The world’s most expensive slippers are worth very little to a double amputee.
Three people – let’s call them Lucinda, Jorge, and Rajnigandha – walk into a cinema. They are all there – separately, I might add – to see the new Wes Anderson movie.
Each pays £10 for a ticket and, walking to the screen, are stopped by a middle-aged man in a blue suit. He introduces himself as Barry, and asks politely for a moment of their time.
Barry asks them – in exchange for a voucher giving them 10% off their next cinema ticket – to briefly explain why they chose the particular film they chose, and if, when it’s finished, they’ll let him know what they thought of it.
Lucinda: “Well, it’s something to do with my Saturday, innit?”
Jorge: “I’ve seen all his films, and I’ve loved all his films. I’ve been looking forward to this one for three years. I can’t wait!”
Rajnigandha: “To be honest, I’m not expecting to enjoy it, but everyone’s talking about it, so I’m going to give it a shot. And if it is good – which I don’t think it will be – I don’t want to be the only person who hasn’t seen it – that’d be embarrassing.”
Barry thanks each of them for their time, and gives them the voucher he promised.
Lucinda spends almost the entire film with her phone in her hand, occasionally glancing over the top of the display to glimpse the action on-screen. Towards the end of the second act, her battery dies, and since she’s not remotely invested in what’s going on, she leaves.
She walks past Barry in the foyer. “It’s not finished already?”
“No, but… it were a bit boring, to be honest. I couldn’t really follow it. You haven’t got a charger, have you? I need a taxi home.”
Jorge has his eyes glued to the screen the whole time. When halfway through, he starts desperately needing the toilet, he sprints there and back so as not to miss any more action than he physically has to. This guy is in his element.
As the credits roll, he stands up, grinning. He nods his head at the screen. “Bravo, Maestro.”
Barry is waiting outside with his clipboard. “I loved it, Barry. The best film I’ve seen in years. You know what? I might even come see it again with my girlfriend in a few days’ time.”
Rajnigandha, like Jorge, also has his eyes glued to the screen the whole time, right until the final credit, but unlike Jorge, he is far from filled with enthusiasm for the picture.
He is the last one to dawdle out of the screen, and he sees Barry enjoying a pack of complimentary Revels.
“I knew I wouldn’t like it. And I was right. I hated it, right from the start. I wish I’d have walked out – I could have gone and seen that new one with The Rock in it instead. I’d definitely have enjoyed that.”
“Why didn’t you?” Barry asks him.
“I’d paid for this film, hadn’t I? It’d have been a waste of ten pounds not to stay and watch it.”
All three moviegoers paid the same £10. To watch exactly the same film. In exactly the same cinema. But all three had wildly different experiences.
Lucinda wasn’t really there – whilst her body was physically in the cinema, her mind was not. She was dicking about on her phone until it died. And when it did die, there was little point in her sticking around to see how it ended – she wasn’t invested in the story. She may as well stayed at home and saved a tenner.
Jorge had a great time – he’d been looking forward to seeing the film for ages, and he made sure to savour every moment of it. Bringing his full attention to the movie wasn’t a guarantee that he would enjoy it, but it did put the chips on his side.
Rajnigandha appeared to try and enjoy the movie, but in reality he’d made his mind up before it ever started – he only stayed to try and justify his investment. He had put £10 into that movie, and he wasn’t about to see it go to waste. Except… it did go to waste, didn’t it? He had a rotten time, and he could have easily just cut his losses and gone to see The Rock in whatever franchise sequel he was in this week. Sunk costs spoiled another Saturday.
We almost always think about money in objective terms – we say that something is “worth” a certain amount, and act as though that is that. Nothing more to it. And there’s an extent to which this is true. “That” is the amount the thing costs – in pounds and pence, at least – but there is a much more important piece of the puzzle being ignored.
Value has nothing to do with cost, and everything to do with the story you are telling yourself about the thing you’re spending you’re money on – or choosing not to spend it on. It’s what you bring to the thing you’re spending money on that makes it worth it or not.
There are two parts to getting this right:
- Pick an activity you care about enough to give yourself to.
- Give yourself to it.
Jorge did both and had a great time. Lucinda did neither and wasted both her afternoon, and her tenner. Rajnigandha tried to do the second one, but because he’d already failed so spectacularly on the first – he knew he wouldn’t enjoy it, and continued watching even after proving himself right – his efforts were in vain. He had a rubbish time.
Things don’t simply “cost what they cost.” The energy and attention you bring to the things you buy matter far more than their price-tag.
Money isn’t a number. It’s a story.