Have you ever had a friend recommend a “good” restaurant, to which you go to it and realize it’s actually quite “bad”? Maybe you were just unlucky? Maybe the restaurant was just having a bad day.
Maybe you’re both comparing the experience to different points of reference?
Think about it. What is “good” in your mind? Good food, good staff, good atmosphere? But good compared to what? In order to judge if something is good or bad, we need a reference point that acts as a benchmark for our next experience.
Barry Schwartz, a Professor from Swarthmore College suggests that when people evaluate an experience, they are performing one or more of the following comparisons:
- Comparing the experience to what they hoped it would be
- Comparing the experience to what they expected it to be
- Comparing the experience to other experiences they have had in the recent past
- Comparing the experience to experiences that others have had
Each of these comparisons makes the evaluation of an experience relative, and this may diminish the experience or enhance it.
So when our friend recommends this restaurant, our expectations will be high. But because the experience is not as good as the last restaurant we went to, our expectations are shattered and we become dissatisfied.
The problem with comparison is that as our material and social circumstances improve we experience things of higher standards, which cause our benchmark of satisfaction to rise with it. This means that to our detriment, we experience more but are less satisfied.
One way to prevent this from happening is to make our benchmarks of comparison smaller, not larger.
A prime example of this is James Hong, cofounder of hotornot.com. Hong sold his Porsche Boxster and replaced it with a Toyota Prius. Hong was quoted in the New York Times saying “…I don’t want to live the life of a Boxster, because when you get a Boxster you wish you had a 911, and you know what people who have 911s wish they had? They wish they had a Ferrari.”
Where is your benchmark set?