Sunday, September 06, 2009

is it much to admit i need a solid soul and the blood i bleed

Why don't things make us happy? The answer, I think, has to do with a fundamental feature of neurons: habituation. When sensory cells are exposed to the same stimulus over and over again, they quickly get bored and stop firing. (That, for instance, is why you don't feel your underwear.) This makes sense: the brain is an efficient organ, most interested in the novel and new. If we paid attention to everything, we'd quickly be overwhelmed by the intensity of reality. Unfortunately, the same logic applies to material objects. When you buy a shiny new Rolex watch, that watch might make you happy for a few days, or maybe even a week. Before long, however, that expensive piece of jewelery becomes just another shiny metal object - your pleasure neurons have habituated to the luxury good. (Of course, your Rolex can become a problem for everybody else, since it raises the material expectations of all those poor souls wearing less expensive watches. These people now feel inferior, since their Timex has been devalued by the costlier item. [Such luxury items are known as "positional goods," since part of their appeal is that they signal your social position.] Multiply this same psychological phenomenon across a full range of consumer products - from clothes to cars, stereos to shoes - and you can begin to see the "hedonic treadmill" that afflicts people in developed countries. Not only do their brain cells automatically adapt to their state of wealth, but those same neurons are constantly being bombarded with a new set of expensive expectations. Of course, not everybody can afford a Rolex or a Lexus, which means that we are constantly being disappointed.)

The Frontal Cortex | Money and Happiness

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