By Kaitlyn Bailey

I have an aunt who appreciates quality. Her bath products are made from rare, exotic species of flora and her taste in chocolate is equally refined. When my aunt gave me my first Victoria Cream I was delighted. I reveled over the contrast of its crisp, thin chocolate exterior and smooth, velvety middle. I ate it very slowly, each day taking only one bite and then re-wrapping it, because growing up in eastern Canada meant Roger’s chocolates were few and far between.

All of that changed this past winter when I decided to relocate to Victoria. I spent the weeks leading up to my move dreaming of Victoria Creams, trying to decide which flavor I would buy first. Upon arriving in the city I made a beeline for the Roger’s store on Government Street. I was greeted with a generous-sized sample and when I bit into it the sweetness tickled my tongue. It was exactly as I had remembered. I bought a traditional, vanilla-flavoured Victoria Cream and, not having the will power to wait until I got home, I sat outside on the picnic table and unwrapped my treat. As I ate it I closed my eyes and the rest of the world faded away.

I believed that my life would be perfect now that I could eat a Victoria Cream every day but according to happiness researchers from the University of British Columbia I may have been off the mark. Quoidbach and Dunn conducted an experiment to test how indulging a sweet tooth affects happiness1. They invited a group of students to their laboratory where they were given a piece of chocolate and asked how happy they felt after eating it. Not surprisingly, people felt pretty happy after eating the chocolate. Students were then given different instructions depending on whether they were assigned to a chocolate abstaining group or a chocolate indulging group. The abstainers were told to try not to eat any chocolate throughout the next week. The indulgers were instructed to eat as much chocolate as they wanted and were given a whopping 2-pound bag of chocolate to help them complete their goal. After 7-days of either abstaining or indulging everyone came back to the laboratory and again, just like the first time, they were given a piece of chocolate and asked how happy they felt after eating it. Remarkably the researchers found that a slimmer waistline may not be the only upside to restricting how much chocolate you eat. The data showed that the students who had been abstaining from chocolate all week were much happier after eating their piece of chocolate at the second laboratory visit than the students who had free rein on eating chocolate for the week.

To my fellow chocoholics it might seem counterintuitive, how could eating less chocolate make you happier? Quoidbach and Dunn suggest that it might be due to savouring. The students who had been abstaining from chocolate all week savoured their piece of chocolate at the second laboratory visit more than the students who had been given a 2-pound bag and told to go to town. Savouring is a way to enhance a positive experience. Thinking back to when I first arrived in Victoria and bought the vanilla Victoria Cream, I savoured the experience by anticipating for weeks what it was going to taste like and immersed myself into the experience while eating it by focusing on how it tasted and felt in my mouth. I also savoured the experience later while describing how delicious it was to my friends and family back east.

Savouring day-to-day experiences, such as a relaxing bath or meeting a friend for coffee boosts the amount of happiness you can get from these positive experiences2. This is also true for people on vacation. Smith and Bryant asked a group of students how much they savoured their last vacation and they found that those people who savoured more, by storing positive memories and counting their blessings, got more enjoyment out of the holiday3.

In contradiction to the abundant lifestyle many of us seek, when it comes to happiness, less might actually be more. This research may also shed some light on why a higher income doesn’t result in as much of a happiness boost as most people expect. Quoidbach and colleagues found that the more money a person has the less likely they are to savour positive everyday experiences and as a result they don’t derive as much enjoyment from these experiences4. Presumably, having more money allows you to indulge in everyday pleasures more often, and it may be this overindulging that results in less savouring.  

Whether you live in the east or west, whether you’re a millionaire or part of the middle class, we all might be happier if we indulge less and savour more. And for me, not overindulging in Roger’s chocolates has the added bonus that I won’t have to buy a new pair of jeans.

1. Quoidbach & Dunn, 2012. Give it up: A strategy for combating hedonic adaptation. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 4(5), 563-568.

2. Jose, Lim & Bryant, 2012. Does savoring increase happiness? A daily diary study. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 7(3), 176-187.

3. Smith & Bryant, 2012. Are we having fun yet?: Savouring, type A behaviour, and vacation enjoyment. International Journal of Wellbeing, 3(1), 1-19.

4. Quoidbach, Dunn, Petrides & Mikolajczak, 2012. Money giveth, money taketh away: The dual effect of wealth on happiness. Psychological Science, XX(X), 1-5.