Post Purchase Dissonance
How many times have you gone out and bought some item, and before the day was done you were already experiencing twinges of regret?
A friend of mine calls this feeling ‘post purchase dissonance’.
You know the feeling. You go out and buy something that sets you back a bit of cash, and once you get it home and try it out, you realize that the color isn’t perfect. It’s missing a few features (or maybe has way too many). It’s heavier or yellower or flimsier or noisier than you thought it would be. A disagreeable conflict of emotions starts bubbling in your mind. Post purchase dissonance sets it.
My friend is fond of talking about the rare times when he experiences the opposite: ‘post purchase assonance’. Buying something and absolutely, totally, completely loving it.
I looked it up. ‘Assonance’ isn’t even a word. But the idea is wonderful, isn’t it?
Happiness is a funny thing.
Sometimes happiness can be the cause or source of later suffering. One does have a sensation of joy and being carefree when one is drunk, for example. But the actions one might commit while intoxicated could be so foolish that they result in great regret afterward, or they could cause such irreparable damage that the suffering created thereby would be much greater and longer lasting than the temporary joy attained by drinking.
Many people experience a temporary sensation of happiness after purchasing an item that strikes their fancy, but the credit card debt that results brings far more pain than anticipated. A dalliance with a co-worker might seem like a happy, harmless diversion, but the subsequent relational devastation results in pain which is far greater and longer lasting than the temporary joy of physical pleasure.
The key is to find sources of happiness that are low regret and high return.
In the classic novel Zorba The Greek, a young man plagued by feelings of post-purchase dissonance in every area of his life moves to a small village on a remote island. He spends his days working the land with his hands and living a spartan and frugal existence surrounded by nature. After a number of months, he realizes how much happier he is, and in a letter to a friend writes “My joys here are great, because they are very simple and spring from the everlasting elements: the pure air, the sun, the sea and the wheaten loaf.”
Enjoying nature is the lowest cost, highest return happiness available.
People from all cultures have realized that the natural world holds within it the mystical ability to create feelings of deep connectedness and joy for those who take the time to embrace what she offers.
C.S. Lewis, in his book ‘Miracles’ writes “Come out, look back, and then you will see: this astonishing cataract of bears, babies, and bananas and birds; this immoderate deluge of atoms, orchids, oranges, cancers, fleas, gases, tornadoes and toads. How could you ever have thought this was the ultimate reality? How could you ever have thought that it was merely a stage-set for the moral drama of men and women? She is herself. Offer her neither worship nor contempt. Meet her and know her.” I would add “And enjoy low cost, post purchase assonance.”
One day last year, during a vacation to Mexico, something became crystal clear to me for the first time in my life: I realized that my favorite physical feeling in the world is standing on a sandy beach in my bare feet with a warm sun shining on my face and warming my body. For me, its more than just a nice sensation: Its the one place where I can exist in the most elemental state I know – on the sliver that separates solid land from magical sea, and in doing so draw pure, undiluted joy from the raw elements of this wonderfully created universe.
Connecting with nature in that way, in whatever form suits your personality best, can be a potent source of happiness. And best of all, it is usually very low cost. Even if you find yourself in a big city, there are opportunities available.
- Get on a bus, and take a trip to the nearest park. Bring a camera and hunt for pictures that draw you in.
- Find a garden. Take off your shoes. Dig around in the dirt.
- Go on a day hike on some nearby trails. Bring your lunch and share it with the squirrels.
- Adopt a cat. Or a dog. Or a lizard. Pets are a great way to stay grounded. They remind you of the the basic, elemental joys of life. If you can’t adopt a pet, volunteer at your local animal shelter.
- Buy a flower box and a selection of seeds. Plant them on your balcony, and watch how good it feels when they start to grow!
Keep it simple, and you might even discover that the greatest joys in life really are free.