Pursuing short-term pleasure isn’t as frivolous as you thought

Do you feel bad after treating yourself to a new pair of shoes or a pretty bunch of flowers? Don’t. According to a new study, indulging in short-term pleasures could be just as important for our wellbeing as pursuing loftier, long-term goals.

The coronavirus pandemic has drastically reduced the number of exciting moments in my day-to-day. I’m not talking about that all-encompassing, jump-up-and-down excitement. Instead, I’m talking about the little moments of pleasure I used to carve out of my everyday routine – picking up a coffee from ‘that fancy place around the corner’ or meeting up with a friend for drinks after work.

When the pandemic arrived and the country went into lockdown, treating myself to those little moments of joy became a bit trickier. With cafés, restaurants and bars closed and meeting up with friends out of the question, the mundanity of the day-to-day was left uninterrupted. Except, that was, for when the post arrived.

No matter how many times a parcel has arrived with my name on it, there’s always been something about the whole experience that I’ve found strangely exciting. So, with most of life’s little treats stolen from me during lockdown, I did what any self-respecting 20-something year-old would do: I internet shopped.

I want to interject here and say I don’t think we should all be taking to the internet in our droves: I’ve only bought things that I know I’ll actually use and appreciate. But still, there’s something so entertaining about seeing the odd package turn up on your doorstep, ripping off the sticky tape and opening the box – even when you know full-well what’s inside it.  

Although it feels quite shallow to admit (and it shouldn’t, by the way), treating myself to the odd purchase during lockdown has been important for my wellbeing. Besides the fact that treating yourself to the occasional gift is a popular way to practice a bit of self-care, it’s also been the perfect distraction during this unprecedented and often overwhelming time.

It feels weird writing all this down, mainly because I’ve always thought of buying things for myself as ‘self-centred’ or ‘indulgent’. Spending money on ‘frivolous’ things such as a set of watercolour paints or a new moisturiser feels strange against the backdrop of a global pandemic, and I’ve often wondered whether my justification that it ‘makes me feel good’ is really just a guise to excuse something I know I shouldn’t be doing. 

However, according to a new study, my justification might actually hold more truth than I thought. While we often think that pursuing long-term goals – such as furthering our career or buying a home – are the key to living a happy and fulfilled life, the new research has shown that short-term pleasures could be just as important for our wellbeing.

The study, which was published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found that a greater ability to pursue short-term pleasures (known as your ‘hedonic capacity) was positively related to wellbeing and life satisfaction.

To find out whether short-term pleasure was positively related to increase wellbeing, the researchers first asked participants to answer a series of questions about their ability to pursue short-term pleasures, such as being able to relax and unwind, and any intrusive thoughts about the long term they have while indulging in those activities – for example, thinking about how much work you have to do while you’re out at the pub. 

They then asked participants to answer questions about their wellbeing and satisfaction, and then compared the two to understand whether high or low hedonic capacity led to greater wellbeing. They also assessed how much self-control each person had – a characteristic which is needed to focus on long-term goals.

The results were clear – while having good self-control was positively associated with happiness, being able to indulge in life’s little pleasures without berating ourselves for doing so is just as important.

All in all then, being able to pursue short term pleasure – whatever that looks like for you – is just as important to our wellbeing as chasing those big, life-defining goals we all attribute so much weight to. Now more than ever, being able to make ourselves happy in the moment is important. If that means treating yourself every once in a while? Well then, you do you.

Images: Getty

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