf.