Do you remember a time when you were overjoyed if offered a piece of candy, a simple toy or the privilege of staying up for an extra hour? When I was a child, I looked forward to Friday night, because then I would get to watch TV for a bit longer while eating pop corn. For years, I couldn’t imagine anything more luxurious. Then, slowly but surely, a mechanism called hedonic adaptation kicked in. Hedonic adaptation means that we crave constant upgrades to feel happy – or, rather, just to avoid feeling like we’ve been deprived of something we deserve. A sort of inflation, if you will.
Let’s take Friday night as an example. By the age of five, a chocolate bar will surely make your Friday night seem magic, shimmering and oh, so very special. By the age of ten, one, single chocolate bar may not impress you any longer. Instead, you might need an assortment of sweets to get that Friday vibe. When you’re fifteen, then, you’ll need to rent a movie, get pizza and go out for ice cream just to feel a shadow of the happiness your five-year old self felt when offered a tiny piece of chocolate. Oh, wait – that’s a 1990’s teenager. I have no idea what teenagers of today do, but I suppose they no longer rent movies.
Once you pass the age of twenty, you’re likely to opt for a nice dinner, a bottle of wine or a night on the town to break in the weekend, aren’t you? The more demanding, and better paid, your job gets, the more you’ll need to treat yourself in order to relieve the office stress. Life has to be more than waking up, commuting to work before sun rise and returning home after nightfall, hasn’t it? And it is: on your way home Friday afternoon, you swing by the flower shop to pick out a nice bouquet of fresh lilies. You also get a bottle of sparkling wine and some hand-made, organic goat’s milk ice cream with a hint of lavender and mint.
Do you see the progression here? By the time you hit forty, you’ll need to add lobster and vintage whisky to the list of Friday-musts, lest mundanity creep up on you. By fifty, you’ll be paying someone to blow opium up your arse while riding a helicopter just to be sure you’ve actually left work.
I’m very sorry for exaggerating, and for involving your arse in this. The point is, once you start to consume luxury goods in order to achieve a sense of well-being that, for one reason or the other, is unattainable to you, your level of satisfaction will drop, lest you increase your consumption. The theory of hedonic adaptation is, again, that you’ll get addicted to constant upgrades just to stay at a level that you’ve grown accustomed to. Have you ever gone “But it doesn’t feel like Friday if I don’ get my…?”
What is the alternative, then? Should you, for some obscure reason, deprive yourself of the good things in life? Not necessarily, but I’m convinced most people would benefit from something of a consumption-detox. During our years of minimalist experiments, I’ve gone from demanding dinner out, wine and ice-cream every Friday night, to demanding nothing but a nice, home-cooked meal and some meaningful conversation with people I love. And, this is, I think, the truly interesting part: my Friday night vibe is better than ever. Somehow, I’ve decluttered Friday night and made room for what really matters to me. In light of other minimalist experiments, this is not very surprising. Minimizing things tends to clear up some space in which to figure out one’s priorities.