Consider the following questions:
“How important in your life is the car you drive?”
“How badly do you need a more advanced model of refrigerator?”
“How much do you value the casual conversations you have with your friends?”
Given how our minds work, it’s quite likely that we answer two out of three of those questions incorrectly. Psychologists attribute this to the focusing illusion. We are prone to overestimate the importance of our cars and refrigerators as we think about them. Nothing is as important as it seems when we are thinking about it.
If you own a car, and somebody were to ask you how important it was, instances of having used the car come to your mind. As smartphone users, most of us cannot imagine a normal life without one. But if you posed the same question to a person who does not own a car, or to somebody who lost their smartphone and resisted the urge to replace it that very evening, a different picture emerges.
When we buy a new car or appliance, for the first few days, we are filled with thoughts about our decision and we engage with the novelty with enthusiasm. But as the days roll by, those things slips into the background of our lives. This is true of most things that celebrities endorse. If a car is dependent on a supermodel or your favourite footballer to catch your attention, its makers are priming you to overestimate its importance.
Think of people’s biggest regrets as they age or when they are diagnosed with terminal illness. Not many people regret not having bought this car or that house. They instead regret not having made something or not having cultivated a relationship.
As humans, we have a 10,000+ year old legacy of making things faster, more efficient and shinier. But we also have an equally long legacy of them not making us happier as their consumers.
Inspiration: Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman