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The main concept: utilizing this easy behavior hack can enhance your life experience.

The main concept: utilizing this easy behavior hack can enhance your life experience.

Picture yourself dining at your preferred restaurant and the server escorts you to the top-rated table. It is peaceful and serene, allowing for a delightful conversation with your companion. The table is also situated next to a window, providing fantastic scenery. Sipping on your wine and savoring the delectable dishes, you spend a few hours at dinner. Would you prefer to remain at the lovely table throughout the evening or be intermittently relocated to the busy and loud back of the restaurant?

“That’s a foolish question,” you’re likely pondering. Who would desire to visit a raucous place when they have a beautiful spot right where they are? That’s certainly what our instincts tell us. However, research indicates otherwise. Studies reveal that individuals actually derive more enjoyment from pleasant experiences (such as listening to music or receiving a calming massage) when they break them into smaller parts.

A table may bring initial joy, but it eventually wears off due to habituation. This is when our brain becomes less responsive to constant stimuli. As we become accustomed to the positive aspects of our life, both significant (a loving partner, a cozy home, a fulfilling job) and small (a beautiful view, a delicious meal), we tend to take them for granted. Unless, of course, we interrupt the experience. Changing to a less desirable area of the restaurant temporarily (such as going to the restroom) will trigger dishabituation, making us more aware and appreciative of the luxury of our window seat.

As an additional instance, let’s examine vacations. A couple of years back, one of our team members (Tali) went on a business trip to a sunny resort in the Dominican Republic. Her objective was to discover what brought happiness to holidaymakers and why. She conducted interviews with individuals about their experiences and had them complete surveys. Upon analyzing the data, she noticed a recurring word: first. Vacationers expressed the delight of “seeing the ocean for the first time”, the “first swim in the pool”, and the “first sip of a holiday cocktail”. Firsts appeared to hold great significance. These experiences cannot be desensitized to.

Tali pondered whether individuals typically had a more enjoyable experience at the beginning of their vacations. Fortunately, the travel company she was collaborating with had surveyed customers from various countries to gauge their emotions throughout their trips. Analyzing the data showed that happiness reached its peak after 43 hours. By the end of the second day, once people had adjusted to their surroundings, they were at their happiest. After that, their satisfaction gradually decreased.

This doesn’t mean that they were unhappy by the end. Even after returning home, many still felt the positive effects of their vacation. However, it only took less than a week for them to get back into the routine of home life – work, school, and bills. Within seven days, it was hard to see any impact from their time away on their emotions.

Based on this evidence, it seems that taking multiple short trips throughout the year would be more beneficial for you than one long vacation. This will allow you to maximize your experiences and enjoyment, as well as the excitement of looking forward to each trip.

This concept is not limited to just holidays. For instance, individuals who received massages with breaks in between reported a greater level of enjoyment compared to those who did not have any interruptions. Something that is considered wonderful will eventually lose some of its wonder. So why not take a break and experience it all over again?

Can you also split up unpleasant situations? For example, if you had to clean a toilet, would you prefer to do it all at once or take short breaks every 10 minutes? Or if your neighbor Marvin is playing the drums loudly, would it be helpful to offer him a cup of coffee so both of you can have a break from the noise?

The majority of individuals prefer to handle discomfort in intervals. In a study, participants were asked if they would prefer to take a break from a foul smell or tough it out all at once. Out of 119 people, 90 opted for breaks. Similarly, 82 out of 119 individuals expressed a desire for a break from an annoying noise. This choice was based on the belief that taking a break would make the experience less distressing.

The prediction appears reasonable, but it is incorrect. When individuals were actually exposed to the noise, those who took breaks experienced more negative effects overall. The interruption of their natural adaptation to the unpleasant stimulus proved detrimental. The takeaway? If faced with an unpleasant task, it may be best to complete it in one go rather than breaking it up. Returning to it later will likely only make the smell stronger, the noise louder, and the overall experience more grim.

There is some common knowledge represented here, possibly. Encouragements to quickly finish something or to face a difficult situation head-on are well-known. And in the phrase “distance makes the heart grow fonder”, we may have some ancient guidance that acknowledges the impact of becoming accustomed to relationships. However, despite being present in our language, it appears that we struggle to go against our initial instincts. Nevertheless, the findings of psychological studies are evident and being aware of the strong influence of habituation could assist us in reducing pain and increasing pleasure.

Cass Sunstein holds the position of university professor at Harvard and is the writer of Nudge. Tali Sharot is a professor specializing in cognitive neuroscience at UCL. Their latest publication, Look Again: The Influence of Recognizing What Was Present All Along, has been released by Bridge Street Press.

Further Reading

“Stumbling on Happiness” written by Daniel Gilbert (published by HarperCollins for £9.99)

Dan Harris’ 10% Happier, published by Yellow Kite for £10.99.

Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking Fast and Slow, is published by Penguin and priced at £12.99.

Source: theguardian.com