Money Secret #4 – Delight Is In The Details

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The last time I was on a date, things got awkward.

In itself, nothing new – on my best behavior, I'm unique. Loosened up by alcohol, I turn a bit weird.

It started off normal. Following my own advice, we were eating at the highest rated Italian restaurant in New York City.

I hadn't had a single expensive meal since quitting my eat-caviar-for-free consulting job. So I ordered an orgasm-in-your-mouth quality steak.

No surprise, it was so good that I wanted to savor the experience. Several times that evening I closed my eyes, stopped paying attention to the sounds around me, and focused exclusively on my sense of taste – on the complex, absolutely delicious waves of flavor washing over my tongue. My mouth may have curled into a creepy smile.

I tried explaining what I was doing – that it wasn't because she was boring that my eyes were closing. I don't know if she believed me, but whatever. It was worth it.

Happiness just a hamburger away?

Economists have lots of funny ideas – theories which make sense on paper but fail to hold up to the complexity of real life. For example, they believe that humans are perfectly rational bundles of intelligence, without emotion or evolutionary handicap. Were that true, HappierHuman wouldn't exist.

A more subtle mistake is their belief in fixed, short-term utility – that life works like a game of sims.

If your sim is hungry, you spend 10 simoleons to purchase a hamburger. Whether eaten on Monday or on Friday, your mood bar increases by the same amount. Real life doesn't work that way.

If on Monday a crazy woman was blabbing her mouth off across the table, you'd probably be getting only a few dollars worth of burger happiness. If on Friday you were happy and in good company, you'd be getting much more value than the $10 you paid for.

What's changed is how you're directing your attention – on Monday the crazy women is absorbing your attention, on Friday you have more ‘free' attention to spend focusing on enjoying your burger.

Happiness = Quality x Preference x Attention

Economists got the quality and preference parts of the equation mostly right – if you don't like beef, you're not going to like a burger, and if the burger is made out of cardboard, even if you're a beef lover, you probably won't want to eat it.

But without attention, quality and preference don't matter at all. With attention, the impact of quality multiplies.

Happiness begets happiness in part because happy people pay more attention to the good.4 But why wait for some vestigial biological signal? Take things into your own hands. Follow some of these 54 tips to increase your happiness.

Start paying attention.

Ever hear of mindfulness meditation and its mind-blowing awesomeness? I have – I've been convinced for years that it's one of the most effective paths to greater happiness.

It took me a dozen false-starts over six years to finally set the habit. Are you the same? Convinced of the benefits, but not motivated enough to wait through weeks and months of mind straining practice?

Well, there's not much I can do for you. If you want the power to generate happiness on command, you've first got to meditate for a few thousand hours.

But we've got one advantage the Buddha didn't have. He threw away the material world, wanting to rely only on the power of the mind to generate happiness.

But most of the modern Buddhists I know are a bit more optimistic. So am I. Rampant materialism doesn't work, but retreating to a temple and discarding all earthly attachments? Unnecessary – an over-reaction.

So, let's take some of Buddha's magic and combine it with the power of money. There’s nothing mystical about mindfulness. All it means is pay attention.

Routine Lunch x Focused Attention = A Micro Moment of Bliss.

The next time you're eating something good, take a moment to close your eyes and focus on the pleasant sensations being generated in your mouth. You can take it a step further and be grateful for 1) your tongue, 2) the food, or 3) the people who made the food. I do this every day at lunch. It makes the food taste better.

But how much of a difference can it make, really?

If something tastes good, it tastes good. If something sounds boring, it sounds boring.

When I was a senior in high school, lots of good things happened to me – for example, I got a great SAT score, got accepted to a great college, won a few prestigious competitions, and got two scholarships. But each time something good happened, I was so focused on my future that within minutes I stopped savoring and resumed scheming and dreaming.

A single bowl of cereal gives me as much happiness now as what each of those great events gave me then – that's the difference savoring making. Best of all, savoring isn't a yes/no, I'm not messed up like you were Amit so this isn't relevant to me sort of thing. It's a spectrum.

To savor is to use the power of attention to increasing the intensity and length of a positive feeling.

Those who savor the most are much happier – perhaps as much as 20 to 40% more.1

Imagine getting 20 to 40% more value out of each of your purchases. Anticipating, taking delight in the details, and reminiscing can help you do that.

It's simple – pay attention. You spent money on it. You might as well squeeze out the value you deserve.

The reason why a gratitude journal does more for happiness than winning the lottery is that it is a systematic strategy for increasing the amount that you savor – it forces you to pay more attention to the good.

Delight is in the details.

Mindful Game Playing: Every year video game graphics and music improves. How much does that increase the quality of the experience? You tell me – did you enjoy those crappy 8-bit characters you played with as a kid? I did. Like with many other things, it's an arms race – every year standards increase and gamers come to expect more and more. Game companies buck the trend at their own risk.

Take a moment to bathe in the millions of pixels washing over your eyes every second. You'll be rewarded with micro-moments of bliss.

Mindful Music Listening: Supposedly, combining the power of attention with the power of music can treat depression.3 I'm skeptical – depression is harder to treat than that. But mindful music listening can be an intensely uplifting experience.

Sometimes I close my eyes, sometimes I go out into the sun. Always, I stop what I'm doing. Then, I just listen. Sometimes for just a few seconds, other times for a few minutes. No mental chatter, “oh, that sounds great”. No music inspired daydreaming. Just paying attention to the music. I've rediscovered my love for the older parts of my music collection several times using this method – the usual humdrum gets transformed into micro-moments of bliss.

Mindful Sex: Well, this probably isn't a purchase for you, but the bedroom is ripe for some attention. Considering that my family occasionally reads my blog, I'll let someone else describe the experience: Be Here (In Bed) Now: How Mindfulness Makes for Yummy Sex.

But Mom or Dad, if you do happen to read this, I highly recommend reading the article above. It's good stuff.

Mindful Drinking: Every sip of soda or coffee is an opportunity. The first time I had a Starbucks Caramel Brûlée Frappuccino I had a mental orgasm. Each sip gave me the chills. The rest of the day I was a bit high. I'm not exaggerating. It was worth diarrhea (I'm sensitive to dairy and caffeine).

Anyhow, I try hard to recreate that virgin experience. The usual approach would be to increase the quantity of sugar and caffeine. But we know, because of adaption, that doesn't work so well. What does is paying attention. A single, fully mindful sip of soda gives me the shivers. It's not easy, but that doesn't really matter – a little more attention = a little more pleasure, complete focus = a micro-moment of bliss.

Paying attention is hard.

Those are just a few examples, but opportunities to pay attention to the good are all around us, every day. Every single purchase is an opportunity to savor, although some are easier than others.

I won't lie. This is the hardest money secret of the entire series. It's also the most powerful.

Double your attention, double your happiness? It's more complicated than that. But it's also true that most of the happiest people in the world are Buddhist monks.

You don't have to go to a temple, study their philosophy of life, or even practice meditation. Just pay more attention to the good things in your life.

This is part four of my eleven-part series on money and happiness. Check out the rest!

Money Secret #1: Buy Many Small PleasuresMoney Secret #2: Anticipate As If You’re Going to Kiss Mila KunisMoney Secret #3: The Stoic’s Guide To Buying HappinessMoney Secret #4: Delight Is in the Details

Money and Happiness References1. Bryant, F. (2003). Savoring Beliefs Inventory (SBI): A scale for measuring beliefs about savoring. Journal Of Mental Health, 12(2), 175.

2. Money Giveth, Money Taketh Away: The Dual Effect of Wealth on Happiness. Focusing on food during lunch enhances lunch memory and decreases later snack intake.

3. Eckhardt, Kristen J., and Julie A. Dinsmore. “Mindful Music Listening as a Potential Treatment for Depression.” Journal of Creativity in Mental Health 7.2 (2012): 175-186.

4. Jose, P. E., Lim, B. T., & Bryant, F. B. (2012). Does savoring increase happiness? A daily diary study. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 7(3), 176-187.

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19 thoughts on “Money Secret #4 – Delight Is In The Details”

  1. As always, Amit, I am amazed at the content and quality you bring to your articles. Instead of clicking over to the tertiary material, I simply enjoyed the thoughts and ideas you presented and I agree wholeheartedly.
    I am ever grateful for the pleasures we are gifted with in this culture. Music, food, great conversation-quiet contemplation. The term aficionado comes to mind when thinking of those things we enjoy: music, theater, wine, great food. But the term seems more ‘eager’ than mindful pleasure of the appreciation discussed in your article and practiced by me. It is a waste of experience to amass so many pleasure that you can’t stop and appreciate even one; That is the culture we are in and I turn away from it. Enjoying one piece of music; excluding all else: that’s bliss.

    • You describe it really well Lee. We’ve all become gluttons, of a sort – consuming so many pleasures so fast that they’ve lost their potential value. I’m glad you’ve turned away from it – how did you get your start?

      The pressure to earn and spend more will likely continue to grow for me, but I already have more than enough were I to start appreciating the details. I agree that aficionado is more eager than what I describe. I hardly know one spice from another. Yet I think I’m one of the few who gets shivers (of a good kind) from eating.

      • Don’t get me started on spices; I was about to describe my favorite Indian restaurant, but you’ve been to India, correct? There’s a reason the ‘spice of life” is a saying. To answer your question: I was running around constantly with opening nights, antique grand openings, board dinners, dinners wit collegues at great restaurants while working and surrounded by incredible and inticing things but never had to the time to really enjoy them because I was too busy. It was only when I was with someone who took the time to appreciate just the flavors and music at the symphony, that I was able to relax and enjoy it. if you can’t find company to do that with you; go alone. It is much better!

  2. It’s just a coincidence that I was reading this article while eating lunch. And for the past six months (since reading another article called, “How Grateful Are You? Interactive Quiz + Seven Strategies for Cultivating Gratitude”…perhaps you’ve heard of it?), I do the following for the first bite of every meal:

    1) Close eyes
    2) Express secular gratitude for what I’m about to eat
    3) Express gratitude for the amazingness that is my life
    4) Eat the bite, savoring the flavors on my tongue and in my nose (Tim Ferriss told me 90% of our “taste” comes from smells)
    5) Swallow everything before I open my eyes again

    Sometimes I do it 2-3 times during a meal. It’s wonderful stuff. On an unrelated note, when are you going to publish a page on HappierHuman that lists all the happiness and other equations you’ve created in posts? I think that would make for a great resource (and some fun for people stumbling across you for the first time).

    P.S. Sweet and appropriate Super Mario graphic comparison.

    • LOL, yes I have heard of that article, now that you mention it 😉

      Thanks for sharing your strategy, especially the bit about smell – I didn’t know that. If you don’t mind, I’m going to share it with others. I’m glad there are folks crazy enough to try some of the things I suggest.

      That’s a pretty great idea about listing all the equations I’ve created. I can broadcast the fact that this is a website for geeks at the same time as providing an interesting way to navigate some of my content.

  3. Amit:

    GREAT work. You always step up to the plate with substance, but for some reason this one really spoke to me. What a great read!

    Not only is the money advice solid, but the personal development angle of gratitude and savoring things in life throughout the post makes it all work together.

    I happened to be drinking coffee as I began to read this. I slowed down and guess what? It really is more enjoyable 🙂

    • I’m glad it worked for you – you deserve it; coffee is expensive in this country!

      Thank you Gary! As I work on my style, I’m trying to find the right balance between geeky and sexy, and between scientific and simple. My first instinct is to pack as much science into each article as possible, but I’ve learnt that doesn’t work well. My second instinct is to pack as little science as possible, but then I’d have lost the core of my style and unique value.

      It seems I’m slowly but surely working my way to some balance that works. Thanks again 🙂

  4. Excellent, Amit! As always, you’re eloquent, articulate, and research-based, but I love how this post comes down to two words: Pay Attention.

  5. Amit,
    Mindfulness is an amazing thing. It changes everything without changing anything.
    All I needed to do was to stop worrying about the future and pay attention to the now.
    At the beginning, this was a lot harder than it seemed.
    With patience and persistence and the help of a Zen Master I’ve also become more mindful.
    And everyday activities (even cleaning the bathroom) become more pleasurable (thats amazing of itself).
    Mindfulness reignites sensations that you’ve long ago taken for granted. Like sight, touch, sound and taste.
    How this sparks up a long term relationship I thought was my secret, apparently not after reading your blog.
    They don’t mention this at my mindfulness mediation group and I’m not telling.

    • That mindfulness can make cleaning the bathroom pleasurable really is amazing – I’ve used it in similarly odd (or should I say amazing?) ways, like making cold freezing wind and patterns on the couch into sources of occasional pleasure.

      How long have you been practicing for?

      Oh yeah, sorry about sharing your secret 🙂

  6. Excellent really enjoyable read. I’d love to hear was your date clever enough to go on a second date 🙂 . Mindfulness for me is very sporadic I am very consciously aware of it daily and it definite makes me a happier person but like Joel reading articles while eating lunch I still have some very bad habits trying to fit it all in! My biggest goal is to be truly present with my kids sometimes they ask me a question and about 5 minutes later my brain registers and I answer it! a habit which used to upset me greatly when I father did the same many years ago . If I can give them the attention they deserve I will be a happier human. ( I am also going to savour lying in bed a bit longer – it’s Mother’s Day !)

    • Happy belated Mother’s Day! If you can give them the attention they deserve, they will also be happier :). You can do it! I think… I don’t have kids, so I have no idea how easy or hard that actually is…

      But I’m just as guilty – there are dozens of places in my life where I KNOW that if I stopped what I was doing and spent more energy towards being mindful I would be happier. Like you and Joel, I often read while eating my lunch. I know that eating mindfully gives me more pleasure, but the allure of information and apparent productivity can be too strong sometimes…

      Hah! Thank you. Yes, my date was clever enough to go on a second date. Although I’d say the right word would be crazy.

  7. “I do agree that when you are first starting out it is hard and it take time, but after you have created the habit/ritual is it very very natural and freeing.”

    Is that so? That’s really encouraging 🙂 I’ve been doing this for a while and it hasn’t gotten much easier. BUT, in retrospect, I’m sure that’s because I’ve been doing it as a feel-like-it-then-do-it sort of thing rather than as a hook –> habit/ritual. Thank you!

  8. Now I want a steak just so I can savor it. It’s a very interesting idea to slow down and notice the details like the steak and the pleasant sensations you get from it. I read somewhere that taking the time to appreciate the taste of your food actually increases your ability to absorb nutrients in it. Maybe I should slow down while I eat.

    I can see how keeping a gratitude journal would make you happier than winning the lottery. The lottery is one big event and the effects will eventually fade. A gratitude journal is something you do at least once a week. That once a week might not give you as big a happiness high as winning the lottery, but you can stretch the good feeling you get from it for a lot longer.

    • I could definitely use some more nutrients – I didn’t know that. Yet another reason not to gobble! You’ll enjoy it – especially if it’s with something you really like the taste of, like a favorite dessert.

      A gratitude journal is able to do so much more not so much because it’s enjoyable in and of itself, but because of its long-term impacts. A simple model psychologists use:

      Personality – stable traits over time
      Moods – inclinations towards particular emotions that wax and wane over time, usually over the course of a few hours or days
      Emotion – short-term feelings

      Now what makes certain emotions so powerful is their impact on mood – a strongly negative emotion can put you into a negative mood, which can bring you down an entire day or week. Likewise with gratitude – a gratitude journal can trigger a subtle, grateful mood, which in turn increases the chances that grateful/appreciate emotions will trigger on their own the following few hours/days.

  9. Love This Amin,

    Its so true we hardly pay attention to anything, we are often miles away when doing a task, thinking about dessert when eating dinner, or thinking about home when we are at work! I love food so savouring it is easy a bit like you eating you beef 🙂 but for sure this is a great lesson to help us be present in the moment of doing anything and being happier as a result. Life is happening NOW and we often miss it, thanks for the reminder.

    • I was raised and trained to think about the future – about what my present actions can do so that I can have more money, power, knowledge, connections, etc… tomorrow. Thank YOU for the reminder. I forget all too often that life is happening now. Or I guess we can remind each other 🙂

  10. Hello Amit,

    Why did I come to your blog out of 200 million blogs in the blogosphere?

    This is the first question that I ask before commenting on a blog and I comment only if I find a strong connect with the human being behind the scene..Does that ring a bell, Amin?

    The first thing that I did after reading this article was eating my lunch with more consciousness and it sounded and the fish was so delicious.

    We thin in the way we are brought up or by the experiences around us. What I think is that you need to enjoy your present, learn from your past and also look at your future (creative visualization). What do you think about it and does it sound sensible?

    Eagerly waiting to hear from you and connecting with you in this beautiful phase of life.


  11. I know exactly what you mean! Meditation for more than a few minutes makes me tired and gives me headaches. I’m sure the masters would offer a different suggestion, but what’s worked for me is 1) doing it in small bursts and 2) energizing beforehand (e.g. doing some squats, going for a walk, taking some caffeine, listening to some upbeat music).

    “Learn to do it naturally” – I think this is impossible. Meditation is an unnatural warping of the human mind. FOR THE BETTER! Don’t get me wrong, I think meditation is great. But natural? Not so much.


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