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Many of us are hanging on to something special because we’re waiting for just the right moment to enjoy it. Maybe it’s that bottle of Bordeaux you brought back from your vacay in France. Or a box of Dixon Fire golf balls. Perhaps there’s a gift certificate for a luxury spa lingering on your nightstand.
But researchers have found a problem with all this waiting. Namely, that the “pursuit of the perfect time to enjoy an indulgence is the enemy of actually enjoying a good experience.” Wait, what? Cue the record scratch.
UCLA Anderson’s Suzanne B. Shu and UPenn’s Marissa Sharif make the case that our compulsion to wait for the perfect situation—called occasion matching in academic circles—is partly driven by the fact that we’re afraid we’ll use up an item too early and will regret it. What if we miss out on a more ideal moment in the future?
Yet, we hear about occasion-matching fails all the time. Only we call them unused frequent flyer miles or vacation days, expired gift cards, or (argh!) when your fancy-pants chocolates go all dusty white.
The duo conducted several experiments to explore the intersection of an item’s perceived specialness and our desire to match its consumption to a special occasion. In study after study, they found that “the more special the origin story, the bigger the pull to wait for a special occasion.”
Nothing wrong with second-best
As with most things in life, waiting for the Single Best Moment to enjoy something leads to missed opportunities. Shu and Sharif’s work on occasion matching is a strong reminder that self-control, though well-intended, can be overused.
Delays made with the hope of one day having the ultimate consumption experience often backfire, they say. Either it never happens at all, or it doesn’t end up being nearly as good as you had imagined. Having a “second-best” experience right now is far better than waiting for some potentially amazing one in the hazy, distant future.
So go for the guaranteed win and start enjoying those little luxuries today. True, it may not be the “perfect” moment. But you can make it perfectly good enough.
Did you enjoy this post about missed opportunities? It originally appeared on the Blacklight, our weekly newsletter for professionals. At the Blacklight, we aim to illuminate with every dispatch that lands in your inbox. If you’re thirsty for guidance to help you slay it at work or as a student and move your goalposts closer, sign up today!