A nice piece! First of all, doing things is more pleasure bearing than having things; secondly, doing something for others produces longer lasting memories. The only thing not addressed is why doing > having and why doing for others > self serving. My theory would say it is part of roots: Asians tend to give each other gifts for friendship. For them having things makes them special and higher status. I suspect this is their source of pleasure.
Hedonic adaptation is just a fancy label for what we already know: we get used to things. The new car gets us all excited—for a while. But before long, it’s just our ride.
There’s no denying that we get tremendous pleasure from the things we have. But the pleasure is disappointingly short-lived.
Why don’t we learn from past disappointments? One possibility has been suggested by economist Robert Frank. In several books, Frank has observed that often when we seek things, pleasure is beside the point. Sometimes, we seek things just to have a little bit more than our neighbors.
And what would we do if we stopped acquiring stuff? Here, too, research in psychology has something valuable to offer. It seems that most of us get more pleasure out of doing than out of having.
In reflecting on the past or contemplating the future, people are happier when they have experiences on their minds than when they have things on their minds. And the higher a person’s income is, the bigger the disparity between the joys of doing and the joys of having.
Moreover, we don’t adapt to doing to the same degree that we adapt to having.
Furthermore, people seem to get an extra shot of well-being juice when they do things that serve others rather than themselves. The pleasures associated with our own acts of consumption tend to be short-lived. The pleasures derived from doing something for others linger.
In one study, strangers were brought together to discuss either things they had or things they did. Discussion of activities led to a more positive impression of ones discussion partner and greater enjoyment of the conversation itself than discussion of things.