How to Love What You Buy

PsyBlog has another great writeup, this time on How To Dodge Buyer’s Remorse.[1] The article is well-named, because I just took a dodge of my own. Specifically, a 2012 Dodge Charger, which will be arriving in my driveway at the end of next month. I’m doing my part for the economy![2]

I plan to enjoy the heck out of the car, and to do so I’ll use the same plan I’ve used in the past:

  1. Recast the purchase as an experience, not just a thing.
  2. Enjoy the anticipation, and slowly transition to reality as it comes time to get the car.
  3. Consciously break down the experience into smaller positive experiences.

Phase 1: Recasting The Purchase

You may notice that I’m talking about a ‘purchase’ as an ‘experience’. That’s because, well, we experience experiences. Think about purchases in terms of the experiences they give us, because that’s how they really are going to fit into your life. If you think about them as purchases, well, you get the fun of shopping and the thrill of buying…and then you’re pretty much done.

When you have meaningful experiences, it can change who you are. I don’t mean fundamentally–it’s misleading to think that, for example, a new camera is going to turn you overnight into a serious photographer all by itself. But it enables you to change who you are, what you can do, and how you do it. And maybe it will let you mold yourself into a serious photographer.

When we change our world, we look different to the people around us, either subtly, or quite overtly. Buying that expensive camera may change us (briefly or permanently) into a “photographer gal”, the gal who goes to family events and spends most of her time organizing people into good shots or looking for pretty architecture to shoot.[3]

These changes can alienate your friends and family, or bring you closer to them. Maybe you find other camera-geeks and squee about the latest lenses together. If your friends and family are right there with you, then this can work: my parents took many vacations that included a significant amount of photography, because they were both interested in it.

Sometimes it takes a little more work. In the case of a purchase like a car, you have to be careful how you integrate it. Friends don’t have to enjoy the experience in the same way you do. You don’t need your boyfriend to get the same pleasure of nailing the throttle that you do. Perhaps he prefers the twisties, or prefers a nice sedate ride, or perhaps for him cars are a distraction, a way to get from point A to point B. And that’s fine. Perhaps he simply enjoys your enjoyment, gets glee from your glee.

Phase 2: Tomorrow Is Gonna Be Great!

I’m now in the ‘anticipation’ phase–which is awesome. In my mind right now, this car will be the most bestest awesomest thing ever. There’s a halo of anticipation around it. And that’s cool; I get a lot of pleasure out of indulging in that feeling. But when the car arrives, I know it can’t possibly live up to that hype. If I believe the hype, then every little thing wrong about the car will annoy me, and I’ll regret the purchase.

So step one has two parts: indulge your anticipatory halo effect, and slowly come down off it as it comes time to actually have the experience. It’s a car. It’s going to have problems down the road. It’s going to get scratched. It’s going to slip in the snow despite AWD and traction control. It’s going to get beat at traffic lights by Vipers. It’s going to be cold in the winter before the heated seats get up to speed. It’s big and won’t fit in many parking spots. It drinks gas like cheap wine.

And that’s okay–these are part of the experience. Most importantly, finding a flaw doesn’t ruin my entire experience of the car, because this isn’t all-or-nothing. I’m not holding it to the impossible standard of my imagined fantasy. This frees you to enjoy what’s really there.

Phase 3: Wow, the cup holders heat and cool beverages?

So we’ve dismantled the halo–time to turn it into a bunch of spotlights.

A car is too big an experience to enjoy all at once. Heck, a well-made sandwich is too big an experience! If you try, you risk losing all the nuances and coming out with a washed-out, generic thumbs-up/thumbs-down. But there’s a lot of enjoyment to be found in the wee corners.

It’s okay to celebrate small victories. It’s okay to cherish tiny details. We’re often confronted with an attitude that says that details are subservient to the overall–and it’s true, if things don’t hang together (e.g., if the car just doesn’t run), then the details really don’t matter. But assuming basic competence and functionality, then the delight is in the details.

In the 90s redesign of the Beetle, they made a huge swath of improvements and changes. But the one that really struck people–the key detail–was the bud vase in the dashboard. You loved it or you hated it–I had a friend who turned her into a screwdriver holster–and it had a way of fundamentally affecting your experience of the car.

In this car, they’ve thrown every creature comfort they could find into the cabin. Many of them are pure gimmicks–like the heated/cooled cup holders. But you know what? That’s just neat. For me, that’s a cute little detail. I’ll probably use them quite rarely, but the idea is delightfully over the top. Best of all, it’s one of hundreds of tiny details that delight me, and perhaps my delight will entertain my friends.

In aggregate, the experience may be overwhelming, and fade into a dull roar of “large box that gets me places”. But if I focus on the nifty seat stitching, or the way the nose folds around the headlights, or the silly little “You’re going to die!” icon on the button that turns off stability control, I get many small boosts of experience. In aggregate, these combine to make for a much larger experience.

And that can be true of almost anything. You can find the delightful bits. I’m not saying ignore the bad–go in with your eyes open–but don’t let the bad blind you to the good[4].

Anticipate It, Savor It, Share, and Enjoy

In summary: make your purchase an experience. Anticipate, then check in with reality. Take small sips of your new experience, and savor each one as a part of the unified whole. And let the people around you participate in your experience–they’ll return the favor.

And yes, of course I’ll take you out for a spin…

(thanks to @jzip and -dsr- for looking at early drafts of this post.)


[1] That article builds on many other articles: how we treasure experiences more than things, how anticipation is more fun than we usually admit, and how many small pleasures outweigh fewer big ones, and how spending money on others promotes our own happiness. All of these are relevant to this post.

[2] Seriously, Chrysler/Dodge/Fiat is a real success story at this point. They’ve paid back the government bail-out money–with interest. The workers (UAW) own almost half of the company, and are being included in every step of the workflow improvements. They’re employing people domestically as well as in Canada and Mexico. Car quality has gone way up. And as a result their sales are up, astonishingly at the expense of Toyota and Honda. Time Magazine has an article with details (sadly behind a paywall).

[3] I have been known to fall into this category. I come from a family of photographers.

[4] The flip side of this is also true: don’t ignore small negatives. In fact, it’s crucial to fix the small bad stuff. That squeaky door that annoys you Every Single Time may just need a 20 second clean-up with a can of WD-40 and some household oil. So invest the time and get your stress levels down. Sweat the small stuff, and make your life that much more comfortable.

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