Not so long ago, I helped a friend with the difficult task of downsizing her home in preparation for moving into a retirement villa. What struck us both, was how many items of ‘value’ she had stored away for a special occasion, yet never used. Sadly, many of those items were now either well past their best-by date, completely spoiled, or couldn’t be taken with her to her new home.
My friend isn’t alone in her desire to save the best for last. We all do it, and that night, when I went back to my own home, I realised I was a serial offender! In the back of my pantry was a prized, unopened bottle of balsamic vinegar, sent to me five years before by a cousin holidaying in Italy. A bottle of champagne, gifted to me from work colleagues when I’d retired 3 years before, was beside it. A unopened box of artisan chocolates (an almost year-old birthday present from my daughter) was hugging the bottom of my linen drawer, and a pretty tray of fast-fading mini bath bombs (a long ago Christmas present from my grown-up grandson) was slowly crumbling away in the vanity cupboard. The dainty bone china tea set left to me by my mother-in-law (I’d always planned to use it at Christmas but never had for fear of breaking a piece) was gathering dust on top of a dresser, and beside it sat a set of Turkish coffee cups I’d bought in Istanbul – also awaiting the ‘right’ occasion to be used.
Why, when it denies us so much pleasure, and often results in loss, do so many of us ‘save the best for last’ or ‘wait for the right occasion’ before we use a treasured item? Part of the reason may lie in what psychologists call ‘peak-end-bias’.
Peak-end-bias (or assuming the best comes at the end), may have its origins in the way we remember things. That’s because, according to research, we remember the end of experiences more strongly than the whole. We rate a meal at a restaurant, not on all the courses, but on the last course we ate, because it’s what we remember most about the dining experience. We judge a movie or a book on its last scene or chapter, and we even form impressions of others most by the last interaction we had with them rather than by all the times we’ve engaged with them before. And let’s face it, whether it’s a restaurant, a book, a movie, or an interaction, most people put on the best show at the end!
It’s no wonder we carry round with us the feeling that if we wait to enjoy a product or an experience, we’ll get greater pleasure from it than if we just dived on in. Yet, logically, we know this isn’t true. The chocolates will be just as mouth watering eaten in front of TV, the day they were given, as after a special dinner sometime in the future. The champagne will be just as delicious whether we drink it on a wedding anniversary two years hence, or at a barbecue on the deck tomorrow.
Sadly, by denying ourselves what we could enjoy, right now, we are treating life as if it is something that lies in the future rather than what is going on here and now – and that’s simply undervaluing our existence. No one is suggesting we should become over-night hedonists, living solely for excess and self-indulgence, but perhaps if we were to become a little more child-like in our seeking out of pleasure, we would get to enjoy life a whole lot more.
So, get your vintage tea set down from the top shelf, and use it at breakfast! Crack open the best bottle of champagne and drink it with a delicious takeaway pizza. Crack open the luxury hand wash and sit it on the vanity for every day use, and open the artisan chocolates next time you’re watching a movie. Life isn’t something you do in the future. Life is for living – and that means now!