Ep. 54 – The Brain Boost of Little Luxuries

When I was 8 years old, my mom surprised us with a trip to Disneyland. She saved for months on a military family salary so we could go. I still remember marveling at the printed, three-ply paper airplane tickets. I would read them over and over and the anticipation of that trip was just as delicious as actually being on the trip. At the hotel, I remember being delighted at these little bottles of shampoo. And I still get nerdy about that. 

As an adult, I’ve had the privilege to travel far and wide. A couple months ago, I was in a hotel and I got very excited again about the little bottles. This time it was an orange and bergamot scented body wash. I have to confess I didn’t even know what bergamot was until I happened upon this little bottle of happiness (it’s a citrus fruit, by the way). I even had to look up how to say ‘bergamot’ before I recorded this podcast. I’m still a student in so many things.

I carried this little bottle home and have parsed it out ever since. In fact, I’m going to buy myself the regular size bottle for my birthday in a couple weeks. So why, what made this so special? Because it was out of the ordinary. I wasn’t even expecting it.

I have lovely bath products at home, mind you, but the surprise of the specialness stuck with me and inspired me to want to upgrade my regular routine with this new dash of delight. 

Most of us can likely look around and acknowledge that our ‘regular things’ are actually luxuries. Our abundance of food, technology, clothing, and entertainment is extensive. Yet, it often becomes part of the background of our life. And it’s common for us to complain about what we have and long for what we don’t.  

But this episode isn’t about excess. It’s about the element of ordinary of all our things and the autopilot nature of many of our actions and reactions to them.

The Bottom Line on Top of this episode is that small bits of special in certain spots can actually elevate the ordinary in other areas.

What if we found a renewed way to enjoy our everyday things? 

What if instead of more things, we upgraded a few key things?

And upgrades don’t have to be extensive or expensive. Let’s go back to the small things. Think about your toothpaste for a moment. I know, I know, an odd question but stick with me. It’s something you use everyday (most likely). It’s part of an activity that is one you do on autopilot – a long-ago ingrained habit. 

Here’s my question: Do you actually like the flavor of the toothpaste you use? Do you even know what is it? Or do you just use what is there?

I was definitely more the latter. Toothpaste is toothpaste. About a year ago, my partner bought me some cinnamon-flavored toothpaste. “I know you like cinnamon, and I thought you might like this,” he said. 

Wait, now, what? I never even knew such a thing existed! I was like an 8-year-old again discovering little bottles of shampoo. I fundamentally enjoy brushing my teeth more than ever. A super small upgrade but one that has provided extended enjoyment. 

Let’s explore how upgrading from average can boost and sustain positivity. Neuroscience research has shown that even small changes in our daily lives can have a significant impact on our brain function and overall well being. 

Even brief moments of positive emotion can release neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine and serotonin. This biochemical response has a tangible effect on our mood and feelings of happiness. This same research shows that experiencing positive emotions on a regular basis can also improve physical health as well as increase our resilience to stress. 

Hmm, it’s like adding to our internal superpowers. 

So even small upgrades can be investments in this mental and physical health. In doing so, we are creating micro-investments that can produce bursts of daily delight or extend into prolonged feelings of positivity.  

Ramit Sethi is a financial advisor, author, podcaster, and now star of a Netflix series called “How to Get Rich.” His central thesis is that money isn’t about math. It’s about psychology. 

When I first started exploring his work several years ago, I was struck by a concept he calls “my rich life.” This was not about the material elements of financial wealth, but rather a very personal and customized approach to the smaller things that bring you delight – the ones not attached to a price tag but, instead, items or actions that are an investment where you feel and see real returns. 

A rich life, he says, is about the things that matter to you specifically – not that are status symbols for others to see. He posed this question on Instagram in early 2023 asking how people would define their rich life and the majority of responses were about time and smaller things such as people saying things like this:

  • Picking my kids up from school and spending the rest of the day being present with them 
  • Upgrading to the good pet food
  • Buying super soft towels
  • Leaving a big tip for somebody else
  • Taking a nap in the middle of the day

For me, I didn’t even know a good toothpaste was on my rich-life list. But it is now! Shampoo and toothpaste aside, where are the places that you could do some small swaps of average and introduce a little more delight. Yes, actual delight. Or at a minimum, a little less bland. 

What if being rich wasn’t about a checkbook or a checklist? What luxuries would you allow if you didn’t limit yourself?

There is plenty of ordinary in our lives. And, yes, we can be grateful for all that we have – including the ordinary – and still seek to upgrade a few of the average areas. 

However and wherever we choose to invest, a few sample size delights can add up to a life that feels a little richer. It’s one more way we can take a little extra care to take good care. 

Your brain is hungry. Give it some intellectual snacks in the
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I'm Kristin

I left my corporate work and dove further into how to navigate this noisy, digital, exhausted world. The result is a methodology centered on communications, productivity, and culture that blends theory with practice and helps people better enjoy the life they worked so hard to get.