Lots of little things give us more pleasure than one great big thing

"One lump and the other lump later or both of them at the same time, madam?"

Which, do you think, gives more pleasure: a 20 minute continuous massage or two massages with a short break in between where the whole time taken (including the short break from the massage) is 20 minutes?

If, like me, you thought that the continuous massage would give more pleasure than 2 massages with a break in between than evidence from research indicates otherwise.

I read with interest an article published on this site by Nelson and Meyvis that indicates that not only is it a good idea to interrupt pleasurable experience with a short break but it’s a good idea to not interrupt undesired experience with a short break. I wrote about hedonistic habituation before (the process by which we rapidly adapt to the experience and so need a greater stimulus next time) and it applies neatly here. It seems that we grow accustomed to continual experience very quickly and the stimulus of the experience (whatever it is) loses its impact just as quickly.

What can we do?

The key is to vary the stimulus if you can but failing that prevent the stimulus being continuous by inserting short breaks. Whoever said, ‘a little of what you fancy does you good’ was right. Get too much continuous feelings of ‘what you fancy’ and the effect can soon wear off; we might even become bored (not sure how that could be the case with massage but hey!). Adaptation is the arch-enemy to our feeling long-term benefit from the pleasurable experience so defeat adaptation by introducing short breaks.

The other point I made was in regard to facing those experiences we don’t like. Again, whoever coined the phrase, ‘Just get it over with’ was right. If it’s an undesired experience evidence supports putting up with it and just getting it over with and not chunking the unpleasant experience into bite-sized pieces with rests from it in between.

So, I’m off for that (imaginary) massage with mini-breaks in between when I’ll continue reading. How good is that?!

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