Monday, July 5, 2010

Please Please Me

What is it about Adidas sneakers that makes me so happy to wear them? Why does New Zealand’s mountainous landscape bring me so much enjoyment?

These sound like rhetorical questions, but Yale University psychologist Paul Bloom wants answers. In his new book How Pleasure Works, Bloom takes a crack at explaining the nature of pleasure. Considering the complexity of his subject matter, the answer he provides is actually quite simple:

“What matters most is not the world as it appears to our senses. Rather, the enjoyment we get from something derives from what we think that thing is.”

When an art collector is told that his favorite Monet is a fake, it dramatically reduces the amount of pleasure he derives from the painting. Even though all that’s changed is the way that he thinks about that work of art.

At the same time, everyday objects that have historical, sentimental, or symbolic significance can create immense pleasure, even though they are otherwise quite ordinary. It’s the reason why, as Bloom points out, a tape measure owned by John F. Kennedy sold at auction for $48,875.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s familiar with the Lovemarks philosophy. A can of Pepsi wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if it was dispensed in a nondescript paper cup. The Pepsi can, and all of the things it evokes (childhood memories, care-free fun, youthful energy), add vast amounts of pleasure to the experience of drinking the soda.

It’s no wonder that, as Bloom observes, “children think milk and apples taste better if they’re taken out from McDonald’s bags.”

I can understand how many people will find this appalling, but it’s a reality, and Paul Bloom’s book gives me a much richer understanding of why that is.

No comments: