The apples-and-oranges quality of experiences also makes it easier to enjoy them in the moment, unfettered by depressing comparisons. Researchers at Cornell gave students a Pilot G2 Super Fine pen as a prize and asked them to try it out. When it was surrounded by inferior prizes, including an unsharpened pencil and a bag of rubber bands, the students gave the pen rave reviews. Other students saw the same pen alongside a USB drive and a leatherbound notebook. The presence of more desirable goods significantly diminished the pen’s appeal. This simple study illustrates one of the major barriers to increasing human well-being. We are happy with things, until we find out there are better things available.
Luckily, this tendency may be limited to things. Even the simplest experiences, like eating a bag of crisps, are relatively immune to the detrimental effects of attractive alternatives. Offered the chance to eat a bag of crisps, students enjoyed the crisps’ crunchy goodness regardless of whether the surrounding alternatives included Cadbury’s chocolate or clam juice.