Buddhists call it dukkha, or the state of mind that makes us cling to our possessions and want more when we quickly grow dissatisfied with what we have, or always wish our circumstances were different from what they are.
Psychologists call it something else, according to the chapter titled, “Want, Get, Regret, Repeat,” in the book, What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite.
Author David DiSalvo says, “…the brain’s reward system is structured to drive us to continually seek beneficial rewards. The problem is that when we get the thing we wanted, the game is over.” The anticipation of achieving our goal is what thrills us more than the goal itself. Once we have gotten what we want, “habituation,” or the diminishing of an emotional response sets in. We start looking for a new hunt, another adrenaline rush.
DiSalvo suggests that we practice getting our expectations in line with the reality that a letdown, even feelings of regret, are on their way if we get too fired up to “win”something, whether it’s a bid on e-Bay or taking a new job in a new city. He also recommends we focus on rewards that involve friends and family, since these lead to “far less regret than purchasing material items.”
The same topic comes up in The Happiness Advantage. In his list of seven actions that help create happiness, author Shawn Achor says research supports spending money, “but not on stuff.” He quotes economics professor Robert H. Frank: “While the positive feelings we get from material objects are frustratingly fleeting, spending money on experiences, especially ones with other people, produces positive emotions that are more meaningful and more lasting.” This conclusion was the perfect introduction to this afternoon, when friends came over for an Italian-themed lunch that we all contributed to, and which, with the aid of sangría, produced positive emotions for everyone.