Make it a Treat: Enjoy the good things in life by having them less

Published by Selwyn on

Make it a Treat:

Enjoy the best things in life by having them less


What if the way to enjoy the best things in life was to have them less?

That’s the bold claim by authors, Dr Elizabeth Dunn and Dr Michael Norton, in their book “Happy Money: the New Science on Smarter Spending”.


That’s great news for people on the Give Better journey: it’s not just that you can transform areas of ‘meh’ spending into joyful giving and saving. Even for your favourite things — a morning cuppa at the local cafe, a big slab of Whittakers chocolate — the way to eek out the most happiness from these good things in life is to make them treats! Have them less, and enjoy them more. And at the same time spend less, and experience the joy of saving more and giving more instead. It really is a win-win!


But how can we understand this counterintuitive principle? 


We start with a lesson from one of our favourite stories: Charlie and the Chocolate Factoryby Ronald Dahl. You’ll remember Charlie LOVES chocolate, but his family can only afford to buy him one bar a year. He’d anticipate that one bar all year round, and then when it arrived, make it last as long as possible. After a few days just looking at his treat, he’d finally “peel back a tiny bit of paper wrapping at one corner to expose a tiny bit of chocolate, and then he would take a tiny nibble, just enough to allow the lovely sweet taste to spread out slowly over his tongue.  The next day he would take another tiny nibble, and so on…”


Who do you think derived more overall pleasure from chocolate — Charlie, or the wealthy and pampered Augustus Gloop, who indulged incessantly and eventually drowned in a river of chocolate?!


The moral of this story was put to the test with a bunch of university students.  

As reported in Happy Money, the students were invited to a chocolate tasting, and then asked to self-evaluate their enjoyment of the chocolate. But here’s the catch: some of them were told to avoid chocolate during the ensuing week while others were sent home with a two-pound bag and told to eat as much as they wanted. Predictably, the students who had gorged on chocolate all week experienced much less enjoyment than those who had kept the chocolate as a treat.


Corporates have long known this secret. Create a sense of scarcity to drive both demand and enjoyment. That’s why the McDonalds McRib is available only a short time each year, and why Disney locks movies in a “Disney Value” to build demand over time. Conversely, over-abundance kills interest and joy: How many of you, like me, haven’t visited all the top tourist destinations in your city? And when you do, they are just not quite as exciting as the attractions overseas ..


So what’s the answer? Limit our access to the good things! Not for ascetic reasons, but to increase our own joy! In the words of Dunn and Norton:


“At the same time that money increases our happiness by giving us access to all kinds of wonderful things, knowing we have access to wonderful things undermines our happiness by reducing our tendency to appreciate life’s small joys.”    


So rather than having your favourite cuppa every morning, why not reduce it to once or twice a week and really savour those moments? Then Give Better the rest to further increase your joy — and your impact on the world.

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