One of the great things about being a regular unspoiled kid is that you hardly have any money.
I’m not sure I fully appreciated this at the time, but looking back I can see it is true.
When I got a new toy or was taken to the movies, it seemed even more exciting, not because I was deprived, but because I perceived it as a special and rare gift.
As an adult I can easily make choices that would have dazzled my younger self: should I so desire, I can buy more junk food than I can possible eat, go to the movie every day and order piles of brand new anything. Not that I appreciate these things now of course.
But perhaps it’s possible to recapture some of that excitement about relatively simple pleasures using very simple means. A study I read on Google Reader conducted by Quoidbach and Dunn (2013) ask whether one way of appreciating what we already have is to voluntarily give it up for a period.
I’m sure they’ll be the first to admit that it’s far from a novel suggestion, but surprisingly they couldn’t find anyone who has scientifically tested whether it really works and why.
In their study, they had one group of participants give up chocolate for a week while a second group were given a big bag and told to gorge. A third group was given no chocolate-related instructions—they acted as a control.
When the participants returned to the lab a week later they tried some chocolate and their ratings were compared with those they had provided a week ago.
Sure enough the abstainers got more pleasure from the chocolate than either the control or the gorging group. Not only that but the boost to pleasure was due to increased savoring. The experience became more enjoyable because they really concentrated on it.
There is one word of caution here: people were more likely to drop out of the no-chocolate condition than the other two groups. This suggests some people find abstinence, even for a short period, is too much of a challenge for their self-control (you know who you are!).
Although not examined in this study, one of the other upsides of quitting for a period is the pleasure in anticipation of its return.
So, why not give up something today? For a whole week you’ll have the pleasure of anticipation and you’ll enjoy it more when it returns.
A little judicious self-denial can be a wonderful thing. So, come on! Lets be the kid we are meant to be!