Chocolate Chip Cookies, Wine and Happiness

This is the first of a series examining an Article entitled “If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right.”

I’m a firm believer that money can buy happiness so long as you spend it on the right things.

Principle 3: Buy many small pleasures instead of few big ones.

My birthday was this last weekend, and my main present was a device called a Coravin. The Coravin comes packaged in a large black box (large enough to hold a wine bottle). There’s white printing on the side with a description of the product and the following promise:

Now you can quite simply enjoy whatever you desire, whenever.

A device that allows you to enjoy whatever you desire, whenever – and SIMPLY!!! My interested was piqued when it promises that I could have whatever I desired and whenever, but that could entail a lot of work. But this device promised simplicity as well.

I knew that I had to have one.

A Coravin (or I guess I should use the proper Coravin™ Wine Access Technology)
allows you to sample wine from any bottle without removing the cork. Using the Coravin, you insert a surgical needle through the cork into the bottle, press a button charging the bottle with argon gas, and then you can pour a few sips or a glass or however much you want from the bottle. Once you’re done, you remove the needle, and the bottle is unaffected. You don’t even have to remove the foil!

A Coravin isn’t cheap. At $300, it’s the price of many bottles of good wine, but the Coravin should be money well spent because it embodies the principle of enjoying many small pleasures instead of a few big ones. With the Coravin, I can enjoy an expensive bottle of wine a half glass at a time instead of having to open and consume the whole bottle at once.

Why does this make me happier? Those who have studied economics are familiar with the principle of diminishing marginal utility. The second glass of the BIG BOLD RED doesn’t give you as much satisfaction as the first glass. But this analysis is missing the time aspect. Why is it that I enjoy the second glass of wine more if I have it in a month instead of 10 minutes later? You’re not getting the alcohol buzz this way so why?

For this, we need to turn to some of the most painstaking and meticulous research ever to be conducted by any social scientist. Of course, I’m referring to Daniel Kahneman’s research involving chocolate chip cookies. I have to think that I’m in the wrong profession because my career in no way involves cookies. Except when people bring cookies into work and leave them in the kitchen area. Office workers are combination bloodhounds and vultures. (And I’m counting myself in that mix). Anything left in the kitchen gets sniffed out (sometimes by people on different floors) and then consumed almost immediately. If I don’t get to the kitchen within the first two minutes of when someone puts out a cookie, then I miss out. Why am I so upset when I miss out on a cookie? If I hadn’t known they were there in the first place, then I would be no worse off. Why do I feel so bad if I get to the kitchen and see the empty plate with just a few crumbs of chocolate? At 69 years old, my dad decided this year to go back to college and get a master’s degree in clinical psychology. He wants to keep his brain active (and I hope also try to figure out some psychological tricks to get my mother to take him back). I’ll suggest a research study for his master’s thesis. Measure people’s agony when they see an empty plate with bits of cookie crumb and chocolate chips.

There’s not enough research into cookies in my view. I think that I’ll start a “glass of milk challenge” to fund more cookie research. Pour a glass of milk over your head and name three friends to do the same. If they don’t within a 24-hour period, then they have to donate money to cookie research. That research money can be funneled back to Nobel prize winning economist Kahneman to allow him to continue his important work. It’s not wasting milk if we’re raising awareness!

Kahneman’s principle of “prospect theory” explains that you can offset the principle of diminishing marginal utility by breaking up the cookie instead of eating it all at once. This shifts one large experience into a series of pleasurable experiences.

The Coravin does exactly that. I break up a bottle of wine into many smaller glasses of wine. I’ve conquered the principle of diminishing marginal utility.

Maybe I can have whatever I want, whenever. But just in tiny bits.

FOR MORE, PLEASE SEE: Dunn, E.W., Gilbert, D.T. & Wilson, T.D. (2011) If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right. Journal of Consumer Psychology, vol. 21, pp. 115-125 Retrieved from Article.