Image by RitaE from Pixabay

This is part of my series: American Zombie: How To Stop Being A Mindless Consumer.

A few weeks ago, my wife bought a package of chocolate chip cookie sandwiches. (Think of two soft cookies stuffed with cream.) I usually avoid sweets, but I was procrastinating some Saturday chores and thought, “Just a little taste…”

The first bite was incredible. Sugar roared into my bloodstream, and I was over the moon. I wolfed down the first cookie and grabbed two more before sitting down at the kitchen table to read a novel. I ate the second one but not as fast as the first. It was good, but the novelty had started to wear off. And I nibbled at the third one as I swept crumbs from my book. This treat just didn’t taste as good as the previous ones.

Afterward, I grabbed a big glass of water and peeked at the nutrition facts. I let out a long breath and added 750 calories to my food tracker. Consuming three cookie sandwiches felt like a mistake. And I had zero interest in the two remaining ones in the plastic container.

Looking back, it’s interesting how the first cookie sandwich gave me tremendous pleasure. (This is especially true for people who steer clear of sugar and then eat something sweet.) But the second one offered less pleasure. Eating more meant receiving less satisfaction.

Now, economists use the word utility to describe how much satisfaction or benefit you get from consuming something. They also use the term marginal utility to express how your utility (or satisfaction) changes as you consume more. And my cookie sandwiches had diminishing marginal utility: Each additional bite was less satisfying than the previous one.

Worse yet, each cookie sandwich dumped sugar into my bloodstream and deposited fat around my waistline. Eating more meant feeling less satisfied and getting fatter. Seems kinda silly, right?

We can apply this concept of diminishing marginal utility to every area of consumption. For example, it’s been a year since I’ve been in a movie theater (thanks Covid-19!), so the first movie I see will be incredible. (And it probably doesn’t matter what the movie is!) But if I go to a theater every day, the novelty will wane while the cost rises. This is stupid.

Mindful consumers understand this and place limits on pleasurable things. They stop eating after the first cookie to preserve that feeling of delight. They limit trips to movie theaters so that the experience never loses its magical quality. After all, it’s ridiculous to spend more and more money on something that pleases you less and less.