Thompson (2009) defines habituation as a ubiquitous neurophysiological phenomenon whereby exposure to a repeated frequent stimulus decreases subsequent responsiveness within organisms. For example, a new proximal sound may draw an individual’s attention; however, the individual becomes accustomed to this audible stimulus over time. Subsequently, attention and response to the noise diminish. This diminishing response is habituation.
Habituation is adaptive, involving primitive learning mechanisms evolved to conserve resources in the presence of predictable stimuli (Humphrey, 1933). Therefore, habituation mitigates against the existence of minor predictable positive or negative challenges to SWB (Cummins, 2018b). Consequently, an individual’s optimal functional state, under normal conditions, remains mostly unaltered as minor agitations to subjective wellbeing are corrected by the habituation process. SWB is thus effectively maintained around its set-point.
Adaptation, like habituation, involves an organism becoming desensitised to stimuli. However, the nature of the stimulus differs. While habituation responds to a repeated frequent stimulus, adaptation refers to the process whereby an organism adapts to a continuous, unchanging stimulus (Helson, 1964; Luo, 2019). Within subjective wellbeing homeostasis, adaptation is a fundamental psychological buffer.
Over time, adaptation allows people to tolerate a reduced negative or positive reaction to changed circumstance within their life (Andrews & Withey, 1976). For example, when Brickman et al. (1978) compared subjective wellbeing levels between people who won the lottery and people who developed paraplegia following a trauma. Despite an initially large discrepancy, 18 months after trauma, subjective wellbeing for each group had returned to their baseline levels.
Achieving is defined as “the process of active engagement that provides purpose in life.” For example, having a purpose in life acts as a catalyst for goal setting. Subsequently achieving those goals builds someone’s motivation for life. Of course, the opposite is also true. When someone feels they are not achieving in life, their subjective wellbeing declines.
Personal relationships are defined as the mutual contribution of intimacies and support. Personal relationships of this sort act as buffers to subjective wellbeing when it offers a partner the benefits of intimacy, such as the sharing of personal problems. Likewise, the consistency of care and availability of a partner may serve to reinforce the internal buffers of self-esteem, optimism, and perceived control, thus strengthening internal resources in the face of life’s challenges. While money, a sense of achieving in life and personal relationships act as external buffers, internal buffers also maintain our subjective wellbeing levels.
Adequate amounts of money can protect subjective wellbeing. For example, for someone experiencing depressive symptoms, financial resources can be used to employ professionals such as phycologists. Receiving support in this way helps defend subjective wellbeing from strong negative emotions.