Friday, August 2, 2013

Your Brain is a Discounting Mechanism


Have you read Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple? I read it a while back, and I keep thinking about this discussion between a father and his young daughter (pages 288-289 in the paperback version):

"Have you ever heard that the brain is a discounting mechanism?"


"Let's say you get a present and open it and it's a fabulous diamond necklace.  Initially, you're delirious with happiness, jumping up and down, you're so excited.  The next day, the necklace still makes you happy, but less so.  After a year, you see the necklace and you think, Oh, that old thing.  It's the same for negative emotions.  Let's say you get a crack in your windshield and you're really upset.  Oh no, my windshield, it's ruined.  I can hardly see out of it, this is a tragedy!  But you don't have enough money to fix it, so you drive with it.  In a month, someone asks you what happened to your windshield, and you say, What do you mean? Because your brain has discounted it."

"The first time I walked into Kennedy's house," I said, "it had that horrible Kennedy-house smell because her mother is always frying fish.  I asked Kennedy, What's that gross smell?  And she was, like, What smell?"

"Exactly," Dad said.  "You know why your brain does that?"


"It's for survival.  You need to be prepared for novel experiences because they often signal danger.  If you live in a jungle full of fragrant flowers, you have to stop being so overhwhelmed by the lovely smell because otherwise you couldn't smell a predator.  That's why your brain is considered a discounting mechanism. It's literally a matter of survival."

In many ways this depresses the hell out of me.  We quickly become desensitized to things (and people) that we are initially so excited about.  That makes me a little sad, but I guess it is true.  On the flip side, I guess this discounting mechanism also helps us ultimately cope with terrible things.

My Honda Fit was recently giving me FITS.  So much trouble, that I decided FUCK THIS CAR, and I started researching the best-ranked cars that I could afford.  I sold my Honda to Carmax (a relatively painless experience if you need to sell a car quickly and don't want to be bothered to deal with Craigslist-er types).  I had a short list of cars under consideration, and went car shopping with the boyfriend.  It didn't take very long to find THE ONE, and I bought it.  I was so excited about my brand new car that I was visibly shaking as I drove it off the lot to my home five miles away.  I realized I couldn't get insurance for my new car until the next day, so I parked it and kept checking on it periodically -- peeking out the window to make sure it was still there and that it was ok.  !!!!!!!  That night I went to bed and had nightmares -- someone was keying my brand new car; someone was tagging my brand new car; someone was FIRE-BOMBING my brand new car -- all before I even had a chance to really drive it, really enjoy it, or REALLY INSURE IT.  HELLO?!?!??!?!  The next morning I took care of the car insurance, and shakily drove my new ride to work.  I was ultra cautious -- even driving without listening to the radio -- determined to be extra careful as I didn't want to be one of those poor folks that had an accident in their brand new car.  I was so careful the first three days that I had this car.  SO CAREFUL.  No honking.  No cursing.  No wild driving.  But by day four I realized it was JUST A CAR and I returned to my typical angry driving, complete with honking and cursing at the ever-present jackasses on the road for my commute (my 12 mile commute takes over an hour, and NO CAR will make this commute entirely pleasant).

So I still love my new car, and I am relieved to have reliable (and CUTE!) transportation again, but I guess the newness has already worn off a bit.  Kind of depressing, but I guess such is life!  NEXT!


Liz @ A Nut in a Nutshell said...

I guess if we were on high alert about everything all the time we'd be completely manic. Perhaps our brains are trying to help us remain sane! ;)

Dancing Branflake said...

So interesting! Depressing, but I can say there are some things that still to this day make me oh so excited. But I am easily exciteable haha!

Kathy said...

new cars are always exciting; i love the new car smell. i think they even sell air freshners that smell like that!

Meghan said...

I just finished reading this book and loved it.

I agree with Liz. If my brain didn't desensitize things over time, I would go crazy!

Felicia said...

Yes, I know exactly what you mean! I actually drive around with a cracked windshield for that exact same reason mentioned in the book. I also was super paranoid with my "new" car back 8 years ago. Now it's missing a hubcap, has a crack in the back bumper, hail damage, scratches, bumps, etc...and I could care less! HAHA! Although I'd like to be able to trade it in for actual value someday unlike my last car where they gave me $100 only because I was crying and they felt bad for how much of a piece of shit it was!

Lorena said...

Well congrats on your new vehicle :)
I think it's like this with people too. People that were you world and meant everything to you later in life become strangers, how fucking shitty.

Shelley said...

yay! new car!! what did you get? Carnax told us our car "might" have been in an accident (so they low balled us). this car doesn't go out in the rain! it's my husbands baby.

I wish I could discount the traffic and shitty Orange County drivers...

SabinePsynopsis said...

Perfectly described. But I guess it's as stated - we can't be excited about something all the time because then we couldn't get excited about something new (and potentially life-endangering again) or we would just die from heart racing :)

serkan delikan said...

Solo che la stessa emozione, la stessa ansia, gli stessi sohbet dubbi e lo stesso entusiasmo ce l'ho anche io sohbet quando affronto una nuova sfida dell'MTC. Ed ecco perché non credo di esagerare quando dico sohbet che l'emozione che si prova vincendo una sfida urfa haberleri come questa è davvero impagabile. yemek tarifleri Vedo con gioia che vestel klima servisi sono tante le amiche che vivono questo arçelik klima servisi momento come noi, e questo non baymak kombi servisi finirà mai di convincermi che le klima servisi donne sono creature magnifiche perché ferroli kombi servisi mettono il cuore in ogni cosa che buderus kombi servisi fanno. Il tuo cuore esce dagli occhi di quella stupenda principessa, e se la foto potesse parlare, direbbe grazie! Un post ed una ricetta splendidi. Un forte abbraccio, Pat

Lindsey said...

Bigger, better, faster, more. Capitalism at its very best. Don't fret - as long as you are initially giddy, it means you appreciate the things you have/get/sell/throw away. That's what really matters. It's the people that NEVER value those things that piss me off. Enjoy your car girl and when it starts to give you FITS.....NEXT! ;-)