Here is an interesting story, the most interesting one I got in the last few days.
I bought myself a MacBook Air. I was happy, excited, and cannot wait to open the box, and use it. I posted a blog article, and happily fell asleep. The second day, I wake up, only found the crucial truth, which my readers told me in my blog comment section: “wrong decision”, “stupid”, “return it to store”….. Not because of the product is not good, because a new version of release of Apple MacBook Air is expected to release in two weeks! The new model comes with Thunderbolt, faster CPU, and Mac OS X Lion operating system.
Apple is kind enough to offer a two week return service. I can simply send it back to store (I didn’t opened the box), and get the money back. Wait for another 2 weeks, and get a brand new MacBook Air.
Well. When I hesitated about whether I should return it, another factor came out. The California State cut tax rate by 1 percent point. That is 10% saving on tax, resulting to about $15.77 saving. That started just two day after I made the purchase.
Should I return it? Surely I should!
Why I Decided Not to Return my MacBook Air
The direct reason is, I am evaluating the happiness I get to use the new laptop now, and the happiness I may have to wait for another 2 weeks, and getting a better one. In Daniel Gilbert’s book Stumbling Upon Happiness, the both are called synthetic happiness – the happiness people imagined. Unlike nature happiness, it is the happiness we *think* will be, and most of the time, it is pretty wrong (I buy in the idea of Daniel a lot).
Most people will believe the later version (better laptop after two weeks) is happier. I think so too, but the experiment in Harvard warned me, the truth may be different. Look at this experiment Dan mentioned in his popular speech Why are we happy?:
Here’s an experiment we did at Harvard. We created a photography course, a black-and-white photography course, and we allowed students to come in and learn how to use a darkroom. So we gave them cameras, they went around campus, they took 12 pictures of their favorite professors and their dorm room and their dog, and all the other things they wanted to have Harvard memories of. They bring us the camera, we make up a contact sheet, they figure out which are the two best pictures, and we now spend six hours teaching them about darkrooms, and they blow two of them up, and they have two gorgeous eight-by-10 glossies of meaningful things to them, and we say, “Which one would you like to give up?” They say, “I have to give one up?” “Oh, yes. We need one as evidence of the class project. So you have to give me one. You have to make a choice. You get to keep one, and I get to keep one.”
Now, there are two conditions in this experiment. In one case, the students are told, “But you know, if you want to change your mind, I’ll always have the other one here, and in the next four days, before I actually mail it to headquarters, I’ll be glad to” — (Laughter) — yeah, “headquarters” — “I’ll be glad to swap it out with you. In fact, I’ll come to your dorm room and give — just give me an email. Better yet, I’ll check with you. You ever want to change your mind, it’s totally returnable.” The other half of the students are told exactly the opposite: “Make your choice. And by the way, the mail is going out, gosh, in two minutes, to England. Your picture will be winging its way over the Atlantic. You will never see it again.” Now, half of the students in each of these conditions are asked to make predictions about how much they’re going to come to like the picture that they keep and the picture they leave behind. Other students are just sent back to their little dorm rooms and they are measured over the next three to six days on their liking, satisfaction with the pictures. And look at what we find.
First of all, here’s what students think is going to happen. They think they’re going to maybe come to like the picture they chose a little more than the one they left behind, but these are not statistically significant differences. It’s a very small increase, and it doesn’t much matter whether they were in the reversible or irreversible condition.
Wrong-o. Bad simulators. Because here’s what’s really happening. Both right before the swap and five days later, people who are stuck with that picture, who have no choice, who can never change their mind, like it a lot! And people who are deliberating — “Should I return it? Have I gotten the right one? Maybe this isn’t the good one? Maybe I left the good one?” — have killed themselves. They don’t like their picture, and in fact even after the opportunity to swap has expired, they still don’t like their picture. Why? Because the reversible condition is not conducive to the synthesis of happiness.
So here’s the final piece of this experiment. We bring in a whole new group of naive Harvard students and we say, “You know, we’re doing a photography course, and we can do it one of two ways. We could do it so that when you take the two pictures, you’d have four days to change your mind, or we’re doing another course where you take the two pictures and you make up your mind right away and you can never change it. Which course would you like to be in? ” Duh! 66 percent of the students, two-thirds, prefer to be in the course where they have the opportunity to change their mind. Hello? 66 percent of the students choose to be in the course in which they will ultimately be deeply dissatisfied with the picture. Because they do not know the conditions under which synthetic happiness grows.
Is the return policy really increase people’s happiness? It helps the sales, of cause, because that is what people want. But on happiness, maybe not. People don’t know what makes them happy eventually.
The One I Own is Best
The brain immune system automatically protects itself, by thinking the item you already own is the best. After owning the MacBook Air for one night (for as short as one night), my immune system started to work, and believe the very MacBook Air on my hand is better than others, even the one on the stack with exactly the same model. Do you also have the same experience. It is so at least for me. That is exactly why the ‘bring home now, and return it any time” policy work to drive sales – few people will dislike what they bought home already.
Although I acknowledge the fact that this is not a rational decision, it is just the illusion of my own brain, and my brain is cheating me, I am still incline to flow with it, since it brings more happiness. This is how brain works.
Choices Makes us Unhappy
Because of the choices, if there is anything goes wrong with the exchanged new laptop in the future, even for a little bit, people may started to think about fact that it is returned, and may wonder if I make the right choice. That makes people painful. If there is no any chance to change, people are generally happy.
For example, you will feel better to sit at airport doing nothing waiting for flight, than sitting at coach of sofa at home doing nothing, when there is nothing hold you back – you have to go and do something. If whatever you do does not make a difference (like when the flight arrive), the pressure go away. For something you completely have no control with, like weather, you feel happy about most of the weather. What a chaos, and how painful it will be if everyone have to choose a weather everyday!
For the Sake of Happiness, I Deny Common Sense
I believe to keep the current one keeps me happy, and for the sake of happiness, I won’t return it, and see what happens, and how I feel after few days.