There’s this theory in psychology called the Hedonic Treadmill. In broadly simplified terms, it says that all of us possess a base level of happiness, an innate set point: regardless of how many good or bad things happen to us, our dispositions tend to regress towards this baseline given enough time. So it doesn’t matter how much fortune or fame or friends you have, or how little: at some point you’ll habituate to your circumstances and settle back towards your earlier levels of happiness, and you’ll need something more to be happier.
Which means, depending on how you look at it, we’re all either fucked or blessed regardless of what happens to us.
The reality is as always more complicated than that. But returning to your wellbeing baseline(s) seems to be an inherent human trait.
BoJack Horseman is, yes, an animated show that features talking animal people. When you go beyond that, though, it’s about being an asshole, about being self-aware and still being an asshole, about depression, about resenting mental abuse in your formative years, about taking your support systems for granted; but it’s also about friends who’re there for you anyway, about trying to make the journey towards being a better person, about knowing there are some things you can’t make amends for, about trying to accept who you are. And yes, that is self-contradictory, but it also makes perfect sense. Because despite yourself, no matter what happens, you return to your baseline.
In reality, it’s a show about escaping that treadmill. Not just through BoJack and his issues, but through many of its characters who also have their own problems. And for a show about such dark existential things, its true masterstroke isn’t just that it’s a quirky animated cartoon: it’s risky, creative, and also really, really funny.
And that humour is important, because it’s smart, it lampoons current-day issues, and makes you feel for these silly, weirdly relatable people in front of you. Because after you’ve laughed with them, and at them, and through them, it will break your fucking heart.
And then, you return to your baseline.
I know The Wire‘s the best show ever made. I also know that Deadwood‘s the best show ever made. I know. But there’s also this. I don’t know how an animated serial about animal people ended up being one of the most precisely observed, character-driven, human shows I’ve ever seen, but it’s managed to be so much more than a set of animal gags (of which there are so many, reader). I’ve only watched the first few episodes of its final season, and it’s already poised to be a complex yet powerful send-off for these characters. I don’t know if it’ll answer the question of how to make BoJack or the people in his orbit happier with themselves, but I know it’ll try its damndest. And once it’s done, I don’t know what show’s ever going to replace it. Perhaps nothing will. And perhaps – that’s okay.
Perhaps the treadmill doesn’t actually matter, and you find your own happiness, I think, one day at a time.