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How to stay happy and satisfied

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Satiation - the state of having our needs satisfied to the point of excess, and the decline in enjoyment when our consumption of a particular item or activity increases - exists in almost every aspect of our lives, ranging from food consumptions, experiences, hobbies, to even work and marriage. The unfortunate nature of satiation poses a major obstacle to sustained happiness of human beings. Satiation can be a physiological response, but many psychological factors can also influence satiation.

 

On a Saturday night, you’re watching television at home and you have a sudden craving for some snacks. So you walk downstairs to the nearest convenient store and grab a large pack of Lay’s. Back home, you can’t wait to start eating your snacks while watching your favorite show. However, after the first few bites which taste wonderful, you start losing interest in your snacks - the more you eat, the less enjoyable the potato chips become. And you end up with nearly half of the pack untouched.

Satiation - the state of having our needs satisfied to the point of excess, and the decline in enjoyment when our consumption of a particular item or activity increases - exists in almost every aspect of our lives, ranging from food consumptions, experiences, hobbies, to even work and marriage. The unfortunate nature of satiation poses a major obstacle to sustained happiness of human beings. Satiation can be a physiological response, but many psychological factors can also influence satiation.

Here are some interesting research findings suggesting ways that may help us stay longer in happiness and sustain our goal pursuits.

Categorisation Level

A lower speed of satiation can be achieved simply by making more nuanced distinctions among the stimuli. Repetition leads to satiation. Subcategorizing stimuli into distinctive categories focuses people’s attention on the aspects that differentiate the consumption episodes. This increased attention to the different details of the stimuli lowers people’s perceived repetition, resulting in less satiation and greater enjoyment.

In a study, participants were asked to look at 100 photos of animals and nature and rated their enjoyment of viewing the photos. Some participants were presented with general labels of the photos (e.g., animal) whereas the other participants were presented with more specific labels of the same photos (e.g., bird, farm animal, and fish). The results showed that participants’ enjoyment of the photos declined with time. However, the decline was slower for the participants who were given more specific labels. As such, subcategorization of the same photos slowed satiation in participants.

Subcategorisation can also help people to sustain their pursuit of goals. In another study, participants were asked to imagine that they were preparing for examinations in biology and calculus. Some participants were given a daily schedule that had been categorised into three columns: study biology, study calculus, and other (i.e., meals and breaks). One the other hand, the other participants were given a schedule with the same activities in an uncategorised column. Participants were asked to imagine that they had just finished dinner and were to decide what to do afterwards. On average, the participants who had the categorised schedule indicated a greater desire to continue studying than those with the uncategorised schedule.

Scarcity

Similar to repetition, our attention to the quantity of consumed items is also a critical determinant of satiation. One factor that could alter our attention to the quantity of our consumption is scarcity. Limited availability helps to turn our attention away from quantity, thus avoiding the risk of overconsumption. Therefore, the mere perception of limited availability, or scarcity, would lessen our attention to the quantity consumed, and this would in turn slow satiation to promote greater enjoyment in consumption.

In another series of studies, participants were given the same amount of some food items (e.g., grapes or chocolate beans) but had different perceptions regarding the relative scarcity of them. Some were told that the item was of limited availability while others were told the same item was widely available. Findings across these studies all demonstrated that perceived scarcity made participants satiate at a slower rate. Further, the participants with higher perceived scarcity of the item paid less attention to their quantity consumed. In other words, when we know something is scarce, we will prolong our enjoyment of consuming it.

Identity Consistency

The third factor that could influence our rate of satiation is our motivation to maintain a consistency between the consumed items and our identity. Decline in enjoyment of an identity-consistent product could pose a threat to our self-concept. Therefore, we may develop a counteracting mechanism by which we tend to satiate slower at things that are consistent with our identity and faster at things that represent an undesired identity.

In one study, student participants were first primed with their affiliation with the university by answering questions such as why being a student of the university was important for them. They then viewed a painting several times and rated their enjoyment of the painting during each time. Some were told that the painting was inspired by the landscape in their university whereas others were told that the painting was inspired by the described landscape in a novel. Participants in the former condition showed a lesser decline in enjoyment of the painting as compared to those in the latter condition.

How to Stay Happy

Though the above studies have revealed several factors that may help to retain our happiness for a little longer by deferring the process of satiation, our knowledge about the determinants of satiation is still limited. One thing I would like to point out is that satiation has its evolutionary benefits: It helps us to realise the changes in environment, encourages us to seek for variety, and reduces the potential risk of overconsumption. Therefore, to sustain our pursuit of happiness and life goals, one may want to stay satiated and always look for something different.

This article has been reproduced with permission from CUHK Business School.

PhD Candidate, Department of Marketing, CUHK Business School

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