Once you "get used" to luxury products and luxury brands, you're finished. Also, our joy in new purchases quickly wears off.
When I was growing up, I used to think that Hershey's chocolate was good stuff. Of course, once I discovered Lindt dark chocolate, well, the rest was history. I never went back.
Likewise, once I discovered Ben & Jerry's ice cream, I just couldn't go back to that old Sealtest brand my family ate back when I was a kid.
Now, most of you would argue that the incremental costs of good chocolate and good ice cream are minimal, and it's worth it to pay up for good stuff. I suspect most of you would also qualify that statement by saying "it's worth it--up to a point."
Which brings us to big-ticket and huge-ticket items. A simple and particularly expensive example: The difference between a high-end car and a regular, good-quality Honda can mean tens of thousands of dollars' worth of incremental payments over that car's loan period. And if you start buying high-end luxury cars early on in your life, you'll most likely "never go back"--just like I never went back to Sealtest ice cream.
Therefore, practicing this particular form of hedonic adjustment over the course of your entire driving life can mean pissing away several hundred thousand dollars.
That's why I feel pity and compassion when I see a twenty-something driving an expensive car. A young person who's hedonically adjusted to a high-end car will never be able to backtrack. To him, the idea of driving a Honda for seven years instead of leasing a new BMW every 24 months would be laughable.
And vaguely humiliating.
And it should be no surprise that this bias plays right into the hands of the auto industry--and it will separate this poor kid from a substantial portion of his life's personal wealth.
It gets worse. The pleasure we get from making new purchases tends to wear off very quickly. Which, conveniently, makes us want to buy still more stuff. Thus not only has our hypothetical BMW driver hedonically adjusted to his high-quality car, he's also hedonically adjusted to the idea of paying for a new one on a regular basis.
And he doesn't know it yet, but he's also adjusting to an entire universe of other expensive purchases that he'll need to make in order to have an internally consistent lifestyle. An automotive Diderot Effect, if you will.
Normally, I'd encourage readers to reconsider the nature of the "happiness" they get from many of these purchases in the first place. You know intellectually that it's not real happiness, and you know, thanks to hedonic adjustment, that it can't last. So why do we make these purchases in the first place?
It's easy for CK readers to think through this question carefully and consistently, because they value their wallets over voracious consumerism. But have you talked about this subject with normal, regular people? These questions and these ideas draw at best uncomprehending stares--and at worst viscerally negative reactions. Quite frankly, it's a question the average person can't really process.
Why? Because--once again--buried deeply within these ideas is a tacit understanding that the traditional, modern, urbane consumerist life is fundamentally... empty.
Nobody likes being told they live a fundamentally empty life. Yeah. Better not think about that. Hey, why not go buy a little something to brighten my day instead?
Next up: False Comparisons and False Expertise
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