April 28, 2023
During my last weekend reading, I came across an idea called the Diderot Effect. It’s a fascinating phenomenon that gets its name from the French philosopher Denis Diderot.
The story goes that in 1765, Diderot, who had a simple and contented lifestyle, once received a luxurious new dressing gown as a gift from one of the royals. However, this new possession ended up causing him to feel dissatisfied with everything else he owned. Suddenly, his old belongings seemed shabby and outdated compared to his new, fancy dressing gown. This led him to desire more and more, ultimately causing him to overspend and feel less satisfied with what he had.
Sound familiar? I’m sure many of us have experienced something similar.
When I was in my early thirties, I remember buying a new pair of shoes and suddenly feeling like my entire wardrobe was outdated and needed to be replaced. More recently, I bought myself a new phone and, in a cascade effect, ended up replacing my old laptop because it felt slow and outdated in comparison. I now realize this was the Diderot Effect in action.
It’s like a chain reaction of consumption. One purchase leads to another, and then another, until we find ourselves in a never-ending cycle of desire and dissatisfaction. And it’s not just limited to material possessions either. The Diderot Effect can also apply to experiences. For example, this one time, you went on an amazing vacation, and suddenly, all of your future holidays seem lackluster in comparison.
I guess we can’t do much except be mindful and conscious about how our purchases affect us. The key is to feel contented and satisfied with what you buy without falling into the trap of comparison and benchmarking.
Beware of the Diderot effect whenever you experience the impulse to buy something new.