We’ve been doing a little experiment about pleasure and separation. Chris has been traveling due to work lately and we’ve just completed the longest separation we’ve ever had. The separation hasn’t been easy, though somewhat mitigated by communication technology. After all, we’re in the honeymoon stage of our relationship where it’s difficult to be apart, though it would’ve been much harder had I been left caring for a family on top of it.
So what’s so great about separation?
Psychological theory tells us that separation can improve the pleasure in our relationships or anything else we value. First, sharing an experience is more pleasurable than giving a gift. For example, doing an outing with the family will bring more pleasure than giving an expensive bauble or toy. The physical gift is subject to the hedonic treadmill: the pleasure wears off quickly and then it must be replaced with something bigger and better. Enjoying an activity together is not subject to the hedonic treadmill, so spending time together will be of lasting enjoyment.
Second, we can savor the anticipation. I didn’t do too much savoring when our reunion was more than a week away, but as we got down to the last 3-4 days, I was savoring the anticipation like crazy! In other words, delaying gratification can increase your enjoyment of the experience.
Third, the more effort we put into something, the more we value it. So having a long separation followed by a long trip to the reunion means I put a lot of effort into this reunion and the time together has been precious. I’ve also tried to savor every minute we’ve been together – I’m blogging now because my sweetie is sleeping.
Finally, to make sure we have a really great visit, we should finish it off with something memorable. The Peak-End rule states that my recollection of an event will be dictated by the peak and the end experiences. I will not remember much about the duration, so the short nature of the visit is not relevant. So I will remember the really lovely bath he lovingly prepared for me and hopefully lunch at my favorite Mexican restaurant on the way to the airport. Then I can savor the short, hard-earned but sweet experience of our visit when I return home.
I’m not so sure about the old adage about how absence makes the heart grow fonder. But absence can clearly increase your overall pleasure. You may not be separated from your sweetheart right now but you probably are separated from someone or something that you love. Get the most out of that separation by savoring, putting effort into the reunion, and making the ending count.