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Psychology professor Elizabeth Dunn and business professor Michael Norton have a companion piece on a similar theme in the pages of the New York Times, which argues that those who underindulge—eat a little less, spend a little less, share a little more—are happiest. Children aren’t mentioned in the piece by Dunn and Norton, but it strikes me that, for the most part, their thesis serves to bolster that of Prof. Rahe. (Of course, while parents of young children don’t necessarily eat less than non-parents, they certainly have less time and money to indulge in dinners out at expensive restaurants.)
The trouble with Dunn and Norton’s argument is that late into the piece they equate coerced underindulgence with self-imposed underindulgence.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s recent proposal to ban giant-size soda in New York City offers another intriguing route to underindulgence. Happiness research shows that, as the food writer Michael Pollan put it, “The banquet is in the first bite.” That first sip of soda really is delicious, catching our tongues by surprise with its bubbly sweetness. But our tongues and our minds quickly get used to repeated pleasures, and so the 39th sip is not as delightful as the first. Because limiting the size of sodas curtails these less pleasurable sips, Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal may improve our pleasure-to-calorie (and pleasure-to-coin) ratio, an overlooked benefit in the heated debate about the consequences of such initiatives for our freedom and our health.
See that? The takeaway for all you New Yorkers should be one of undying gratitude to Nanny Bloomberg for depriving you of all those things in which you might be tempted to overindulge. Never mind how depressing it is to have a government official decree what and how much you can and can’t consume.Published in