The Most Ordinary Things Now Look Special

Is it our nature that causes us to appreciate things only when they’re gone, or is it me?


When I was 8 years old, my parents discovered that I was terrified of dogs. So they went to the pound and brought home a beagle puppy. I didn’t appreciate it — now I experienced terror in my own house, even though the puppy was as terrified of me, as I was of him.

That was the standoff for a month until the beagle broke his leash and ran off. While my parents put up the “missing dog” signs and walked the neighborhoods calling the dog’s name, I sat in my bedroom crying over a broken leash. I never had the chance to love him.


When the dog was recovered, it was a joyous reunion. I had the chance I’d missed the first time to love and appreciate the dog. Love conquered fear easily. It was a happy romp until the novelty wore off, and I either ignored or forgot the dog altogether. In my defense, nearly every kid who wants a dog, who promises to feed it and walk it and clean up after it forever and ever, almost always gets to the same stage as I did.


Actually, social science has answered that question of “is it me or … “ It’s called hedonic adaptation, and it isn’t very hedonistic either. Our minds have evolved to crave novelty, become adapted to it, and move on to seek anew. You get into the only college that matters; you finally purchase that car; hey, you win the lottery! Research shows that lottery winners are no happier than non-winners 18 months later. And ask about that new car w