Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Biggest Letdown: Wanting Is Not The Same As Having

"I would be so happy if only...." 

You tend base your goals upon what you believe to be your desires. In fact, one of the basic premises of economics is that people know their own likes and dislikes. But we often find out that what we thought we wanted before we got it is no longer what we really want once we have it.

Just as people adapt rapidly to drastic events like winning the lottery or becoming paralyzed, we get used to almost anything we are frequently exposed to. That’s why the money we spend on big purchases gives us such a perishable pleasure. 

To put a twist on the Rolling Stones lyric, you can’t always want what you get. Take that new SUV. When you first drive it off the lot, it glistens like a gigantic jewel and feels just as fast and safe and soft and roomy as you had dreamed. Becoming an owner is even better than you imagined. But soon, being one turns out to be worse. In a couple of weeks the last race of new car smell is gone. In a month or two, the exterior is scarred with little dings and scratches, while the interior is splattered with coffee, Gatorade, and goodness knows what else. It’s hard to park and every time you pull out of a gas station you leave at least $50 behind. 

With each passing day, the contrast between your vision of what ownership would be and the reality of what it has turned out to be will become more glaring. Therefore, while you might not be quite willing to renounce your new SUV, it will probably give you much less pleasure than you were sure you would get from it. 

Same goes for the beautiful new suit or shoes (they’ll get stained or go out of style too soon) or the kitchen you just remodeled (the counter top gets chipped, the floor tiles get scratched, and somehow the fridge still isn’t big enough). 

Big capital expenditures can give us a great deal of pleasure when we imagine the results ahead of time. Unfortunately, the vision pales by comparison when it collides with the reality. You are left weighing what you got against what you dreamed you would have and the results can feel flawed and a little dirty compared with your dream. 

Because those original dreams remain so vivid, you often come to the wrong conclusion. Instead of realizing that big spending will probably never make you happy, you conclude that you simply spend your bundle on the wrong thing: “Next time I’m getting a Lexus instead of this doggone SUV/Acura/Camry/Cadillac.” Then if the Lexus lets you down, you wish for a BMW/Audi/Infiniti and so on—condemning yourself to an unending cycle of buildups and letdowns.

George Bernard Shaw was right when he wrote, “There are two tragedies in life: one is to lose your heart’s desire. The other is to gain it.”