When our first dog died, we thought we wanted another. We did, but when we got the dog and our schedules all demanded more time, the dog became more of an imposition. Don’t get me wrong, we love her to pieces, but sometimes our happiness goes out the window when we are all trying to figure out how to get someone to care for her when we go out of town or have a long day. At those moments, we aren’t exactly happy with our decision to have a dog.
Or think about this. You see that incredible fudge-topped donut and you crave it. You keep thinking about it and finally get it. But when you eat it, you start thinking about the calories and the pleasure goes out the window. You like the donut but wonder, “Was it worth it? I was trying to lose weight after all.”
This fluctuation between happy and not happy has to do with something called wanting/liking bias. We want something (the dog, the donut), but when we get it, we aren’t so happy with our decision. The reason is that wanting is an appetite that is associated with one region of the brain. Liking is associated with another part-that part that considers the long-term consequences and implications of our decisions.
So like the impulse buyer, we want something badly, but then may not be so happy with it later. Add to this the fact that when we buy or want something, we aren’t always in the same state as when we experience the results of our choices. For example, you order in a restaurant. You haven’t eaten all day and are famished. You order the appetizer and the entrée. But when you push away the tower of onion rings, you are not as hungry and don’t enjoy the entrée like you thought you would. This inability to predict your future well lends to something called projection bias. It too, influences our happiness.
Thus, what you want and like can be two different things. Predicting that something will make you happy may not work out either. That is why we are sometimes disappointed with our decisions –we think we want something and then find out it isn’t all it was cracked up to be.
But hey, we give it our best shot and realize that not everything we think may make us happy, actually does! So watch those impulsive decisions. Think through the long-term consequences!