For her birthday, I gave the Big Girl a giant book of optical illusions. She loved the book—pored over it, looked at it with her friends, kept it out on her beside table. I was so pleased with myself for choosing it.
Yesterday I was in a drug store that had a rack of cheap children’s books. I spotted a book of optical illusions, and almost bought it for her. Then I stopped myself.
She already had a book with 200 illusions; this book probably didn’t have much new. But even beyond that—more of something you love isn’t always better.
In fact, as I thought about it, I wondered if having two books of optical illusions might, in fact, dim her pleasure in the first book. It wouldn’t seem as magical. Also, she’d be more likely to get tired of the subject.
I remember that when the Big Girl was in nursery school, the school head told a story about a four-year-old who had a toy car he loved. He played with it constantly. Then when his grandmother came to visit, she bought him ten toys cars, and he stopped playing with the cars altogether.
“Why don’t you play with your cars?” she asked. “You loved your blue car so much.”
“But I can’t love lots of cars,” he answered.
It’s so easy to make the mistake of thinking that if you have something you love, or if there’s something you want, that you’ll be happier with more of it.
As Barry Schwartz argues in his fascinating book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, one way to keep yourself from becoming jaded to pleasurable experiences and delightful treats is to keep them as rare indulgences.
That’s because one of the significant factors in happiness is the hedonic treadmill, or hedonic adaptation.
People are adaptable. We quickly adjust to a new life circumstance—for better or worse—and consider it normal. Although this helps us when our situation worsens, it means that when circumstances improve, we soon become hardened to new comforts or privileges.
It’s so much fun to bring pleasure to children. The smallest things thrill them. I’ll never forget the look on the Little Girl’s face when I bought her a Little Mermaid electric toothbrush at Target. “For me, Mommy? Is it FOR ME?” She literally clasped it to her heart.
But like other pleasures, the joy of giving a present to a child — as well as their joy in getting a present — will become dull if indulged in too often. Not to mention all the other obvious reasons why plying your kids with stuff is a bad idea.
Leo Babauta of the fabulous Zen Habits has launched a new blog that I’ve already added to my RSS line-up: Write to Done, about the craft and practice of writing. Great material there for people doing all kinds of writing.
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