Have you ever wondered why luxury feels so fantastic? Why even the smallest treat can prove irresistible, and the biggest indulgences – like driving an all-new Lexus NX, dining in a Michelin-starred restaurant, or staying at a five-star hotel – are so life-affirming?
Here, three experts explain how luxurious experiences affect your body and mind: from boosting your brain power and busting stress, to aiding your mental wellbeing, motivation and even digestion. A must-read for everyone who loves the finer things in life…
What does luxury do to your brain?
When you experience something luxurious, your brain responds by releasing ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters, such as endorphins and dopamine, which give you that strong buzz of enjoyment. “Depending upon your attachment to the brand or product, you’ll get a feeling of extreme pleasure and a natural high,” explains Paul Russell, a behavioural psychologist and managing director of luxury training company, Luxury Academy. “Different experiences can trigger different chemicals: for example, eating chocolate triggers dopamine and endorphins, while experiencing a luxurious car releases both adrenaline and dopamine.”
Dopamine is the reward centre of the brain, improving mood, motivation and pleasure. It is known as a ‘happy chemical’, released during activities that we find enjoyable, which encourages us to repeat these behaviours.
Alongside the sensory aspects of the experience, the wider context is also powerful: “As well as the increase in self-esteem that luxury can offer, we can benefit from the neurotransmitters associated with belonging to an exclusive group,” says Lee Chambers, an environmental psychologist and wellbeing consultant. “Also, when we are surrounded by opulence, there may be a heightened sense of enjoyment, and this can make us happier and raise our serotonin levels.” Serotonin is another mood-booster, which aids the function of the brain and nervous system, improving everything from sleep to digestion.
How does luxury affect our bodies?
Those feel-good neurotransmitters have a profound influence on your body, affecting your posture, breathing and more. “When experiencing luxury, we are initially likely to have physiological reactions associated with excitement: our heart rate will increase and we may experience dilated pupils,” explains Dr Charlotte Russell, clinical psychologist and founder of The Travel Psychologist. Your eyes may also widen and your eyebrows raise, while your body posture may be stronger and more assured, indicating increased confidence and positivity.
With your senses heightened, you may also become more aware of your surroundings, noticing small details such as the smoothness of a steering wheel, or the perfume of a designer shop.
This physiological reaction can be intense, but as the experience continues, our strong initial reaction evolves into something more soothing. “Once we are settled into enjoying the experience, we will have physiological changes associated with relaxation and contentment,” says Charlotte. “Our breathing and heart rate will slow, and tension in our body will reduce.”
Why does luxury elicit such a powerful reaction?
The impact of luxury lies in its ability to engage several of your senses at a time – whether sound, taste, touch, smell or sight. Our reaction and associations can be long-lasting: just think of the instant allure of that ‘new car smell’, and the memories and feelings it can elicit. “The mere association of smelling something can engage the brain’s pleasure centres,” explains Paul; “both smell and touch can trigger a chemical release, but smell is the more powerful.”
Small details play a key role too, helping to ‘set the scene’ for a luxurious experience, while also heightening the psychological and physiological response. For example, being offered champagne while checking into a five-star hotel, or a fluffy bathrobe and slippers at an exclusive spa. In Lexus showrooms worldwide, the Japanese art of omotenashi – elevated hospitality – is integral to the service, with each customer treated as a valued guest. From providing refreshments to accomplishing incredible feats in the name of customer satisfaction, this is superlative service at its finest – and all part of the luxurious experience.
Can luxury improve your mental wellbeing?
In the short term, a luxurious experience can increase emotions such as pride, relaxation and contentment – and whilst these feelings are temporary, they can help us to achieve balance in our everyday lives. “Pleasurable things allow us to better manage the challenges of life,” explains Charlotte; “it is important for our wellbeing to have aspects that provide us with a sense of joy and meaning. For some people, owning a luxury car does just that.”
Because of course, luxury is entirely subjective: what is revered by one person can be meaningless to another. Whether we value watches, wines, or wardrobes full of designer clothes, our idea of indulgence is shaped by cultural symbolism, societal norms and personal preferences. “Nevertheless, many such items are united by a focus on craftsmanship, rare materials and rich textures – qualities which humans appreciated long before the concept of luxury was created,” says Lee.
Does our reaction to luxury change over time?
“As humans, we tend to adapt to pleasurable and luxurious experiences, and their effect can reduce over time,” says Charlotte. “However, if we are able to continually appreciate where we do have luxury in our lives, then this can be very beneficial for our wellbeing. For example, people who regularly spend time looking after their car would be more likely to appreciate it, and continually derive joy and meaning from this.”
The pleasure of driving a new car eventually becomes natural to us, but that doesn’t necessarily diminish its psychological benefits, says Paul. “If you catch its ‘new car’ smell, or spend time polishing the leather interior that so attracted you to it in the first place, this will be enough to trigger the brain’s pleasure centres and cause that physical/psychological response to return, if only for a split second.”
And just like that, our enjoyment continues – and those feel-good neurotransmitters keep boosting our brain, body and wellbeing.