Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Another link: from PsyBlog--buy later and you'll be happier with what you bought

Get it later

You might think that what we lose in anticipation, we'll gain in reminiscences. In other words we'll get the pleasure the other side of our purchase. But this doesn't seem to be the case. The pleasure people get from their anticipation is stronger than from their reminiscences (Van Boven & Ashworth, 2007).
This may be partly to do with the Zeigarnik effect: the idea that something tends to stick in our mind until it's completed. In the same way once objects or experiences are 'obtained' our mind forgets about them. But while they're still in the future, we keep mulling them over.
There are two other added bonuses of paying now and getting it later:
  • Better decisions: People make better choices for the future than they do for right now. Right now we're more like greedy children who want everything that's bad for us. When choosing for the future we're like sensible grown-ups, choosing things we know are better for us. Economists call this 'hyperbolic discounting', psychologists call it 'the present bias' and I call it the 'chocolate-now-fruit-next-week effect'.
  • Pleasure of uncertainty: The process of choosing creates uncertainty about what we're going to get. And this uncertainty heightens our pleasure (see this article on How to Feel More Pleasure).
So that could mean, contra various Calvinist hand-wringers about "adultescence", that delaying marriage could be a good thing.  :)  People who just go rushing out to settle down may settle for buying a set of experiences they shouldn't be rushing to buy.  Yes, I did put it that way for what I trust are obvious reasons.  Not all American Christians would like to put things this way but when you get married you are building and buying a life together.  There are opportunity costs associated with such a purchase.  Sure, it sounds anti-romantic to put it that way but date night is never truly free, is it?  Nobody knows this better or more profoundly than parents do.  It's just that before they were parents and before they got married they may not have thought about all of the hidden costs of a single date like they do now!

Am I somehow against marriage?  No, far from it, I have just come to the observation that marriage is the ultimate non-refundable purchase that comes with no warranty other than the character of the two parties who buy it.  Some people observe this and think the better thing is to not invest in marriage but still somehow build a life together.  Well, that's pretty much the same thing in the end and has the same risk in investment.  There's still no refund.  And you may discover hospitals decide you don't have visitation rights in those cases.  People who get into those kinds of relationships may be even less aware of how non-refundable the purchase is and may just be living in denial at a level deeper than those who are obsessed with marriage.

You may suggest here that I, being a single guy, don't know what I'm talking about.  Not all insight needs to be gained from experience.  Proverbs 5 and 7 strongly indicate that there's some drawbacks to the "I learn by doing" approach!  Fatal, life-crushing drawbacks that led authors of biblical texts to share a whole raft of things to learn from observation so that you don't learn of the consequences by doing things (which in some cases means not doing things, obviously). 

So I don't have a lot of personal experience to draw on, true, but I've observed the lives of men and women who have their spouses file for divorce after decades of marriage and raising children together.  You can't get those years back.  You can't get that money back.  The lives of those children can't go back to what was before and the children themselves can't be un-born.  I may be an unmarried guy but I have had time to observe a few things and marriage (or any other kind of romantic entanglement at any level) is a completely non-refundable purchase. The punchline chorus of an ingenius Ben Folds song hinges on the inversion of this observation that a relationship is a non-refundable purchase.  He won't get his money back.  He won't get his black T-shirt back, either.

Our lives may be seen, here in the West, but elsewhere, as lives consisting of investments and purchases that have no warranty, that cannot be refunded, or that cannot be converted into tax deductions (at least after they've turned 18 in certain cases).  Those irreversible and continuing expenditures tell us who we are and tell others who we are, sometimes even when we wish that wasn't the case.  As Jesus so aptly put it, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

But I've rambled enough on that subject.