How to Make Ordinary Experiences Amazing Again

I recently came across a fascinating article by Ed O’Brien, a professor at the University of Chicago, and Robert Smith, a professor at The Ohio State University, entitled Unconventional Consumption Methods and Enjoying Things Consumed: Recapturing the “First-Time” Experience, which appeared in a very recent issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

I’ll let the article’s abstract explain the basics:

People commonly lament the inability to re-experience familiar things as they were first experienced. Four experiments suggest that consuming familiar things in new ways can disrupt adaptation and revitalize enjoyment. Participants better enjoyed the same familiar food (Experiment 1), drink (Experiment 2), and video (Experiments 3a-3b) simply when re-experiencing the entity via unusual means (e.g., eating popcorn using chopsticks vs. hands). This occurs because unconventional methods invite an immersive “first-time” perspective on the consumption object: boosts in enjoyment were mediated by revitalized immersion into the consumption experience and were moderated by time such that they were strongest when using unconventional methods for the first time (Experiments 1-2); likewise, unconventional methods that actively disrupted immersion did not elicit the boost, despite being novel (Experiments 3a-3b). Before abandoning once-enjoyable entities, knowing to consume old things in new ways (vs. attaining new things altogether) might temporarily restore enjoyment and postpone wasteful replacement.

In each of these three experiments, an ordinary activity was modified in some significant way in order to make that ordinary activity appear novel.

The first experiment centered around eating popcorn – a pretty normal activity. However, the experimenters noticed that people’s enjoyment of eating popcorn increased drastically when they were eating it with chopsticks.

The second experiment? People drank ordinary water. However, their enjoyment was boosted greatly when they drank said water out of a novel container like a martini glass.

The third experiment? People watched a video of a motorcycle ride. However, those that watched the video while making “hand goggles” (meaning they cupped their hands and pretended that they were goggles or binoculars and watched the videos through them) noted that they enjoyed the video more.

What’s the core lesson here? Ordinary activities become fresh again (at least for a little bit) if done with a novel twist.

This is why restaurants will do things like serve ordinary beverages in unusual glasses, like a Mason jar with a handle – it makes the ordinary drink seem novel and special and heightens the experience. This is why so many restaurants try to come up with novel (but still palatable) food pairings. This is why movie companies rely on simple twists on ordinary movie plots over and over and over again.

It’s because all of those things take an ordinary thing – a plain beverage, an ordinary food, a typical movie – and twists them just enough to make them seem novel and new and fresh again, and you’ll pay good money for that experience.

The thing is, you can actively use that approach in your day to day life to make ordinary low cost things seem novel and refreshing. It’s really not that hard and, in fact, it’s something I do all the time.

For example, you might try a new seasoning blend on your ordinary scrambled eggs or on your ordinary hamburger or your ordinary grilled fish. The cost addition is trivial, but you’ve altered the flavors enough that the simple homemade meal tastes fresh and new. For example, rather than having an ordinary hamburger with ordinary seasonings, try making an Ollieburger, which tastes decidedly different due to the different spices used. It’s an ordinary burger, but with just a few spices and ingredients, it’s very different and fresh and novel again.

You can try simply altering the drinks you have at the dinner table. If you pour yourself a glass of water to have with dinner, add a few ice cubes and a slice of lemon (or lime or orange or grapefruit) to it and it somehow feels different. Drink it out of a Mason jar and it feels even more different.

Go on a different route than normal when you walk your dog. Just see what you find to the left rather than to the right. What do you find when you go that way? Keep your eyes open and suddenly the experience is interesting rather than routine.

You’re getting the idea. Here are some more.

Drive a different commute to and from work, just to see some different things along the way.

Put a different topping on your ice cream.

Try a completely different set of exercises at the gym.

Read a book on a subject you’ve never read about before, or in a genre you’re unfamiliar with, or by an author whose work you’ve never read before.

Buy different versions of the staple foods you buy at the store – a different kind of bread or a different kind of condiment.


Modify your morning routine in some significant way, such as drinking your coffee outside or taking a cold shower.

Do something different after work than what you normally do. Go to a park and go on a nature walk instead of just going home and crashing in front of a computer or the television.

Make your experience into a ritual by doing things with a bit of extra pomp and circumstance, like setting out nice place settings for an ordinary meal. (That’s actually the point of this paper, which outlines how rituals can make ordinary things much more enjoyable.)

Ask your spouse to surprise you with some of these variants, and surprise your spouse sometimes with some of these variants.

This list can go on forever and ever, of course, but the principle behind it is super simple: if your ordinary life seems boring, try simple variations on the ordinary things.

It’s worth noting that this is rather different than splurging. The goal here isn’t to buy yourself a treat, but to simply add some variety to the (ideally) very low cost ordinary daily routine that you have for yourself, so that you don’t fall into a sense of going through the motions over and over and over again and find yourself bored with your life.

The reality is that the road to financial success is slow and a big part of that path is minimizing the cost of your ordinary daily life. That can really lock you into a pretty ordinary and repetitive daily routine, which can become quite boring and constraining over time. Simply figuring out ways to add variations and new elements to that daily routine can add the kind of variety that we all want out of life without causing financial difficulties.

So, if you find yourself on the road to financial independence but you’re finding the day to day grind of it quite boring, look for ways to add variety to that day to day routine without adding cost and start mixing things up. Furthermore, ask your partner and your close friends and family to do the same, in ways which will sometimes surprise you.

You’ll find that adding these kinds of little variants to the ordinary routine of a financially stable life can make things quite a bit more enjoyable without making things far more expensive.

Good luck!

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.