Wants versus likes

by Steve Brock on September 1, 2010

What's not to like about Edinburgh?

I remember hearing a report on NPR regarding the effect of dopamine on obese people.

It turns out that dopamine, the chemical in our brains that relates to pleasure, causes a rather nasty vicious cycle in obese people.

Somehow, the more you eat of a certain enjoyable food – they tested people using chocolate milkshakes – the more you learn to crave it. But the downside is that even as you’re craving it more, you derive less pleasure from the experience.

In short, you may want something – or tell yourself that you want it – only to find you don’t actually like it. Wants and likes are not necessarily the same.

I find this on certain trips.

I allow myself to believe the guidebooks or reviews by others without filtering them through my own sense of what I value. I’m notorious about this when it comes to big cities.

I read about the art scene, shopping or nightlife of a particular city and it sounds so intriguing. Until I get there and again remember that while I like art, I tire quickly of contemporary galleries where the artists strive so hard to be different that their differences all begin to look the same. Or take shopping…please. I know many of you feel otherwise, but buying things I don’t need just exhausts me. And nightlife? I suffer in places like Spain where dinner there starts at about the time I’m usually shutting down for the evening. I’m about as acclimated to nightlife as a rooster.

So why do I keep going back to big cities? Because I don’t want to miss out. I want to like what everyone else tells me I should like. But I don’t. I just don’t.

I remember a few years ago when my family went to Scotland. We worried ahead of time if two and a half days in Edinburgh would be enough. Once we got there, we all loved the place but we’d seen enough in one day to suffice.

It’s not that I couldn’t have found plenty of interesting things to do there. But when I factored in the limited time we had on our trip and compared the great city of Edinburgh to the tiny town of Peebles just south of it, at the deepest level of my being I realized that Peebles and I had more in common and that similar small towns brought me greater joy and satisfaction.

Peebles is just like Edinburgh only smaller, sort of...

Why? Maybe it was a more manageable scale. Maybe the people there seemed more accessible. Maybe I’m deep down just a small-town guy. I’m not sure. All I do know is that while I may tell myself I want to go to big cities like Edinburgh, I just don’t like them as well.

That’s just me. But you’re likely the same in some other area.

When it comes to our trips, we improve the likelihood of having a meaningful journey if we heed the words engraved on the doors of the Oracle of Delphi: “Know Thyself.” You may still confuse wants and likes, but the more you learn to discern what deeply satisfies you, the less time you’ll spend on the things you think you should like…but maybe don’t.

Shopping, anyone?

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