Dear Readers,

Have you heard of the Connoisseur Effect? Until last week, I did not know that the effect that I have been experiencing for a while had a name – a hard-to-pronounce name at that. If you are a financially independent millennial (or belong to the Gens after), chances are you are already experiencing this effect on a daily basis. You just may not know it yet.

So what exactly is this Connoisseur effect?

When I was a child I waited eagerly for my birthday to arrive right from the beginning of the New year. For the two months in between, I made subtle hints to everyone from my parents to friends (who were invited to the party) of what I wanted as a present. I spent those two months in giddy happiness of anticipation, waiting for the weekend when I could go shopping for my birthday present with my parents. I enjoyed even the smallest things on the way – a softie ice-cream cone, a window seat in the bus, even the walk in the overcrowded marketplace. When we returned home tired from the market visit and happy with the present, I slept with a smile on my face.

Several months after receiving the gifts, I still cherished them – if it was a box of crayons, I took great care of it, if it was a stuffed toy, I carried it with me to bed, if it was a game, I made sure no one damaged it while playing. I think this is a feeling we all shared as children. More than the gifts themselves, the happiness lay in the wait, the anticipation and the little experiences that came along.

As adults, we no longer wait for birthdays, Deepawali (this is when we bought new clothes) or New Year to buy presents for ourselves. Gone are the family shopping days. Things we wish for are now only a few clicks/taps away. E-commerce has ruined many experiences. But that is for another post.

Today, the anticipation, the joy is fleeting – a few minutes spent in choosing your gift, adding to the cart and making the payment. Then you go back to your daily chores. When the gift arrives, you smile for a few seconds, explore it and within minutes the excitement is gone. You start thinking – what next? Before you know, you have added a few more items to the cart. The beginning of a vicious cycle.

A few days ago, when I met some of my childhood friends who shared the same excitement as me on their birthdays back then, we spoke about this at length. Today, they too suffer from this Connoisseur Effect. In the race of doing better, earning bigger, gaining more, we have all lost the ability to enjoy the small things in life.

Here’s a graph that summarizes our peaks and drops in happiness with our purchases.

Hedonic adaptation in action: this graph shows how over time you tend to revert to your baseline happiness but require ever-increasing amounts of spending to reach new happiness peaks.

It is not that we are not happy when something really good happens – buying a new car, a new home or even winning a lottery. Just that the happiness does not last very long.

Limiting our choices

Another way of looking at this is, by getting used to bigger-better, we are limiting our range of choices.

Imagine your first experience of Coffee was at your office from the machine by the side of the water cooler. Having no prior experience of the beverage, you are content with your drink, the aroma. You even look forward to the coffee breaks when you can get a cup.  Eventually, you become a fan of the drink and start looking for better alternatives.

One day you happen to taste the Rs 200 (I am taking a guess. Not a coffee drinker) coffee at Starbucks. You now know the difference. With your current income and the closeness of Starbucks to your office, you can now afford to buy a cup for yourself every day. A year of this, you cannot even think of drinking your office coffee anymore. In your mind, it is a good change, you are now polished in your taste, you are growing. In reality, you have lost the ability to enjoy the simple things that you did before. It is the same you, the same taste buds – what changed?

What happens when Starbucks one day doubles the price of coffee while your pay stays the same or is halved?

An occasional taste of something bigger-better does not harm really. It is when you get used to the luxuries that are an inevitable by-product of the rat race, that we lose our ability to live simpler, happier lives.

What are your thoughts on the Connoisseur Effect? Tell me in the comments below.

Love,

Ashwini


You can connect with me on:

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You can buy my books here:

  1. Gift of Life (Paperback)
  2. Shikhandini – Warrior Princess of the Mahabharata (ebook and paperback)
  3. Those Girls – A Tale of Perspectives (ebook)