What is Pleasure Blindness?

Cultivating the ability to generate your own inner joy and happiness rather than looking outside.

We now have less time to enjoy the things we believe we must buy to make us happy. — Staffan Linder, economist


At The Happiness Project, we have collected hundreds of happiness and well-being surveys that prove that consumerism’s guarantee of happiness has bounced. Every day in the Manic Society, we are rapidly increasing our purchasing power, but we are not experiencing any significant increase in happiness. New products are hitting the market faster than ever before, and with overnight delivery they arrive on our doorsteps in record time.

Thanks to the “joy of credit” we don’t even have to wait to afford these things. Surely this sounds like instant happiness.

But research tells us time and time again that we are not any happier. We suffer from what Economist Staffan Linder calls “pleasure blindness,” which is the ability to generate one’s own joy and happiness.

Linder make a connection between pleasure blindness and what he calls the “acceleration of consumption.” He points out that because we consume more things than ever, the consumption time per unit item has been dramatically reduced. We now have less time to enjoy the things we believe we must buy to make us happy.

He offers two possible solutions to this problem. One is called “simultaneous consumption,” in which a person tries to enjoy multiple purchases at once. He says this forces a person into “drinking Brazilian coffee, smoking a Dutch cigar, sipping a French cognac, reading The New York Times, listening to a Brandenburg Concerto, and entertaining his Swedish wife – all at the same time, with varying degrees of success.”

The second possible solution is what Linder calls “successive consumption,” in which a person “enjoys one commodity at a time, but each one for a shorter period.” So instead of playing 18 holes at the exclusive golf club, a person may decide to play only 9 holes so as to make time for a massage at the luxury health club they belong to but never use. Unfortunately, as Linder points out, the challenge for skilled consumers is that they often experience constant time pressure to fit in everything they must have and must do in order to “have” happiness. Happiness is apparently hard work.

Happiness researchers report that while purchasing can increase short-term pleasure, prior levels of happiness soon return. Like a mild drug, the efforts of purchasing soon wear off. One option is further to accelerate one’s “simultaneous consumption” or “successive consumption.” In other words, we place all our faith in external things to make us happy.

The danger here is that we lose sight of inner happiness. We forget how to be happy.


Excerpted from my book, Be Happy

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