The hedonic treadmill of bonfires…

One of the more enlightening moments in life is when you discover the concept of the hedonic treadmill. In simple terms, it is the tendency of a person to remain at a relatively stable level of happiness despite a change in fortune or the achievement of major goals.

We see this effect when we buy a new smartphone. For a few weeks, it is the bee’s knees and we marvel at how fast it is and what lovely photos it takes, then after a while, we get used to it and it becomes normal. Our entire capitalist system is based on selling us shiny new versions of products we already own. New car, new kitchen, new clothes etc – all guaranteed to improve your life and bring you happiness. Except they do for a while, then they become normal.

This phenomenon is most acute with lottery winners. At the start all is great then you just get used to the money and you return to your base level of happiness. In worst cases, you can end up like this Co Tyrone Euromillions winner who said the jackpot win has ‘destroyed’ her life.

So what has this got to do with bonfires? Well, the past decade has seen bonfires getting bigger and bigger. What were traditionally small bonfires at the end of some streets have morphed into giant skyscrapers. Pallets and cherry pickers have made bonfires ever bigger.

We have gone from this:

To this:

The Larne Craigyhill bonfire is made from more than 17,000 pallets making it Northern Ireland’s biggest bonfire. The problem is this now becomes the new standard, people get used to the new size and the novelty wears off. How do you top it next year? 18,000 pallets? 20,000 pallets? Fireworks? Lasers? 3D holograms?

Like your new smartphone camera that has a 12-megapixel camera VS the 10-megapixel camera on your old smartphone, the differences become marginal. At some point, people stop becoming impressed and they shrug their shoulders.

You can appeal to people on a logical level and point out that at some point someone is going to get killed either building these mega-structures or one will topple into the crowd but this strategy has not worked well in the past.

The change will come from the community. One community will decide that the mega structures are no longer for them and giant bonfires will go out of fashion. Someone will reimagine the 11th night celebrations in a different way.

Or maybe not. In 10 years they could be using construction drones to build bonfires of 50,000 pallets – who knows?

Photo by Alexas_Fotos is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA

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