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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Less is More project: Week 3 - Pleasure

PinkMoose, Flickr


Man is a pliant animal, a being who becomes accustomed to anything. (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)

Have you ever heard of hedonic adaptation? Also called the hedonic treadmill, this concept refers to the phenomenon by which our happiness stabilizes after an increase or a decrease caused by positive or negative events in our lives.

In our pursuit of happiness, we often fail to realize that once we have achieved what we believed would bring satisfaction and joy, we eventually return to our previous levels of happiness, as if nothing had ever happened. If you have finally found your soul mate, bought your dream house, landed your dream job or lost weight, and feel happier for of it... that new found happiness might not last. One shocking example of this phenomenon is the fact that people who win the lottery do not experience a permanent, long-lasting change in their levels of happiness past the initial excitement.

(The good news is that this phenomenon also works in the opposite direction. If you have become, say, paraplegic following an accident, your happiness levels might see a drop, but that drop is only temporary.)

In the context of this Less is More project, the phenomenon of hedonic adaptation applies to the pleasure we experience as a result of acquiring things. Have you ever noticed how short-lived the "high" we get from purchasing a coveted item can be? Even the most exciting new acquisition eventually looses its appeal. It becomes part of the decor. We take it for granted. As an exercise, I encourage you to look around your house for objects, big and small, that you were very enthusiastic about in the beginning, but that you now fail to notice or at least fully appreciate.

What lesson should we take from this? Is is worth our money and our planet's natural resources to shop and buy things that will only keep us content for a short amount of time? Does such a short term increase in happiness justify the stress material consumption puts on the environment? Is "I can afford it" a sufficient reason to buy something?

If we want to make ourselves or others happy, is there a way to achieve it without actually buying things?

Next comes the question of experiences. I am wondering if the privileged wouldn't benefit from spacing out their "special outings" such as nights out on the town, weekends away and longer trips in order to appreciate them better. Part of the pleasure in such activities lies in the build-up and the memories. When you do something too often, it's not special anymore, and you don't savour it quite as much. 

Do you have any personal, specific examples of how buying less and doing less might actually promote happiness?


WEEK 3 IN REVIEW



Temptations 


Target is closing all its stores in Canada, and that means big sales as they try and get rid of the merchandise. Many friends of mine mentioned going, just in case they find something interesting (notice they did not mention an actual need). When I said I would not go, a coworker told me: "but you might get a super bargain, and maybe you do need something" to which I replied (with a smile): "well of course if I walk into the store I will suddenly discover all those needs I didn't know I had". 

Not going. Period.

I went to get a haircut at my usual salon - which is located in a shopping mall. I walked fast and looked ahead of me. Bought nothing. I used the opportunity to be more mindful of my spending: I got a cut but no color. In the coming year I will try and go back to my natural color as part of the Less is More project.



Donations

I have a pile of clothes and a pile of books ready to go. I might add to it, as I realized I still own some maternity clothes and baby bedding. Not planning on using those anymore, so... farewell!

Good riddance - the things that are in too bad a shape to even be donated: 

I am recycling a number of outdated traveling guides. I am also using an outdated agenda's pictures to make bookmarks, some of which will make fun, homemade presents to fellow readers. Even if that's the farthest my craftiness will go for now, it's still better than nothing.


Observations


I realized that:

Owning pets is not a good idea if you want to keep your budget in check. Find tapeworms on a furry friend's behind, get appropriate treatment plus preventive flee treatment for the other furry friends in the house, and my wallet is now $235 lighter. A couple months ago, one canine eye infection cost us about $125. And I'm not talking about the food, the treats, the toys (which we keep at a minimum) and other equipment such as crate, leash, cushions. Which also take up space. But pets are such a nice addition to a home, aren't they?

Like adults, children like new stuff and neglect the old. That is... until you "threaten" them of getting rid of the toys they don't use. All of a sudden my kids are rediscovering what had been hiding at the bottom of the toy chest, and enjoying it fully. The flame has been rekindled. 


Cogitations


The problem of presents: I knew it would be an issue. As adults, we can agree on not exchanging presents, but what about the kids? It's only January and between the 2 of them, our girls have already been invited to 4 birthday parties. I was not gonna send them without a present. All I can do is pick something that I think the recipients will like (or a gift card). As for our own kids, we will focus on things they actually need, like a new pair of basketball sneakers, a new bike (the current ones are falling apart), etc. Last year, when R turned 10, instead of presents she decided to ask for donations to the local SPCA. I was very proud of her. We might try and replicate, but of course this is not something we can actually force on children. It has to come from them.



What did you resist this week? Did you donate or get rid of anything? How did that make you feel? Please comment below! And...



31 comments:

  1. Oh my goodness, it's like this post is written about me? You asked the question "Do you have any personal, specific examples of how buying less and doing less might actually promote happiness?"

    Yes !! We are not poor and could be considered rich in that we own more than one freehold house. We want for nothing and we are happy BUT it is because we don't eat out often, we love the simple life, we have one overseas holiday a year and really get excited about it. We don't buy much "stuff" and look after what we do own. We own a beach house and spend many weekends and holidays there and enjoy simple times there.

    When we used to eat out often it became a bore and I lost all appreciation for it. Now it's a treat! Our main joy is free - fun and cuddles with the grandchildren.

    One thing I've learned over the years (I'm 58) is that "stuff" does not make you happy. Too much stuff just weighs you down. I could go on and on but you get the idea :)

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    1. I like how you use the word "treat" to describe pleasures in which we engage on an occasional basis. That encompasses the idea I was trying to communicate. Thank you!

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  2. I like the gift of a gift for someone or some group that needs. Mike and I did that at Christmas time for our boyscouts.
    Being happy with what you have is very important. I have learned that if I really don't like it, or think I won't later it's just not worth it. I want to look at something I bought last year and still enjoy it. Once in awhile it happens the happiness doesn't last but I am very picky and won't buy to just buy.
    Good job with your hair cut. I use box-o-hair color cuz I just can't stand the thought of being gray yet. My best friend trims my hair because I have easy hair. But I am thinking I would love to have someone do my hair but that's at a cost of $100.00 for cut and color. Just think of what I could do with that money if I just keep the $4.00 box stuff and Kim cutting my hair. So...well hasn't happened yet.
    Love this challenge. Going to the thrift shops tomorrow. In the look out for a couple pairs of jeans for me, mine are getting pretty bad. I have two blouses in exchange for the jeans to donate, got them from my aunt who does like me, donate if you can't use, don't like or just don't need any more.
    Take care and have a blessed rest of the week.

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    1. Your precious time is probably the most valuable gift you can offer.

      I think like you when it comes to spending - is it really worth it and what else could I do with that money?

      Have a great rest of your week too!

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  3. So many places to go here. Your best installment yet.

    Of pets, it's the one area where I feel money can buy happiness. Sure we can get pets for free from shelters or at low cost, but the ongoing cost of being the steward of an otherwise helpless mammal, is well worth the investment. The joy, the lessons, and the humility I have learned from my dogs has molded who I am as a person.

    As it relates to friends flocking to Target for deals, who wouldn't want miss out on deals...? I'm reminded of those who watch TV relentlessly and hate to leave at night for fear of missing something that will never be on TV again -- even in this age they exist.

    Good on you for the hair color, or lack of. One less thing to hide the real you ;-)

    Wishing you the best in week 4!

    Peace

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    1. I agree with you on the happiness provided by pets!

      Missing out on deals is what I will be doing this whole year, and interestingly, I'm excited about the prospect.

      Peace to you!

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  4. I try very hard to distinguish between want and need. I am getting better. Went into town today and bought some underpants (definitely a need) and a bra. Ditto. Walked out without looking anywhere else. A win.

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    1. Good job! And yes, underwear does qualify as a need... although, to be honest, I own too many pieces of that too.

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  5. Great post! Definitely agree with spreading out special occasions - an event is most satisfying when it comes in 3 parts : anticipation leading up to it, savouring the moment and reflecting after it happens. If you spontaneously go or block in events back to back you'll inevitably miss out.

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    1. Exactly what I was trying to explain! Thank you for putting it so clearly.

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    2. I loved that... wish I'd said it about anticipation is half the fun!!

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  6. You are 100% correct. The happiness derived from buying things is so very short term. A week later and you are wondering why you bought it.
    I am in a constant state of resistance these days. We are on the waiting list for a condo so I refuse to buy anything else for the house (even if I almost need it lol) until we get where we are hopefully going and I see what we REALLY need (ie blinds for those huge windows). Still doing well with resisting the temptation to eat out. My discretionary spending account is lookin' good.

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    1. You have the best approach. Once you live in the condo you will know for sure what you need and what you don't. :-)

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  7. Good to see how well your project is going!

    I was not familiar with hedonic adaptation intellectually, although I probably was emotionally. I do have a 1996 car in the garage, however, that has kept my happiness at a pretty high level ever since I got it, proving, that at least with some things, true love can last forever :-)

    I feel better buying less and being less wasteful because I feel doing so contributes to the world as a whole. Simplicity is a gift to ourselves as well as others.

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    1. Simplicity IS a gift to everyone! Well said!

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  8. I think that letting a gift be a need is a perfect solution - we have tried to transition to that with our boys. I would have had to make the same choice as you - skipping Target altogether. Lately I've gotten much more focused when I do go instead of walking out with a ton of crap that we don't need.

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  9. My family is all about getting "good deals" on stuff. What's an even better deal than going out looking for deals on stuff you don't actually need? Staying home. That's always free! :)

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  10. Now hair colour? It's interesting to read you had a cut but no colour.

    Possibly as you get older this might not be so easy. I know there are those women who would not consider colouring their hair - whereas to others it is the norm. That is why these series of articles you are currently focusing on is so interesting, our views on different things.

    Of course the younger you are too, especially children, your views on a whole manner of things may be different.

    Discussion and an exchange of views is always so interesting, which is why I like your blog so much.

    I note you have Sonja Lyubomirsky in your side bar .... interesting reading, thanks.

    All the best Jan

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    1. Hair color is not a need, as much as society tries to convince us of the opposite. :-) We will see how long I last!

      Sonja Lyubomirsky is an excellent read indeed! Thanks for noticing.

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  11. The one thing that brings me recurring happiness is books and dvds. I'm happy when I first read or watch a new book or movie and I'm happy again and again when I re-read or re-watch a favourite. I have books that I've owned and re-read for years, some books are twenty or thirty years old and I still enjoy reading the story. My movies aren't as old yet, but there are so many that I like to watch again and again. There were a few that I donated after a couple of watches.

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    1. Your favorite books might be a keeper, you are right! Honestly, I am nowhere near getting rid all of my books.

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  12. You might be interested in this article I read today - all about the accumulation of too much "stuff" and the reasons why people now buy so much. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30849473

    Lynda :)

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    1. Thank you for the link Lynda. I always love reading what others have to say.

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  13. Good for you for resisting the temptation of a Target going out-of-business sale! Although I'm slightly crying inside for you at the thought of no Targets (because I have an unhealthy obsession), the frugal in me is happy for you! I am committing to not purchasing any clothing in 2015 and am already struggling with it...I found myself browsing clothe online this week. It's only January...this is not a good sign! But alas, I resisted some super cute sweaters I saw. Loving your blog, and looking forward to following your journey :)

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    1. You can do it, Christina! Turn off the computer! Don't go to shopping malls! Enjoy other things! :-)

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  14. I'd probably hit up target if they were closing and I was near by. We are "shoppers of opportunity" and if something is too expensive, we just won't buy it. But there are a few things that we want (if they were cheaper). So going hunting where everything is half or 3/4 off might lead to us acquiring items that make us happier or make our lives easier (thereby freeing up more time for more fun pursuits!).

    By the way, I'm digging your sidebar reading list! I've read many of those classics but there are a few names on the list I haven't read. And Gabriel Garcia Marquez in French? Who knew? :) I read the Cien Anos in the original Spanish for a high school Spanish literature class, but never thought it might be translated into other languages beyond English.

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    1. I would probably have hit up Target if this big sales had been on last year. :-)

      And I guess the big classics are translated in more languages than one can imagine!

      Thank you for commenting.

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  15. I've just recently decided to go back to my natural hair color too to cut down on expenses and upkeep. It would be so tempting to go to Target to get some "good deals", great job resisting!

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  16. We recently moved about 1400 miles and I have had to do a LOT of shopping to get the things I couldn't fit in the minivan. I'm a minimalist, and so all this shopping is pretty foreign to me. Plus I'm not thrilled with all of the money we're having to spend. Lessons learned for next time for sure! Love this post and I look forward to reading past and future ones! :)

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