A question was asked of MBA students at Stanford: “How much pleasure did your car provide you this morning?” The result of this survey showed that regardless of the type of car each student drove, they all had about the same satisfaction with their car that morning. Another question was posed: “How much pleasure does your car provide you?” Here, those with expensive cars rated their cars more highly than those with cheaper cars. Day to day, each receives about the same amount of pleasure from their car, but step back some and those who spent more, think they receive more pleasure than they likely do.
Our ability to assess how much enjoyment we actually get from things diviates from reality. This is related to why so many entrepreneurs assume that providing the better product will mean that they win. They believe that the better product would satisfy their desires more and so they believe others will see it the same way. Unfortunately, however, the reality is that our desires are ephemeral — there for a moment and changed into something else the next.
The problem is that, once sated, our attention turns to what else we need. It is the process of desire fulfillment that brings us pleasure, not the resulting state.
While we recognize this logically, it has been well studied that our projection of future pleasure is misleading. We assume it will make us happy for far longer than it actually does. This is why the MBA students actual experience (what happened today) is the same, but when thinking about their car in general, they assume it must be giving them the pleasure they expected.
There are several practical take aways from this limitation. First, we should remind ourselves to enjoy what we have and not take things for granted. If instead, you focus on the things you lack, even when you obtain those things, you will find new things that you lack. Second, when we are looking for things to enhance our lives, there is good evidence to suggest that small splurges will provide more overall enjoyment than one big change like the cars the MBA students drive above.
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