Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioural economics at Duke University, in his book The Upside of Irrationality, talks about hedonic adaptation: people’s tendency to return to a baseline level of happiness even after positive or negative events.
To prove his point, Ariely cites the work of marketing professors Leif Nelson and Tom Meyvis, who tested hedonic adaptation with an experiment. They put one group of participants in a massage chair for three minutes, and another group in the chair for two 80-second bursts of bliss, interrupted by a 20-second pause. Not only did the latter group report greater levels of enjoyment, they said they’d pay more than the first group to do it again.
The explanation is that the latter group enjoyed their experience more because they had less time to adapt to the massage and take it for granted.
Commenting on the phenomenon, Ariely says: ‘We can harness adaptation to maximise our overall satisfaction in life by shifting our investments away from products and services that give us a constant stream of experiences and toward ones that are more temporary and fleeting.’